VCU downs Butler with 'Havoc' D

Updated: March 2, 2013, 5:41 PM ET
By Dana O'Neil | ESPN.com

RICHMOND, Va. -- Trying to explain what it was like to play against Havoc: VCU Style, Brad Stevens finally decided to go with an analogy that a roomful of reporters could appreciate.

"Imagine having [Briante] Weber and [Darius] Theus standing in front of your computers, swiping at them while you're tying to type," the Butler coach said.

It would probably, I'm guessing, look something 3a65 7w2a (like this).

Unrecognizable, that is to say, which is exactly what the Rams turned Butler into. A team that is typically as frazzled as a Secret Service agent was pressured into complete disarray, a befuddled, flummoxed imitation of itself.

Getting the ball inbounds was an adventure, crossing midcourt required divine intervention, the end result just a matter of the Rams choosing how much they wanted to win by.

[+] EnlargeDarius Theus
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsVCU's defensive energy crushed Butler on Saturday, making the Bulldogs almost unrecognizable.

VCU settled on 32 -- an 84-52 victory -- and handed Butler its worst loss in Stevens' tenure as head coach. It also was the first time the Bulldogs have lost a conference game by more than 30 points since the 1985-86 season.

"It was an old-fashioned butt whupping," Stevens said. "We couldn't do anything well. It really wasn't brain surgery."

Technically, that runs the series to 2-1 in Butler's favor, but the Rams notched the first league victory between the two.

Odds are it also will be the last.

What made this game so wildly anticipated -- and made the outcome so strangely unexpected -- is that this was built up as The Game in the Atlantic 10.

Saint Louis actually leads the conference standings, but the Rams and Bulldogs, in their first year in the league, are the stars of the show. They have the recent Final Four panache, the wildly popular coaches and the national name branding, that hoopla all percolating into this one regular-season meeting.

But with reports swirling that Butler is about to continue its George Jefferson ways and move on up to the newly reconfigured Big East, this budding rivalry might, fittingly for this era of college hoops, be merely a one-and-done.

No one was interested in dealing with what-could-be scenarios Saturday. In order, Atlantic 10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade, Butler athletic director Barry Collier and Stevens all refused comment or dismissed the news, at least for now.

Shaka Smart followed suit, but not before saying that a game like this is exactly why the Rams left the Colonial Athletic Association for the Atlantic 10.

"We wouldn't have this kind of opportunity if we hadn't made the move," he said.

No doubt, teams aren't exactly interested in coming to the Siegel Center, where the only thing that rocks louder than the atmosphere is the band. Butler is just the second ranked opponent to play here -- the other was Oklahoma in 2009, after Jeff Capel left VCU to become the Sooners' coach and really didn't have much of a choice.

The A-10 will offer up more ranked opponents in the future -- the Billikens are in the poll this year, too, and the league is always good for a strong collection of Top 25 talent.

But it won't be this game, pitting the two one-time Cinderellas gone divas that memorably tangoed with one another at the Final Four. This series had the makings of something special and now before it even gets started, it appears to be headed for the trash heap with Missouri-Kansas, Georgetown-Syracuse and Duke-Maryland.

[+] EnlargeBrad Stevens and Shaka Smart
Richard Mackson/US PresswireThe A-10 rivalry between Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart may soon be an afterthought.

So I suppose the message is enjoy it while it's here, although that might be a hard sell for Butler.

Stevens likely will treat this game tape much as Smart treated the film from the 2011 Final Four. He never watched it until this week, and only then with a clinical approach to see how the Bulldogs handled their pressure in that game.

He must have looked at it like the Zapruder film.

Typical coach, Smart said his team could play better defensively, but frankly that might be illegal. The Rams not only forced 22 turnovers but scored on practically every one, piling up 34 points off turnovers to Butler's anemic two. They swiped 17 steals, or two more than any other team has against Butler since 2001, and somehow coughed it up only eight times.

It was so bad that Stevens effectively benched his two best players: Rotnei Clarke and Andrew Smith each played just four minutes in the second half.

Asked whether the Bulldogs looked overwhelmed, Theus, responsible for five of those steals, grinned.

"I don't know," he said. "What do you think?"

The Rams certainly weren't, which was Smart's concern. This game has been of the circle-the-date variety in town since the schedule came out. VCU didn't want to call it a revenge game for the Final Four, but the fans did.

Students camped out in tents to be first in line -- Shakaville, naturally -- and although a sellout is nothing new here (the Rams have filled the Siegel Center 34 consecutive times), this one had a little more buzz to it.

"My biggest concern this week was there was so much emphasis on this game, what a big game it was and there was so much buildup, I didn't want them to psych themselves out," Smart said. "I didn't want them to think if they didn't play well or didn't shoot well, we'd fall off the face of the Earth. We have to be aggressive and confident to play well, and today we were."

There is no danger of them falling off the map now. The Atlantic 10 tournament is a week away and as complicated as any in the country. Saint Louis leads the league, but by just half a game; La Salle is 1.5 back, then Butler and Temple behind them.

If there is a truism, it is that defense will make a big difference in deciding who wins. SLU and VCU both play great, albeit different, defense, and until this debacle, Butler wasn't exactly terrible, nor is La Salle or Temple.

Does VCU's havoc give the Rams an edge?

Maybe, but they have to score to get going. In each of their six losses, the Rams didn't shoot the ball well and so, as critical as all those steals were against Butler, so was the 43 percent shooting from the arc and the 48 from the floor.

"You know what you need to do against them, and you can do it on a blueprint and map it out," Stevens said. "But at the end of the day, nobody is able to simulate their speed. You have to get stops because when they start scoring like that, they're impossible to beat because they force you to play the way they want to play. They really get into the ball."

… 3ja 93k c92[ht3a (and the computer).

Dana O'Neil | email

College Basketball