Ain’t No Stopping Us Now…

There’s no getting around this, so I’m going to come right out and say it. Havoc may live in our hearts, but it no longer lives in Richmond. It’s time we came to grips with this reality and move forward. Close the book.

Think I’m full of beans? Fine. I can live with that. But we’d agree Will Wade has what might be considered an informed opinion of the VCU basketball team, no? Here’s what he said after yesterday’s win over UMass:

We’ve got to keep playing the way we’re playing. It’s nothing sexy. It’s nothing out of the ordinary. But it’s tried and true, good basketball. We’re a mid-tempo team. We push it in transition. If we don’t have anything, we pull it out, and get that thing in the paint, either off the bounce or off a post feed. We guard, and we crash the glass.
We’re nothing special. We’ve got to understand why we’re having success. We’re scoring a lot in league because we’re running offense the right way. We shot 63 shots, 17 threes. We take good threes, and that’s how you win. We can’t think we’re the Golden State Warriors and go out there and start jacking and stuff like that or we’re gonna’ be in trouble because we’re not built like that. If we keep playing like this…this what this team is built for …and if we keep playing like this we can have some success.

 

Does that sound to you at all havocy? It isn’t.

That’s the reality that became exceedingly clear as I trekked down route 360 towards home after yesterday’s spirited win over the Minutemen to get to 3-0 in conference and 13-3 overall. If we’re being honest we kind of knew it all along as we watched this season unfold. Mauling people at the rim, and lineups with Burgess, Hamdy, and Alie-Cox on the floor together, are not exactly conducive to havoc.

Havoc is not dead, per se, because Wade still likes to press and trap. Every coach wants to get out in transition. We even called Wade’s preference for ball pressure “halfcourt havoc” at the beginning of the season, and that should’ve been the sign. It was and we just didn’t heed.

Yesterday afternoon, as Mechanicsville became King William, I thought about Wade’s words on mauling the rim and taking smart, ten-toes-to-the-line threes. I thought about Wade telling me about a new zone defense he wanted to roll out against UMass and a focus on rebounding and the importance of the corner three. I thought about two-dollar steaks and guys that will bleed to play for VCU.

That’s when the missed signs, or the cognitive dissonance of something as familiar as havoc being unnoticed, met. VCU played to its identity yesterday more so than any other point this season. The reason is that it took awhile not just to find it, but believe in it, figure it out, and play that way. There’s words, and there’s actions.

Yesterday, we saw action for the majority of the basketball game. VCU mauled UMass on the glass—15 offensive rebounds, including one by Alie-Cox that Wade termed led to a dagger three by JeQuan Lewis. The “good threes” Wade referred to ended up 8-17—that’s 47% from three. Two turnovers in the second half and 11 for the game. Jonny Williams playing downhill. Relentless ball pressure and scouting report execution that harried UMass into 4-18 shooting from three. Their two best marksmen, Luwanne Pipkins and Dontae Clark, were a combined 2-16 (1-10 from three) and scored six total points—the duo came into the game with a combined average of 27ppg.

And a never-give-in attitude, most notably Hamdy, who struggled on offense but continued to fight on the defensive end. Hamdy had a blocked shot and a deflected pass after committing an offensive turnover purely on the fact that he didn’t put his head down and pout. He ran the floor and made up for the error: twice.

It took the concentration of snow-filled driving to bring it home but we have to say the words, and be comfortable with them: Havoc is no more.

I’m not going to compare the two systems because that’s a fool’s errand. “If we only <fill in the havoc blank>” is just as useless as saying Mo Alie-Cox should shoot threes. Sounds good in theory, but that’s not his strength.

And to be clear, this is an extremely positive thing for VCU and at the same time not a negative jab at the previous regime. One thing being great does not make the other thing bad. Yeah, that’s not controversial and it doesn’t pit old vs. new, but deal with it. I look for clarity, not controversy.

Shaka Smart constantly said that havoc was more than a style of play on the court; it was the manner in which everything occurred in the program. Will Wade chooses to lead it differently. It’s more measured, analytical, tactical.

To Wade, it’s not a process. It’s being detail-oriented. For Wade, it isn’t fiery emotion, it’s calculated assessments. In Wade, we get the mad scientist instead of firebrand orator. Through Wade, we get Ken Pomeroy, not Ralph Waldo Emerson. In Smart’s introductory press conference, he quoted the Bible (“To whom much is given much is expected.”). Wade unleashed a scouting report (“30% of the time we will play 2-2-1 and fall back into a matchup zone.”)

There’s nothing wrong with either strategy; rather they are just different.

But here’s what’s not different: winning.

Why this, why now?

The conference season is now real. It’s a great start, but this is where the action begins. As always there needs to be progress, but I feel very good that the team knows what it needs to do, because it knows who it is.

As a side note: this is not a blind faith assertion, either. When Wade says his team is growing because they are paying attention to detail, skip to the 7:33 mark of the postgame presser below spend a few minutes while Wade holds a session on getting details right:

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