When head coach Shaka Smart left for Texas, he wanted to take the trademark “Havoc” with him to Austin. But after a battle with Virginia Commonwealth, Smart and the Longhorns gave up their pursuit for the word that symbolizes pesky, Shaka Smart style defense. The Rams got to keep it with them under brand new coach Will Wade. As they’ve now won 9 straight games, it’s easy to see that “Havoc” has definitely stayed with VCU.
The Rams have been relentless on defense this season and its beginning to propel them back into the NCAA Tournament picture. According to Kenpom, VCU ranks 2nd nationally in steal percentage at 14.2%. This statistic measures number of steals per 100 possessions, and the only team that’s been better than VCU this season is West Virginia. In addition, the Rams rank 4th in the nation in defensive turnover percentage (turnovers forced per 100 possessions) at 24.8%. Incredibly, the Rams are forcing a turnover almost once out of every four defensive trips down the floor. The Division 1 average in this stat is just 18.5%.
Even better for VCU, if you look at what the Rams have done in conference play, you’ll see why they’re such a juggernaut on defense. They rank 1st in the Atlantic 10 in defensive efficiency, effective defensive field goal percentage, defensive three point field goal percentage, defensive turnover percentage, and steal percentage. Wow. Remarkable play on that side of the ball is what’s given the Rams such an edge over its Atlantic 10 opponents. How does that saying go? Offense wins games, but defense wins (conference) championships. VCU is in the lead and looks to hold tight and extend its winning streak.
When looking at percentage of steals per defensive possessions played, individually, there’s no one on VCU doing it better than Doug Brooks. The junior ranks 4th nationally in the category at 6.0% and has truly been a dark horse when it comes to takeaways. He’s first in the A10 during conference play at 7.0%. Though Brooks has been struggling with his three pointer this season (29.6%), he’s such an asset when on the court due to his ability to force turnovers. His importance to this Rams team can’t be overstated. The Rams have 3 players in the top 10 of steal percentage during conference play. Doug Brooks (1st), Melvin Johnson (3rd), and JeQuan Lewis (10th) have all provided defensive sparks for VCU, helping it get out to a 6-0 start in conference play.
Now halfway through the season, it’s becoming apparent that Will Wade is embracing VCU’s identity: Havoc. He has not ventured away from feisty defense and hustle plays. He knows that the Rams’ culture resides in steals and forcing turnovers; that’s what’s given VCU so much success since making it to the Final Four in 2011. But just look at what Wade has been doing for VCU’s defense and you’ll see how great he’s been in his first year. The Rams were the best in the nation for three years straight, from 2012-2014, in both steal percentage and defensive turnover percentage. Last year, they were sharp, but not quite as good, ranking 3rd and 11th in those respective categories. But the fact that Wade has his team’s Havoc-style defense almost up to par with Shaka Smart’s best teams is simply incredible. You’d expect a new coach to need a transition year to get his players to defend at that level, but not Will Wade. Granted, you have to give his players a lot of credit, but nevertheless, Will Wade is continuing the tradition of Havoc at VCU, and Ram fans better know that their defense is what’ll be the key in taking their team back to the NCAA Tournament for the sixth consecutive year.