- The Washington Times - Monday, January 26, 2015

Since Shaka Smart arrived at VCU in 2009, the basketball program has become synonymous with “havoc,” a term used to describe Smart’s aggressive, full-court pressure defense.

Plenty of teams have used the full-court press over the years, most notably former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson’s “40 minutes of hell.” But not many teams currently rely on it to the degree that VCU does, and nobody has built a program around it like Smart.

“I think they’re great at branding. Shaka’s a genius, really,” said George Washington coach Mike Lonergan, whose team will face the 14th-ranked Rams on Tuesday night. “That’s their brand, and they’ve promoted it, they’ve recruited towards it, and it’s definitely a lot of pressure. Not many teams press like that. … It’s hard to get used to.”

George Washington has tried to prepare for the “havoc” in practice this week. Before leaving for Richmond on Monday afternoon, the Colonials watched film of VCU’s defensive scheme and walked through it in practice, allowing players to see exactly how and where the Rams usually move.

In those practices, however, George Washington couldn’t possibly replicate VCU’s personnel. They don’t have a player with the instincts and agility of point guard Briante Weber, for example. Weber leads Division I with 3.9 steals per game — nearly one more than anyone else in the country.

“I’ll be glad when he graduates,” Lonergan said with a grin. “Just thinking about that headband … I have nightmares about it.”

To beat the press, Lonergan said the Colonials — who have won four consecutive games and 10 of their past 11 — simply need to share the ball. It helps that they have a player like forward Kevin Larsen, whose unique combination of size and ball-handling skill can help spread the floor. Lonergan also said the team will make an extra effort to get the ball to Kethan Savage and Patricio Garino, thereby taking pressure off point guard Joe McDonald.

Though a large chunk of the Atlantic 10 schedule remains, the Colonials are well aware of what’s at stake Tuesday night. A looming road game against the conference favorite in front of a near-capacity crowd has injected extra energy. If anything, Lonergan hopes his team doesn’t get too amped up.

“Hopefully we’ll go in there and play loose,” Lonergan said. “You can’t let the crowd get to you, and their defense is so good. We don’t want to turn the ball over, so hopefully our experience will pay off and we’ll come out ready to play.”

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