RTC Final Four Snapshots: VCU RamsPosted by zhayes9 on March 30th, 2011
Rush the Court’s Zach Hayes will deliver a breakdown of each Final Four team every day this week. Here are his Butler and Connecticut previews. The third breakdown focuses on the most unlikely Final Four team of our lifetime: VCU.
Crucial Tourney Moments: The craziest part of VCU’s improbable run to the Final Four is not just that they’ve beaten five teams from BCS conferences, but that they’ve throttled their supposed superior opposition by a healthy 12 PPG. This isn’t a so-called Cinderella barely avoiding midnight time and time again, this is a sustained demolition of power programs: USC, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and, the most shocking of them all, Kansas. Because two of those wins were lopsided and only the Sweet 16 matchup with FSU truly in doubt as the seconds ticked down, let’s recap the sheer improbability of this run instead, summed up by these three facts: VCU has scored 1.17 points per possession during the tournament and four of their opponents ranked in the top 26 in defensive efficiency, their #185 effective FG% defense held the #1 effective FG% offense to their lowest FG% of the season, VCU’s season-high of 11 threes was eclipsed in three different games during the NCAA Tournament. I could go on.
Advantage Area: Unlike defense, VCU has been a capable offensive squad for the majority of the regular season. While their pinpoint 44% mark from deep during the NCAA Tournament is clearly higher than their season average, the Rams boast capable shooters across the board with three regular rotation players connecting on over 40% of their attempts. VCU is extremely aggressive with their dribble-drive offense that forces teams to help on penetration and risk surrendering open looks from three to the likes of Bradford Burgess, Brandon Rozzell and even versatile big man Jamie Skeen. Unlike UConn (freshman most of the time), Kentucky (freshman) and Butler (junior), the Rams boast a senior floor general in Joey Rodriguez that’s accumulated over 4,300 minutes as the orchestrator of this up-tempo attack. Even though Rodriguez likes the push the pace, he’s compiled 38 assists to just nine turnovers during the NCAA Tournament.
Potential Downfall: The Rams have to cool off from three sooner than later. Case in point: Burgess is 13 of 18 from three since the First Four game against USC. But VCU has always been a strong three-point shooting squad and Butler isn’t an outstanding team at defending the three, so the Rams can expect production from beyond the arc. The defensive side of the ball is where VCU could come crashing down to earth, especially if Butler keeps the game in the halfcourt and makes VCU defend for 30-35 seconds. Shaka Smart’s team ranked just 87th in defensive efficiency and surrendered a 49% mark from two-point range this year. Let’s face it: they’ve been fortunate to face two poor offensive teams in USC and Florida State, not to mention Georgetown playing with a banged up point guard. Also, Kansas panicked early and suffered through an uncharacteristically horrid shooting performance. While inferior talent-wise to the Jayhawks, Butler won’t panic and press like the Jayhawks did.
X-Factor: Brandon Rozell seems to be a good barometer for this team’s success. In VCU’s six post-January losses prior to the NCAA Tournament, Rozell connected on just 33% of his triples. During this magical March run, the Richmond native is hitting on just under 50% of his attempts. When Rozell is an integral part of the offense, as he was during his 26-point outburst against Georgetown and his four threes against Kansas last Sunday, it gives VCU yet another shooter to hang out behind the arc when Rodriguez cuts through the opposing defenses and looks for a shooter. Rozell also provides the Rams a nice energy boost off the bench when shots aren’t falling or the offense is stagnant.
Key Semifinal Matchup: As I mentioned in my Butler preview, the most fascinating matchup is Jamie Skeen against the Butler bigs Matt Howard and Andrew Smith. While Skeen is superior athletically, he’s very similar to Butler’s tandem in terms of versatility, toughness, shooting touch and rebounding prowess. Skeen more than held his own against the matchup nightmares known as Marcus and Markieff Morris. The Wake Forest transfer will look to make Howard uncomfortable in the paint with post-ups in hopes of drawing the Bulldogs’ big man into foul trouble. Howard, on the other hand, can draw Skeen into defending ball screens on the perimeter, forcing switches that could result in Skeen defending Shelvin Mack or pick-and-pops that leave Howard with enough time to utilize his range from three.
Crunch Time Performer: I thought the play that most defined the implausibility of the Rams’ run to the Final Four was a sequence involving Joey Rodriguez late in the second half vs. Kansas. With just over six minutes to play and the Rams holding on to an eight point advantage, Rodriguez dribbled up the floor and chucked up an ill-advised three that met all air. Less than two minutes later, a Tyshawn Taylor layup cut the lead to five and Rodriguez’ wasted possession appeared to be a possible turning point. On the following possession, Rodriguez received a ball screen at the top of the key that Taylor went behind, freeing Rodriguez to take an open three that, without hesitation, he drilled to push the lead to 60-52 with less than five minutes to play. The assurance Rodriguez displayed firing that shot exemplifies the “house money” loose and ultra-confident mentality that VCU has been playing with since the tournament began. VCU relies on Rodriguez to make the big passes and shots late in games. The senior, more often than not, delivers.
Experience Level: Seniors Rodriguez, Burgess and Rozell have played one NCAA Tournament game, a heartbreaking loss to UCLA during Eric Maynor’s senior year, prior to this season. Their experience is obviously minimal compared to their national semifinal opponent in Butler. Shelvin Mack, Ronald Nored and Matt Howard played on the biggest stage in the sport last season and nearly took home the national title. VCU is on such a roll and playing with immeasurable confidence, I’m not sure this matters one iota.
Forecast: VCU has their first mediocre shooting night from three, Butler is able to control tempo and keep the game in the halfcourt and Brad Stevens will surely have his team ready to handle the Rams’ full court press. The run finally ends here.