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March 9, 2013

Owls looking to halt the havoc

If you watch even a little bit of college basketball, you probably know about this whole "havoc" style of defense Virginia Commonwealth coach Shaka Smart and his team have going for them.

It basically involves the Rams pressing after every made basket and often after every dead ball. And on several occasions, that defense has brought a team or two to its knees. Just ask Butler, which was ranked 20th at the time and lost by 32 at VCU last Saturday.

And that's what Temple will be facing when VCU, which is ranked No. 19 in the USA Today Coaches poll and No. 21 in the AP Top 25, comes to the Liacouras Center Sunday for a nationally-televised noon game (CBS nationally, CW Philly locally) at the Liacouras Center in the regular-season finale for both teams.

So here's the deal.

If the Owls beat the Rams Sunday, they will win their seventh game in a row, finish the regular season 23-8 overall, 11-5 in the A-10 standings and secure a first-round bye in next week's conference tournament in Brooklyn and all but shore up an automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament.

If Temple loses, the Owls could finish either fifth or sixth in the league standings, depending upon what happens in Saturday night's Butler-Xavier game, and have to play an opening-round A-10 Tournament game Thursday at the Barclays Center.

Statistically speaking, here's what havoc has done for VCU.

The Rams lead the nation in steals (365), steals per game (11.8) and turnovers forced per game (20.1). To drill that down even further, VCU forces a turnover on 29 percent of its opponents' possessions. And on an individual level, sophomore guard Briante Weber (2.8 spg.) and senior guard Darius Theus (2.7 spg.) are ranked first and second respectively in steals per game nationally.

But VCU doesn't struggle to score. In fact, four double-figure scorers, led by sophomore guard Treveon Graham at 15.7 points per game, have allowed VCU to lead the A-10 in scoring at 78.1 points per contest. And junior forward Juvonte Redic is a load in the paint, where he averages 14.3 points and a team-best 8.2 rebounds per game, a mark that's good for fourth in the conference.

To make things even tougher, Rams senior guard Troy Daniels has drained an A-10-best 105 three-pointers and shoots 40.5 percent from beyond the arc.

While Temple is 11th in the country in fewest turnovers per game at 11.9, that's a lot to think about for a team that has not always handled pressure well and ranks 11th in the A-10 in scoring defense at 67.5 points allowed per game. The Owls are also ninth in the league in field-goal-percentage defense at 43.2 percent and 12th in the conference in three-point defense at 33.2 percent.

Nonetheless, Temple is on the verge of claiming its sixth consecutive NCAA Tournament bid because it is playing some of its best basketball of the season at the right time. After a one-point loss to Duquesne at home back on Feb. 14, the Owls have reeled off six-straight wins, including Wednesday's 74-55 rout of Fordham in the Bronx.

Prior to the opening tip, five Temple seniors - Khalif Wyatt, Scootie Randall, TJ DiLeo, Jake O'Brien and Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson - will be honored on Senior Day, and those five will have to play like unflappable veterans against a defense that doesn't compare to anything they have seen this season -- or in recent memory. The 6-foot-4 Wyatt is all but a lock to win the A-10 Player of the Year award and leads the league in scoring at 19.5 points per game while also averaging a team-high 4.1 assists per game.

But Wyatt and sophomore starting point guard Will Cummings (5.8 points per game), who each turned the ball over three times at Fordham, will have to take much better care of the basketball Sunday.

While Temple has one of the best long-range shooters in the A-10 in O'Brien, a capable defender and rebounder in Hollis-Jefferson and a developing post presence in sophomore forward Anthony Lee, the x-factor in the Owls' turnaround has been Randall. The 6-6 Philadelphia native, after struggling through much of the middle portion of the season, has averaged double-figure scoring in Temple's last seven games and has averaged 15.1 points and 6.1 rebounds during the Owls' six-game win streak.

If Temple is looking for a blueprint to halt the havoc, it needs only to look north on Broad Street to its A-10 and Big 5 neighbor, La Salle, which pulled off arguably its most impressive win of the season in a 69-61 victory at the Siegel Center. In that game back on Jan. 26, the Explorers turned the ball over a manageable 14 times and held VCU to 38.3 percent shooting and just 25 percent from three-point range. Without a lot of made shots, the Rams couldn't press as much as they typically do.

Of course, Ramon Galloway's 31 points and four three pointers helped, but the Explorers also illustrated another key aspect of what it takes to beat VCU - don't panic. In that game, La Salle went scoreless for the first 5 minutes, 45 seconds of the second half and withstood a 17-0 Rams run and still came back to win the game.

OwlScoop.com editor John Di Carlo can be reached at jgdicarlo@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @OwlScoop_com or @jdicarlo.











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