- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- VCU has spent much of this season flustering opposing point guards, sending them into various states of disarray and their "Havoc" defense wreaked, well, havoc on the plans of opponents all season long.
The Rams, though, have not seen an offense quite like the one they will Saturday in the round of 32. VCU turns everyone over. Michigan, with its sophomore point guard Trey Burke, hardly ever gives up the ball.
Something has to give.
“It’s a difference of style,” VCU sophomore guard Briante Weber said. “If they take care of the ball, they win. If we get them to turn over, then we win.”
It may come off as that simple, but trying to beat Havoc is anything but.
Michigan spent Friday morning looking at variations of VCU’s Havoc, then walked through the varying press breaks it would try to use to stop it.
It is not something the Wolverines can simulate. Other teams have tried and failed.
“We really haven’t seen pressure like that in my years of being here,” said Memphis junior guard Chris Crawford, whose Tigers lost to VCU 78-65 in November. “We had to adjust to it, but it was like they were everywhere.”
That is part of the plan. VCU spends its entire preseason working on conditioning and defense in an effort to run Havoc at almost all times, forcing opponents to flail about and start to see passing lanes that aren’t really there.
It happened for Memphis, which turned the ball over 22 times in that loss. That number is what the Rams have averaged in their 27 wins this season. They have blitzed opponents left and right with a press that can have a multitude of variations, depending on the opponent.
“We just try to deny the wings,” VCU guard Darius Theus said. “Team stops, actually. Just build a wall around the basket.”
The wall, at times, can seem impenetrable. It took Memphis a half to figure out exactly how to move the ball up the floor against VCU. And trying to do it with one primary point guard alone won’t work, either.
“What’s crazy is it’s one thing to try and prepare for it,” Memphis assistant Damon Stoudamire said. “When we actually seen it, it started our guys on the initial. If we played them now, we’d be prepared.
“When you see stuff like that, the way it came, it’s like a barrage, boom, boom, boom, boom. And they made shots. They turning you over and then they score, that’s a bad recipe right there.”
The key is to not try and go up the sides of the floor. Doing that will be the high-risk, high-reward maneuver for Michigan. If it beats VCU up the side, it’ll have a fast break. If it doesn’t -- it’ll be a likely turnover.
“Our guys have to stay connected,” Michigan assistant LaVall Jordan said. “They are all connected defensively with their rotations and their traps. We have to be connected offensively.”
Someone will get disjointed Saturday. Whichever team doesn’t likely will end up winning.
News and Notes
Memphis and Michigan State know each other well even as nonconference opponents. Tigers point guard Joe Jackson and Spartans guard Keith Applingplayed together on the USA Basketball Under-19 team this summer. “I’m real cool with Keith Appling,” Jackson said. “We played together in the USA games overseas. I kind of know what he can do good and what he can do bad."He isn’t the only one to know a Michigan State player. Memphis’ Adonis Thomas and Michigan State’s Branden Dawson were teammates on the West team in the 2011 McDonald’s All American game, and Dawson said they have stayed in touch. “He’s a great guy,” Dawson said. “A great player. The thing that really shocked me is that he’s 6-7, 240 now. When we were at the McDonald’s, he didn’t weigh that much.” There’s also a decent chance Appling will be matched up with Jackson and Thomas with Dawson on Saturday.
Appling tweaked the patellar tendon in his left knee Thursday against Valparaiso. A day later, he said it is still bothering him “a little bit off and on,” but that he anticipated playing tomorrow.
Burke said his back is “a little sore” from falling yesterday but definitely would play Saturday. Michigan guard Matt Vogrich, who missed Thursday’s game with strep throat, was back with the team Friday.