This year’s NCAA tournament has produced two of the more memorable runs in NCAA tournament history. One of the runs will be coming to an end on Saturday in Houston as the two teams who are on the run will face off. The Butler Bulldogs will battle the VCU Rams in an effort to get back to the title game for the second year in a row.
I have followed both of these teams closely throughout the year and I can say Butler’s run doesn’t really surprise me. In late January, early February it would have. But as the month of February progressed you could see the team finally find themselves and create an identity for this year’s team. It all started on the defensive end of the floor as the Bulldogs returned to the 5 guys play as 1 mentality that got them to the Final Four last year.
Led by NBA prospects Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack, the Bulldogs enter the Final Four with by far the most tournament experience. Ronald Nored and Shawn Vanzant play in your face, lock-down defense and are able to do the little things on the offensive end. Vanzant especially can knock down the occasional 3 and knows how to get to the rim. Andrew Smith and Kyle Marshall man the paint for Butler, and like most of the team they do those little things like getting to loose balls and boxing out which has allowed Butler to outrebound teams that you figured they’d have no shot against. Zach Hahn, Chase Stigall, Crishawn Hopkins, and Garrett Butcher round out the group that will likely see playing time this weekend.
While I wasn’t surprised about Butler making their run, I was definitely surprised about VCU. They struggled down the stretch in CAA league play. A league that doesn’t get nearly enough credit. But in the CAA tournament semifinal against George Mason you saw a switch temporarily go on. Just like they have done in the NCAA tournament, they shot the 3 extremely well, created turnovers and got key post presence out of Jamie Skeen. However as quick as that switch went on against George Mason, it went off the following day when the Rams lost to Old Dominion in the CAA title game.
What caused the switch to go off against ODU? And why has no team so far in the tournament been able to replicate ODU’s effort against VCU? The reason ODU created problems for VCU is because they play that zone defense that is extremely long at the top. It makes getting open looks at 3 pointers very hard for the Rams. And open 3’s is the key to their success. Florida St had the length and toughness on defense to give VCU issues. The problem for the Noles was they didn’t have enough at the other end.
Keys to the Game
Tempo: which team will be able to control the tempo? VCU is going to want to use their full court pressure to try and create turnovers. If Butler handles it how they did against Wisconsin in the final minutes they could be in trouble. Butler will want to slow the game down, and methodically run their offense. On defense, Butler will be in your face.
Ball screens: Butler and VCU traditionally hedge the high ball screen. However with the ability to shoot the 3 that both Matt Howard and Jamie Skeen possess, it will be interesting to see how Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart adjust or if they just play it how they have all season. You might see both teams trap on the high ball screen rather than just hedge it to make the pick-and-pop pass more difficult for the smaller guards.
3 Point Defense: Butler defends the 3 point line better than any team VCU has faced all season. The Rams are unlikely to get as many open looks as they have. Butler takes open 3’s in the rhythm of their offense and VCU’s defense can fall asleep at times. For most teams defense dictates offense, but for VCU it is their offense that dictates how their defense performs.
I have seen a lot of people picking the Rams this week, however I will not be one of them. People expect a close game, but in the end I think the experience Butler has from last year’s run and their ability to defend the 3 point line will allow them to create a comfortable winning margin.
Butler 68 VCU 58
About the Author
Written by Patrick Greissing
Life long resident of Washington, DC. A huge Washington Capitals and Miami Dolphins fan. Also have a strong passion for college basketball. Have coached at the high school and national AAU level. Always interested in talking sports. Follow me on twitter: @pgreissing