The game was well in hand when we got the snapshot of VCUs victory over BC. The clock wound under three minutes and the Rams held a twentysomething lead. BC ran through the motions of offense, dispirited by 37 minutes of torturous havoc, and their best player, Olivier Hanlan, came off a high ball screen and looked to make a play.
And just like seemingly every other possession during the game, Briante Weber was in lock step with Hanlan, stride for stride. Hanlan pushed Weber away, his only recourse, and was called for an offensive foul. Hanlan's face scrunched up and he barked a few words. Weber smiled broadly, began clapping and responded. He then walked to the other end of the floor and buried two free throws.
Shaka Smart mentioned in the postgame that this was the best defensive game of Briante Weber's career. Ca. Reer. That's high praise, considering Weber had 10 steals against FGCU and has led the nation for two years in steal percentage.
But here's why Smart was so effusive with his praise of Weber–maturity. Everything about Weber screams steals, and for good reason. However against Hanlan, an opponent few defenders have been sucessful staying in front of, Weber's high-risk, high-reward style of defense was heavy on risk. Hanlan possessed the ability to shred the Rams defense.
Weber managed to throttle back his appetite for swipe and concentrated on taking Hanlan out of his element. Hanlan finished with 17 points, but eight of those came when the game was no longer in doubt. He also had seven turnovers, and Weber drew two charging calls on Hanlan. Both of those were when Hanlan pushed the harrassing Weber with his off-arm–a sign of a very frustrated player.
Let me write that a different way: Briante Weber was an elite defender last night, and it had almost nothing to do with stealing the basketball. Imagine for a moment the threat of Weber taking the basketball from you, and you no longer have the comfort of knowing you will blow by him if you get the opportunity.
Here comes a tiny bit of drama, but I mean it–there may be no more important development in the progress of this VCU basketball team than Weber becoming a mature defender. This is a team that needs to be built on defense, to use defense as the kickstarter for offense. It's Havoc 101, really, and it's more about opportunities than gaudy steal numbers.
Boston College turned the ball over on 33.8% of its possessions. That's impressive, but here's what stands out to me. I'm not sure I've ever seen a VCU opponent consistently burn so much shot clock on the possessions it didn't turn the ball over. The demanding style wore out BC. Ryan Anderson had three early dunks, but the trade-off was a bevy of bad shots and dropped passes when the Eagles were hurrying to make plays.
It's worth noting that only Northern Iowa has scored more than 57 points against VCU in the last five games, and they are the only team to score more than 68 points since we left Puerto Rico. This team hangs its hat on defense and that includes halfcourt defense. Those late shot clock situations last night are proof this team is defending right now at a high level.
That's an important lynchpin, considering the Rams are no offensive juggernaut and still suffer early-game shooting troubles. Last night saw an 8-28 first half shooting performance, and it wasn't because the Rams took a boatload of bad shots. A consistent defensive effort can carry the team until it finds its shooting legs and starts cranking it up.
That's what we saw last night–a team carried by defense, and a second half start that saw the shooting catch up. That was a lesson in havoc.
Nobody said it had to be pretty.
Notables in my mind:
VCU forced 14 first half turnovers and committed just four fouls.
The BC zone was designed to not allow Juvonte Reddic to get the ball in scoring position. The Eagles sagged deep and brought help every time Reddic left the locker room. Reddic's activity level was again very high.
Melvin Johnson is a very important cog in the machine. In both of the past two games the most potent offense has centered around Johnson playing the role of bucketmaker.
Congratulations to the Freight Trein, who passed the 1,000-point mark in his career. Last night Graham pulled up from about 12 feet twice and swished jumpers. His ability to stop in the midrange adds an element to his game.
Very well done, Ramnation. Once again you showed out and impressed the nation. We have something very special here. Keep bringing it and don't take it for granted.