Head coach Jamion Christian is switching up men’s basketball’s defense, introducing a strategy focused on pace and aggression.
The team is shifting from its previous defensive techniques of man-to-man and zone to a “mayhem” style, a fast-paced technique centered on aggressive pressure and trapping. Christian said the style is designed to produce turnovers and steals, bolstering the team’s offense and giving the squad a few extra possessions.
“Mayhem is all about us being connected on the floor for 40 minutes, pressing and trapping, forcing you to spot someone somewhere you don’t have the ball at and giving our offense a jumpstart off the defense on the floor,” Christian said.
An offensive push is just what the Colonials needed last season. The team ranked last in the Atlantic 10 in points scored, averaging just 63.8 per game. The squad also took the lowest number of shots from the field of all conference teams and managed to only make 40.6 percent of its field goal attempts.
Christian spent last season at the helm of Siena’s team perfecting his defensive strategies, which he also used at his previous school, Mount St. Mary’s. Under his direction, the Saints showcased an ironclad defense that proved instrumental in securing one of their best seasons in recent years.
In the 2018-19 season, Siena allowed 66.8 points per game, ranking second in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Off the glass, the Saints carried a plus turnover margin and garnered the highest assist-turnover ratio in the MAAC.
Last season, GW posted a -0.8 turnover margin and allowed an average of 71.7 points per game, No. 10 in the A-10 Conference. The team had more turnovers on the season (412) than assists (375), compared to Siena’s 322 turnovers and 415 assists.
Junior forward Ace Stallings, who played under Christian for one year at Mount St. Mary’s, said the mayhem defensive style is “organized chaos.” He added that communication between players is necessary to be able to coordinate traps and movement into passing lanes.
Stallings said the dynamic nature of mayhem defense allows the team to spend less time defending and more time taking shots by causing turnovers, deflections and steals.
“We get a lot of fast-paced offense from it because even if we don’t get the ball on press, we have opportunities where the opponent keeps the ball over the 20-second shot clock, which gives us time to guard one or two, as opposed to three or four,” Stallings said.
Assistant coach Ryan Devlin, who coached under Christian at Siena and now serves as GW’s defensive coordinator, said mayhem defense will not only rile up GW players but will excite the crowd and create an energized atmosphere.
“The version of mayhem that I had with coach Christian is this: How we play it is going to create mayhem in the stands,” Devlin said. “That’s the kind of effect we want people to have. We want to have the people going nuts because they love the products we have on this court.”
The switch in defensive style posed a significant adjustment for the Colonials, some of whom had little to no experience with mayhem defense, junior guard Maceo Jack said. But Jack added that the supportive, learning atmosphere Christian and his coaching staff fostered in the preseason has allowed the team to embrace the challenge.
“There’s always some kinks when learning a new offense, learning a new style, defense in this case,” Jack said. “But I think we’ve definitely taken it in stride. We’re definitely learning. Coach has created an environment where it’s a learning environment, where he’s there to help us with any questions we have.”
Jack said the team will take a proactive approach on defense and prevent the opposing team from waltzing up the court easily.
“We’re going to take the fight to our opponent and not let them take the fight to us,” Jack said. “That’s a big part. Mayhem is a mentality. It’s definitely something coach has instilled in us since he’s got here, and we’re definitely going to implement that.”