Redskins

VCU rolls into Top 25 for 1st time since 84-85

VCU rolls into Top 25 for 1st time since 84-85

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) Coach Shaka Smart, VCU and the Rams' ``havoc'' style of play are back in the national spotlight.

This year's Rams have used the same intense defensive pressure that carried them to the 2011 Final Four to break into the Top 25 for the first time in 28 years.

The No. 22 Rams rode their 94-foot style of constant pressure to take out five schools from the major BCS conferences in their stunning postseason run two years ago. Now they've won 11 straight and are ranked for the first time since 1984-85.

The Rams (14-3, 2-0 Atlantic 10) host St. Joseph's, the league's preseason favorite, Thursday night.

The Hawks (9-5, 1-1) face a stiff test against the Rams' pressure, likely in front of another sellout crowd at the Siegel Center. Still, Smart's team also has its own new challenge to address.

``I can guarantee you when we play a ranked team, we use that as motivation. We use any attention they're getting as motivation, so we've got to understand that people are going to do that with us now,'' Smart said, putting the onus on his team to ignore the plaudits and remember how they got there.

``We have to make sure we're focused on what's going to bring us success moving forward,'' Smart said. ``For our guys, it's a test of their maturity and their focus and for us as a program. It's a test of how good can we be when everyone's watching and when there are a lot of people saying good things about us.''

It has been hard not to say good things about the Rams.

The winning streak began after a 3-point loss to No. 17 Missouri in the Bahamas. That loss followed a nine-point setback against No. 3 Duke a day earlier. Nine of the 11 victories have come by double digits, including a 73-54 blowout of Alabama.

With their constant defensive pressure, the Rams lead all Division 1 men's teams in steals, averaging 13.2 per game. Sophomore Briante Weber leads the nation with 3.59 per game; senior Darius Theus is 10th, averaging 2.69.

On offense, senior Troy Daniels in No. 1 in 3-pointers made per game, averaging 4.12.

Anthony Grant, who coached VCU for three seasons before leaving for Alabama, got a very warm welcome when he brought the Crimson Tide to the Siegel Center on Dec. 15 - at least until the game started.

After Alabama went ahead 2-0, VCU scored 26 of the next 31 points.

``With the intensity that they play (with) on the defensive end, they're as good as any team that we've seen,'' he said after his team committed 18 turnovers, 13 by halftime.

``They're awfully good,'' Grant said.

Like it did in the Final Four run, it's the Rams' defense that makes everything else go.

``You can see what we do on film, but it's different when you're out there playing against it. People are going to prepare for it, but you've still got to deal with that havoc,'' Theus said. ``... We want to get the other team tired, and we may be tired, too, but we want to push them to their limit.''

A master motivator, Smart used the Rams' much-criticized inclusion in the 2011 NCAA tournament field to help fuel their run to the Final Four, showing his team clips of so-called ``experts'' counting them out.

He now uses the banner marking that season to reinforce the identity that can get them back.

``That's the only time when we reference the Final Four,'' Smart said. ```Hey guys. This is what goes into winning and if we do what goes into winning.' Then I'll point at the banner and say, `That's what we can do.'''

It helps to have Theus and Daniels, who both played with that team, still around.

``I want that as bad as I want my last breath,'' Daniels said. ``Me and Darius talk about it every single day, but we have to focus on the A-10. We have to get through this, but it would be a great feeling.''

Theus averaged 15 minutes per game on that team, and Daniels 4.7 minutes.

``That year was very special, but it would mean a lot more if we could do it this year because our role is much bigger,'' Theus said. ``It would be amazing. Like Troy said, we talk about it all the time, just to get back to that Final Four. That was the best time of my life. I would love to get back there.''

Smart would, too. Perhaps as a reminder to his team what it takes to get there, or as a way to warn opponents of what is coming, their warmup jerseys all have the same word - HAVOC - on the back.

``You can describe our style of play in one word,'' Smart said. ``How many people can you say that about?

``That in and of itself doesn't win you the game, but it does help in recruiting, it helps with an identity and I think people like that. ... There's no question this is a style for hungry, aggressive, tough-minded guys with something to prove, and we're fortunate that we have some of those guys.''

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Jay Gruden reportedly to join Jaguars as their offensive coordinator

Jay Gruden reportedly to join Jaguars as their offensive coordinator

Just four months shy of his last appearance on the NFL gridiron sidelines, Jay Gruden may already have his 2020 gig lined up, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero.

Gruden was head coach of the Washington Redskins for six seasons, beginning in 2014 and going 35-49-1 in his burgundy and gold tenure. Gruden pushed the Redskins to their first postseason appearance since 2012 in his second year with the team, as well as back-to-back winning seasons in 2015 and 2016, not seen in Washington since 1996 and 1997. 

In March 2017, Gruden signed a two-year extension with the Redskins. He was fired after beginning the 2019 season 0-5. 

Recently, Gruden confirmed to Rapoport that he was "itching for something to do" and seeking employment before Jacksonville brought him in to interview for the OC role. 

After playing four years at the University of Louisville and and eight more in various football leagues, Gruden held many offensive roles, offensive coordinator for the Florida Tuskers and Cincinnati Bengals. 

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Jalen Smith's career night propels No. 17 Terps past Northwestern

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Jalen Smith's career night propels No. 17 Terps past Northwestern

Jalen Smith scored a career-high 25 points, and No. 17 Maryland rallied to beat Northwestern 77-66 on Tuesday night.

The Terrapins trailed by as much as 15 in the first half and were down 10 in the second when they went on a 15-2 run.

Back-to-back 3-pointers by Aaron Wiggins and Anthony Cowan Jr. gave Maryland (15-4, 5-3 Big Ten) its first lead of the game at 56-55 with 9:10 remaining before Smith punctuated it with a hard dunk. Smith also hit a huge 3 with just under two minutes left to make it 72-63, lifting the Terrapins to their second straight win after back-to-back losses.

Smith, a sophomore, surpassed his previous high of 21 points against Minnesota last season. Wiggins scored 17. And Maryland came away with the win after dropping four straight away from home despite shooting just 35%.

Pat Spencer led Northwestern (6-12, 1-7) with 17 points. Miller Kopp scored 16. But the Wildcats lost for the eighth time in nine games.

Northwestern came into the game ranked 13th in the Big Ten in scoring, but took a 40-26 lead to the locker room after a blistering first half.

Kopp scored 11 and Nance added nine points. Northwestern shot 15 of 25 overall, made 4 of 6 3's and clamped down on Maryland. Cowan and Jalen Smith each scored just four points, and the Terrapins shot just 6 of 25 overall and 5 of 17 from beyond the arc.

Northwestern led 36-21 after a floater by A.J. Turner and had a 14-point lead at the half.

BIG PICTURE

Maryland: Though the Terrapins struggled in the early going, they steadied themselves down the stretch. They also seem to be getting their footing back, beating Purdue and Northwestern after getting pounded at Iowa and losing by two at Wisconsin.

Northwestern: The Wildcats built the big lead early on, only to drop another tight game after losing by four at Illinois on Saturday.

UP NEXT

Maryland: The Terrapins will try to make it a two-game sweep when they visit Indiana on Sunday. Maryland beat the Hoosiers 75-59 on Jan. 4.

Northwestern: The Wildcats will try to stop their skid when they host Ohio State on Sunday.

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