Thursday, February 5, 2009

The most frenetic basketball system ever played

SI's Tim Layden has a good story this week about Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in Lexington, Va., which scored 111 points in a season-opening upset win over Kentucky back in November.

After scoring 110 points last night in a close win on the road over Winthrop, the Keydets are 18-4 on the season.

As Layden points out in his article, the Keydets are "leading the nation in scoring (with 96.0 points per game), three-pointers (14.1) and steals (14.5) thanks to a withering combination: full-court pressure defense to force turnovers and quick-trigger shooting from beyond the arc."

Says UVA coach Dave Leitao, who "held" VMI to 97 points as his Cavs beat the Keydets in the second game of the season, "If they get to the tournament, they are absolutely a threat to beat somebody. They are unique and nontraditional. It's going to be very difficult to prepare for them."

VMI is led by 48-year-old Duggar Baucom, who "has revived VMI not only with his high-speed attack but also with shrewd recruiting and far-outside-the-box touches, like team sessions with a hypnotherapist he found while watching Golf Channel."

Coach Baucom, who started his career in basketball coaching a JV team in Charlotte back in the late 1980s, came to VMI in 2005 after going 37-19 in two seasons at Tusculum in Greenville, Tenn.

According to Layden, Baucom's "basketball system... is among the most frenetic that any team has played in the sport's history. In 2006-07 Baucom's second season at VMI, the Keydets set still-standing NCAA records for three-point shots attempted (1,383) and made (442), as well as for steals (450)."

It has been called the Sprint and Strike (by Baucom) and the Loot and Shoot (by the Virginia media), and Baucom pieced it together from Paul Westhead's crazy-fast Loyola Marymount teams in the late 1980s, Division III Grinnell (Iowa) College's platoon-shift frenzy, and Vance Walberg's dribble-drive motion and full-court pressure package (SI, Feb. 18, 2008).

Basketball is a sort of release for VMI's players and students. As Coach Baucom's wife puts it:

"Life is harsh here. There's not a whole lot that goes on. Winning gives the cadets something to look forward to."