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Student faces teacher when UMass men's basketball visits Virginia Commonwealth Thursday

FILE PHOTO
Coach Derek Kellogg and the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team will play at Virginia Commonwealth at 9 p.m. Thursday in Richmond, Va.

FILE PHOTO Coach Derek Kellogg and the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team will play at Virginia Commonwealth at 9 p.m. Thursday in Richmond, Va. Purchase photo reprints »

AMHERST — In the summer of 2011, University of Massachusetts men’s basketball coach Derek Kellogg he planned to change his team’s offense and defense for the following season, so he sought advice and ideas from coaches who were already using an up-tempo approach.

Among them was Virginia Commonwealth coach Shaka Smart, who had led his team to the Final Four a few months before.

Kellogg liked what he saw from the Rams and wanted to incorporate some of what they did into his own team’s system. It never occurred to him that UMass and VCU would one day be conference rivals.

But when Temple and Charlotte decided to leave the Atlantic 10, the league invited VCU and Butler to join for the 2012-13 season. On Thursday at 9 p.m. in Richmond, Va., the Minutemen will put their up-tempo approach against one of the schools that inspired it.

“I’ve talked to those guys, whether it’s him or guys on his staff, to look at how they do some things on their press,” Kellogg said. “I liked how they played and I thought there were some things we could get better at that they do. They were very good at sharing information and it helped us improve.”

VCU calls its system “Havoc.” Its fans have embraced it, many of whom wear T-shirts with “Havoc” emblazoned across the front. The approach is well-named as it is exactly what the Rams have wreaked on opponents this year. VCU leads the nation with 486 forced turnovers, an average of 20.25 per game, of which 287 have come on steals (11.96 per game). The Rams plus-8 turnover margin is also best in the country.

“They really come at you from a lot of different angles and they do it for 40 minutes. There’s never a point where they back it off some or switch it up. They have a fun brand of basketball. They’re fun to watch, but they’re not so fun to prepare for or play against,” Kellogg said. “We have to do a lot of things to simulate how they come after you. Maybe put an extra guy on the floor (in practice), maybe two guys, because at times it feels like they come at you with seven guys. We have to do a good job of taking care of the ball.”

Naturally, the teams’ desire to play up-tempo means that the game will feature the league’s top two scoring teams: VCU (77.5 points per game) and UMass (72.6 ppg).

“It’ll be interesting. It’ll certainly make for a fast-paced game and a game with a lot of transition plays. Both teams like to press and get out in transition,” Smart said. “It’ll be interesting to see how the styles of play fit together. They’re not extremely similar. They’re a little bit different in the nuts and bolts of how we do what we do. They’re obviously very successful and hopefully we are too.”

Smart said his team has to be careful against UMass junior point guard Chaz Williams.

“When you’re dealing with a guard like Chaz Williams, you better be on your toes in trying to press him or trap him,” Smart said. “He can certainly make you look bad and turn them into advantages for his team.”

Williams said the key is to make intelligent decisions.

“I’m not going to try to dribble through it,” Williams said. “I’m going to pass through it and use my teammates so they can make plays.”

UMass guard Freddie Riley said that approach needs to extend beyond the point guards.

“It’s important for everybody to take care of the ball against them,” Riley said. “They thrive on people turning the ball over. If we can take care of the ball, we should make the game tough on them. We have to be smart with the ball because they gamble a lot for steals. Ball fakes and things like that could be really useful.”

Kellogg said VCU is good at forcing teams to give the ball to their lesser ball handlers.

“If you have a guy that’s not comfortable handling the ball, that’s usually who ends up with the ball. We have to make sure all the guys are comfortable catching it against the pressure and pushing it and attacking the rim on two-on-ones,” Kellogg said. “I think we have guys that can do that. Can they do it for 40 minutes against their Havoc? It’ll be difficult.”

The Rams (19-5, 7-2 Atlantic 10) are in a three-way tie for first-place in the Atlantic 10, a game in front of the Minutemen (16-6, 6-3 A-10).

Sophomore guard Traveon Graham leads the Rams in scoring at 15.9 ppg. He has averaged 17.8 in Atlantic 10 games. Junior Juvonte Reddic, a 6-foot-9 big man, is averaging 14.3 points and 8.3 rebounds.

Troy Daniels (12.4 ppg) leads the Atlantic 10 in 3-pointers made (87) and 3-pointers made per game (3.6). He has made only 14 two-pointers all season.

“If you look at the games where Troy has really shot the ball well — I don’t say this to put any pressure on him — but we win every game,” Smart said. “He has 15 or more points in six games this year and we’re 6-0. There’s other ways he can help the team, but like most shooters, his bread is going to be buttered behind the line.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at twitter.com/GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.

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