Auburn Hills — Late Thursday night, a lonely voice called out from the stands in a mostly deserted arena. Virginia Commonwealth already had blown the doors off an overmatched Akron team in the night's final NCAA Tournament game at The Palace, and with the margin nearing 50 points late in the second half of an 88-42 rout, an Akron fan yelled, almost pleading, "Call 'em off, Shaka!"
By that point, though, VCU coach Shaka Smart already had called a halt to some of the Havoc, as his team's full-court pressing style is widely known.
But there's no kill switch, sorry. So don't bother looking for one.
"We're not just going to fall back and play zone," Smart said. "It's just really not what we do."
No, what they do is press every button in the elevator, wait for the doors to close and then take your wallet, your keys and maybe your shoes, too. And today, with a Sweet 16 berth on the line, it's Michigan's turn to go for a ride.
Smart's team leads the nation in thievery, stealing the ball on 17.1 percent of opponents' possessions, and forcing turnovers 28.8 percent of the time. And the Rams do it with a frenetic mix of bait-and-switch traps, in-your-face defense and seemingly boundless energy.
The end game is induced panic — "Havoc is what it says it is," said Michigan assistant LaVall Jordan, who drew the primary scouting assignment for VCU this week — or at least the fear of it.
It's also exhaustion, as they run teams ragged and look for the early signs of defeat.
"When they start pulling on their shorts, asking to come out, that's when we know we got 'em," senior guard Darius Theus said, adding that Smart, who put his team through a week of Navy SEAL training last fall, forbids his players from doing the same.
Keep your hands up, or else. That's the golden rule that is equal parts motivation and …
"Intimidation?" Theus said. "Well, if that's what it is, then that's fine. We just want to impose our style of play."
But, he added, flashing a grin, "It's definitely in people's heads that Havoc is coming."
Ready or not, here it comes for the Wolverines, who are trying to reach the Tournament's second weekend for the first time since 1994.
Michigan's a slight favorite, both according to the pre-tournament seeds and the Las Vegas bookmakers.
But it's worth noting VCU has as many Tournament wins in the last two years (six) as the Wolverines have in the last 20.
Smart, now in his fourth season as head coach, became a household name in 2011 — at least in households where NCAA brackets were being busted — by taking VCU on an improbable Final Four run. The Rams just missed advancing to the Sweet 16 again last March.
"And they have that same type of team this year," Michigan point guard Trey Burke said Friday. "They're a team that's capable of going to the Final Four, or even winning this thing."
So are the Wolverines, perhaps. But only if Burke & Co. can handle a different kind of pressure today than what they've faced to this point.
The good news: No team is more protective of the ball than the Wolverines, who boast the nation's lowest turnover rate (14.4 percent).
The bad news?
"We haven't played a lot of teams in the Big Ten that press the way that they do," Burke said, before quickly correcting himself.
"Well, we haven't played anyone."
Other than Arkansas, that is. And though that's a team that loves to press, and a team Michigan beat rather decisively in December, VCU takes it to another level altogether.
Then again, Michigan is no Akron, a 12 seed that played without a point guard and with a couple flu-ridden players Thursday in a game that needed a running clock.
When I asked the VCU players Friday to name the best point guard they've faced this season, they all pointed to Missouri's Phil Pressey, who survived the Havoc in a win early this season. And then they all agreed Burke's probably better.
Which is why VCU probably will do what it can — trapping and doubling and denying Burke — to force others to handle the pressure today.
"If we can make another guy bring it up, anything can happen," Theus said.
Unlike last year, Michigan does have better ballhandlers to complement Burke. But they're mostly freshmen — Nik Stauskas, Spike Albrecht and Caris LeVert — and against VCU, well, that's like throwing raw meat to a dog. Or the Wild Dogs, which is what the backcourt trio of Theus, Rob Brandenberg and Briante Weber call themselves.
Said Brandenberg: "Every time we play a freshman, we just attack them."
Replied Stauskas: "We've just got to attack them back. We've got to show that we're not scared."
That right there is why this matchup is so intriguing: Two teams, each with the same goal but very different ideas about how to get there. Yet on the court, it always comes down to the same thing.
"It'll be a battle of wills," Jordan said. "And it should be a lot of fun to watch."
Trey Burke will see a defensive style today he hasnít seen all season, although VCU players admit heíll be the best point guard theyíve seen. / Daniel Mears/Detroit News
VCUís relentless defensive pressure was a nightmare for Akron, which ... (John T. Greilick/Detroit News)
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