2014-15 RTC Preseason O26 All-America Teams

Posted by Tommy Lemoine and Adam Stillman on November 12th, 2014

Considering the sheer number of teams competing in O26 conferences, reaching a consensus on the top 15 players – much less the top five – is an incredibly difficult task. Alas, here are our Preseason O26 All-Americans, along with the Player of the Year, Coach of the Year and Newcomer of the Year for the upcoming season. Where did we go wrong?

Player of the Year

Fred VanVleet is our O26 Preseason Player of the Year. (Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports)

Fred VanVleet is our O26 Preseason Player of the Year. (Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports)

Fred VanVleet – G – Wichita State. Evaluating players based on their “leadership” and “composure” and ability to “play within themselves” can be a slippery slope, prone to subjectivity and flaws in perception. But when the numbers seem to back those claims up – a sparkling offensive rating, an eye-popping assist-to-turnover ratio – the intangible qualities quickly seem much more tangible. Which brings us to VanVleet. The 5’11’’ junior possesses nearly all the skills and qualities you could want in a point guard: He is a floor general, who posted the best assist rate in the Missouri Valley last season and fourth-best assist-to-turnover ratio in the entire country; he is an efficient scorer who shot 41 percent from behind the arc and 83 percent from the stripe; he is a good defender who recorded four-plus steals on six different occasions. And by all accounts he is a true leader on and off the court, the steady hand guiding the steadiest bunch in mid-major hoops. Considering all those attributes, VanVleet is our Preseason O26 Player of the Year.

First Team

  • Fred VanVleet – G – Wichita State. See our Player of the Year writeup above. VanVleet is one of the best point guards in the entire country, regardless of league.
  • Ron Baker – G – Wichita State. If VanVleet is the best non-power conference guard in the country, then Baker, his backcourt running mate, is not far behind. The 6’3’’ junior punctuated an impressive 2013-14 campaign (13.1 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.1 APG) by scoring 20 points on 4-for-6 three- point shooting against Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament last March and squashing any doubt about whether he could compete at the highest level. Baker now enters this season as the offensive cornerstone for a top 15 team, whose versatility and perimeter shooting is only expected to shine brighter for the Shockers.

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Mid-Makeovers: Which O26 Units are Poised for a Turnaround?

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 12th, 2014

With the season now only a few days away, let’s look at five teams in great position to improve considerably this year – and in some cases, even compete for a conference crown.

Detroit – Horizon League – 2013-14 record: 13-18 (6-10). After finishing eighth in the Horizon League standings in 2013-14 (out of nine teams) and graduating its top rebounder and second-leading scorer, Evan Bruinsma, Detroit was picked third in this year’s preseason poll. Why such high expectations? The simple answer is twofold: Juwan Howard Jr. is back, and a wave of talent joins him. Howard, a 6’5’’ senior who led the Titans in scoring last season (18.3 PPG), should be one of the best players in the conference this year, even if his numbers do not drastically improve. He was probably relied upon far too heavily a season ago – the wing took 20-plus shots on six different occasions – so this year’s additions should help reduce the pressure and enable Howard to score more efficiently. Those reinforcements – transfers Chris Jenkins (Colorado) and Brandan Kearney (Arizona State), along with redshirt freshman Paris Bass – will bring depth at small forward and provide supplemental offensive punch. Add that to the trio of quality guards in the backcourt, plus 6’10’’ Penn State transfer Patrick Ackerman down low, and Ray McCallum’s team should rediscover its winning ways this season.

Juwan Howard Jr. and the Detroit Titans should be much better this season. (Courtesy of Detroit athletics media relations)

Juwan Howard Jr. and the Detroit Titans should be much better this season. (Detroit athletics)

Lafayette – Patriot League – 2013-14 record: 11-20 (6-12). Lafayette forward Seth Hinrichs missed 10 games in the middle of last season because of a knee injury, and the Leopards proceeded to lose all 10, including their first eight league contests. When he returned to the lineup? Fran O’Hanlon’s group won eight of its last 12. Needless to say, the 6’7’’ senior – a versatile wing who can stretch the floor – is enormously important to Lafayette’s success. With virtually the entire roster back alongside him, including now-seasoned point guard Nick Lindner and sharpshooter Joey Ptasinski (43.5% 3FG), Hinrichs (16.3 PPG) should make the Leopards legitimate Patriot League contenders and put himself in discussion for conference Player of the Year. A postseason berth is more than possible for the Patriot’s most offensively-efficient unit.

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Fright Club: The O26 All Hallows’ Eve Team

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on October 31st, 2014

With Halloween upon us, it’s only natural that we examine the spookiest, scariest, creepiest, crawliest, most fear-inducing hoopsters in the O26 world. WARNING – you may experience nightmares, especially if none of these guys play for your school.

Siena's Jimmy Patsos coaches our All Hallows' Eve team. (Cindy Schultz / Times Union)

Siena’s Jimmy Patsos coaches our All Hallows’ Eve team. (Cindy Schultz / Times Union)

‘The Robbin’ Goblin’

Briante Weber – PG – Virginia Commonwealth. Weber is arguably the most terrifying player in college basketball. Over his first three years in Richmond, the 6’2’’ guard has consistently and relentlessly harassed opposing ball-handlers to the point that Phil Martelli hailed him as the best defender in the country last March. Not only does Weber own the VCU and Atlantic 10 records for career steals, but he’s also posted the highest steal rate in the country for three consecutive seasons. In 2013-14, he logged more than five thefts 11 different times, including seven apiece against Stony Brook and George Washington – impressive outings to be sure, but neither of which even touch his 2012 season opener. In one of the most incredible defensive performances in recent memory, Weber tallied a whopping 10 steals in just 18 minutes on the court, a rate so absurd that even Gary Payton would have to tip his cap (er, glove). To this day, the mere thought of Weber must send shivers down Andy Enfield’s spine.

‘The Serial Thriller’

Desi Washington – SG – Saint Peter’s. The Peacocks’ second-leading scorer does his most sinister work late in games, a fact that repeat-victim Fairfield knows all too well – Washington beat the Stags with buzzer-beaters (or near buzzer-beaters) three different times last season. That’s uncanny, improbable and – if you’re Sydney Johnson, or really any other MAAC coach – downright horrifying entering 2014-15. Incredibly, the now-senior shooting guard also picked off Seton Hall in similar fashion, scoring 34 points and drilling a deep three in the closing seconds to pull off the road upset. To call Washington ‘clutch’ would be an understatement; ‘categorically lethal’ is probably more appropriate.

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Top of the O26 Class: A-10, A-Sun, Big South, Colonial, MEAC & SoCon

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on October 30th, 2014

Leading up to the season, this microsite will preview the best of the Other 26 conferences, region by region. In this installment, we examine the leagues that have a traditional footprint in the Mid-Atlantic/Southeastern region of the U.S: the Atlantic 10, Atlantic Sun, Big South, Colonial, MEAC and Southern Conference. Previous installments include the Northeast region leagues and the Midwest region conferences.

Top Units

Which mid-major will make the most noise this season? in Rush the Court's Polls on LockerDome

Atlantic 10

  • VCU – 2013-14 record: 26-9 (12-4). Shaka Smart has led VCU to four straight NCAA Tournaments including a Final Four run in 2011, and yet this might be his most talented bunch to date. Perhaps his most highly motivated, too. After suffering a bitter, never-should-have-happened defeat to Stephen F. Austin in the Round of 64 last March, preseason all-conference picks Treveon Graham and Briante Weber return, along with several other key pieces and Smart’s best recruiting class. Graham, a 6’6″ forward, is poised to break the school scoring record this season, while the quick-handed Weber looks to build on the career steals mark he already shattered – it’s like the guy was built for HAVOC. The presence of forward Mo Alie-Cox, backcourt contributors JeQuan Lewis and Melvin Johnson, and a trio of heralded freshmen – including four-star Terry Larrier – makes this team more than ready for a tough non-conference slate. Expect a bunch of wins, an A-10 title and big things come March.
VCU is loaded with talent this season. (Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports)

VCU is loaded with talent this season. (Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports)

  • Dayton – 2013-14 record: 26-11 (10-6). Last year’s Cinderella should be top-three good in the A-10, but it may need some time to rediscover the magic. Gone is Dayton’s best all-around player, Devin Oliver, its most important big man, Matt Kavanaugh, and two productive guards. Luckily, Archie Miller’s tendency to use a deep rotation last season – 10 to 12 guys a game – should pay off; this year’s newly-anointed starters all saw quality minutes in 2013-14. Among them will be Scoochie Smith, who steps in as starting point guard following the transfer of Khari Price. Smith’s ability to open up the offense, along with the continued emergence of forwards Jalen Robinson and Devon Scott, will be important factors. Dyshawn Pierre and sharpshooter Jordan Sibert should lead the way, but it is the (probably large) supporting cast that will determine the Flyers’ ceiling.

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Dayton vs. Goliath: Four Keys to Slaying the Gators

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 29th, 2014

Dayton is this tournament’s Cinderella, whether it welcomes that designation or not. As an afterthought 11-seed, the Flyers took down in-state rival Ohio State and its suffocating defense in the opening round, upended Syracuse and its sea of Orange in the round of 32, and then toppled Stanford, only slight favorites, on Thursday night. It’s been a surprising run to say the least. Still, this is not some out-of-nowhere program emerging from a one-bid league – Dayton has history, and the Atlantic 10 is among the better conferences in America – and the upsets, while upsets, haven’t really been inconceivable shockers. That could change tonight against Florida, the number-one overall seed and owners of the nation’s longest winning streak. The Gators are 10-point favorites in Vegas, 9-point, 84 percent favorites at KenPom, and very few pundits and prognosticators project them losing. So then, how can Archie Miller’s surprising bunch overcome the odds and pull off another one in Memphis? Let’s take a look.

They Flyers must be sharp tonight in order to keep the party alive. (Photo: Getty Images)

The Flyers must be sharp tonight in order to keep the party alive. (Photo: Getty Images)

  1. Attack in transition. It might seem counterintuitive to suggest that the smaller, less-talented team try running against the top dog. But there are two reasons why it makes sense here: The Flyers have the personnel to do damage on the run, and they cimply cannot allow Florida to set up its half-court defense with regularity. To the first point, Dayton is unique in that the majority of its players can push the ball up the floor, finish at the rim and shoot threes. As a result, transition scoring options are abundant – whether it’s shooting guard Vee Sanford or power forward Jalen Robinson – which allows for an effective attack even against higher level athletes. Since so many guys are competent ball-handlers, breaking the press and finding quick looks should be possible, and probably necessary, this evening – the Gators’ defense (while pretty great in all aspects) is especially stingy in the half-court. Once they slow you down, the SEC champs apply swarming double-teams, deny passing lanes and shut down the paint like few other teams in college hoops. UCLA was at its offensive best on Thursday when it ran the floor and attacked early in the shot clock, and Dayton will need to do much the same. Read the rest of this entry »
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March Chameleons: Dayton Adapts, But Can It Beat Stanford?

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 27th, 2014

Dayton’s run the stylistic gauntlet this month and lived to tell the tale, at least for a few more hours. Just look at the Flyers’ March: They beat Massachusetts in a 71-possession footrace, the type of up-and-down affair the Minutemen love; it toppled Saint Louis – on the road – and its grinding, exhausting, limit-your-threes defense; they methodically took down Richmond’s tough match-up zone, and then, in the NCAA Tournament, Syracuse’s 2-3 zone; and it outdid Ohio State, one of the best defenses in the country with one of the best individual defenders in the country. If not for Langston Galloway’s near-buzzer-beater (and push-off?) in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, they might have defeated Saint Joseph’s too. Archie Miller’s group has won games fast and slow, physical and finesse, tactical and chaotic. And now Stanford looms, a club that mixed 2-3 and 1-3-1 zone defenses on Sunday to utterly baffle Kansas and send the heavily-favored Jayhawks packing for the offseason. Trouble on the horizon for the Flyers? Perhaps. But if their recent play is any indication, it won’t be because they can’t adapt.

Dayton was flying high in Buffalo, but can they beat the Cardinal? (Photo: Jamie Germano Staff Photographer)

Dayton was flying high in Buffalo, but can they beat the Cardinal? (Photo: Jamie Germano)

That adaptability starts with both the depth and versatility of Dayton’s roster. The Flyers ranked second in the A-10 behind only George Mason this season in bench minutes, with reserves accounting for nearly 36 percent of playing time. Among those reserves is Vee Sanford, a team captain and former starter who hit the game-winner against Ohio State in the second round. He, along with Scoochie Smith – a heralded freshman out of the Bronx –point guard Khari Price, and sharpshooter Jordan Sibert, make up a backcourt quick off the dribble and adept from long range. But to suggest that the team’s ‘backcourt’ is easily distinguishable from its ‘frontcourt’ would be a mistake, and almost impossible to conclude if you watch it play. The fact is, most players are able to handle the ball and nearly everyone can run the floor. At 6’7’’, Devin Oliver is the team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer, tough and physical but also capable of banging home threes. Dyshawn Pierre, the forward who hit clutch free throws in both games over the weekend, fits the same mold. Even 6’9’’ Jalen Robinson can move with ease and drain outside shots. Throw in a few other reserves who provide quality minutes at multiple positions, and Miller is able to mix-and-match lineups on a night-to-night, minute-to-minute basis.

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Rushed Reactions: #11 Dayton 55, #3 Syracuse 53

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 22nd, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion@RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregionKenny Ocker is an RTC columnist and correspondent. He is covering the Spokane pods of the East and West regionals this week. 

Three Key Takeaways.

Dayton is headed to the Sweet Sixteen. (Photo : reuters).

Dayton is headed to the Sweet Sixteen. (Photo : reuters).

  1. Dayton meant business. Dayton guard Vee Sanford (the hero on Thursday) said during Friday’s press conference that he saw Syracuse as “just another game” and repeatedly mentioned the team’s business-like approach entering Saturday. If the Flyers’ performance tonight was any indication, that sentiment was genuine. Archie Miller’s guys – showing no signs of an upset-hangover – were sharp defensively and made a concerted effort to penetrate the teeth of the Orange 2-3 zone on offense. In the second half, they looked for more outside shots, crisply rotating the ball and nailing six big threes in the final 20 minutes. The game plan was deliberate, the players were focused, and the positive results followed – a berth in the Sweet Sixteen.
  2. More resilience from the Flyers. Syracuse took a three-point lead with about eight minutes remaining – its largest of the night – and looked to be on the cusp of a big run. It could have been the moment where Dayton fell apart and the Orange, with its roaring crowd, ran away with victory. Instead, the Flyers responded with a four-point possession to retake the lead, knocked down big free throws down the stretch, and never surrendered their advantage. Just like it did against the Buckeyes, Miller’s group showed its ability to counterpunch after taking a few in the chin.
  3. Shooting woes crippled Syracuse. Syracuse guard Trevor Cooney shot 6-of-33 in his team’s five losses entering Saturday night. Against Dayton, he finished 0-of-5 from behind the arc. But it wasn’t just the sophomore: As a team, the Orange shot a dismal 0-of-10 from distance and could never find much of a groove offensively. Forward Jerami Grant played a big role in the win over Western Michigan but was virtually non-existent tonight. Syracuse looked more like the team everyone questioned in the season’s final month than the one that started off 25-0.

Star of the GameDyshawn Pierre (14 points, six rebounds). For the second straight game, Pierre knocked down some huge free throws to keep the Flyers in control in the game’s final moments. The shots were especially crucial following a key miss at the line by teammate Devin Oliver.

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NCAA Tournament Analysis: Saturday Games

Posted by Bennet Hayes, Brian Otskey, Andrew Murawa & Walker Carey on March 22nd, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

Half of the field is already gone, and as fun as Thursday and Friday were, it’s time to get down to the business of crowning a national champion. Here’s our analysis of all of Saturday’s games.

#1 Florida vs. #9 Pittsburgh — South Region Third Round (at Orlando, FL) — 12:15 PM ET on CBS.

Lamar Patterson And Pittsburgh Had Little Trouble With Colorado In Their Tournament Debut, But A Far Stiffer Challenge Awaits Them In The Tournament's #1 Overall Seed, Florida

Lamar Patterson And Pittsburgh Had Little Trouble With Colorado In Their Tournament Debut, But A Far Stiffer Challenge Now Awaits: The Tournament’s #1 Overall Seed, Florida.

Albany made things interesting for a while against Florida, but the South region’s top seed took control down the stretch to advance to the round of 32. The Gator’s third round opponent, Pittsburgh, made sure that their Tournament advancement was never in doubt, running out to a 13-0 lead on Colorado en route to a 77-48 rout of the Buffs. Impressive performance from the Panthers, but a second round blowout has never entitled anyone to a bye into the Sweet 16; Jamie Dixon’s team will have their work cut out for them on Saturday. Still though, this is a winnable game for Pitt. The Panthers are a #9 seed in the bracket, but Ken Pom’s rankings have them as the 15th best team in the country, and they actually share a lot of the same traits that have made Florida successful this season. Neither squad plays fast (Florida is 314th in adjusted tempo, Pitt 296th), but both teams are in the top-25 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and each collects caroms at a clip that puts them in the top-60 in the country in rebounding percentage on both ends. Neither team boasts an especially glaring weakness, although three-point shooting is not a big part of the game-plan for either side. Looking at the Pittsburgh stats page can be intoxicating; the Panthers really do look like a top-15 team on paper. An inability to close out games has been the largest roadblock for the on-court version of the Panthers to emit the same appearance, but there’s no reason why they can’t finally win one of those close ones on Saturday. Pitt’s Lamar Patterson and Florida’s Scottie Wilbekin will not spend much time directly matching up today, but expect the bulk of the offense to flow through these two players. Patterson hasn’t been fully commended for what’s been a breakout senior season, but he’ll have his shot at some national recognition against the Gators. Outplaying Wilbekin would give Pittsburgh a great chance at moving on, but Wilbekin – and his gritty supporting cast – is where I’ll place my faith. I think Scottie does enough to keep Florida playing basketball next weekend, and in a game that may feel more like a Sweet 16 matchup than a third round game, Florida moves on.

The RTC Certified Pick: Florida

#4 Louisville vs. #5 Saint Louis – Midwest Region Third Round (in Orlando, FL) – at 2:45 PM EST on CBS

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Rushed Reactions: #7 Connecticut 89, #10 Saint Joseph’s 81 (OT)

Posted by Walker Carey on March 20th, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

 Three Key Takeaways.

Shabazz Napier made big plays when his team needed it most. (litchfieldcountysports.com)

Shabazz Napier made big plays when his team needed it most. (litchfieldcountysports.com)

  1. Shabazz Napier was not great, but showed why he’s a great player. The UConn star struggled to find his shot for most of the evening, finishing 7-of-22 from the field and airballing a couple of his attempts. But in the overtime period when his team needed him most, the AAC Player of the Year scored five straight points – including a difficult and-1 play that not too many guys could finish – to all but seal the victory. He ended the game with 24 points, eight boards, six assists, and hit all eight of his free throws. The Huskies go as their senior leader goes, and we’ll see just how far that takes them this month.
  2. DeAndre Daniels needs to keep showing up. Daniels was big tonight, scoring 18 points and hitting three big triples to keep the margin close when Saint Joe’s appeared to be in control of the game. The former five-star recruit has been inconsistent throughout the season/career, but he had himself a nice AAC Tournament and continued doing good things today against the Hawks. If he can become a consistent offensive weapon, the ceiling on this team is undoubtedly higher. Ryan Boatright was also sharp from behind the arc, knocking down four of his eight attempts and helping the Huskies to a team-wide 11-of-24 from distance.
  3. Saint Joseph’s ran out of gas. The Hawks have virtually no depth, ranking dead last in the country in bench minutes, so they were at an immediate disadvantage when this game went to overtime. Not only were they gassed, but Halil Kanacevic was in foul trouble, so when he picked up his fifth in the opening minute of the extra period, it spelled doom for Martelli’s club. Sure enough, UConn rolled from that point onward. All told, Saint Joseph’s received a total of nine minutes – yes, nine minutes – from its bench in 45 minutes of basketball.

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Bracket Prep: Saint Joseph’s, Louisiana-Lafayette

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 17th, 2014

With Championship Week officially over and a fresh bracket ready for filling, here’s what you need to know about the most recent automatic bid winners. 

Saint Joseph’s

Saint Joseph's returns to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008. (Associated Press)

Saint Joseph’s returns to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008. (AP)

  • Atlantic 10 Champion (24-9, 14-5)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #37/#49/#56
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +6.3
  • NCAA Seed: #10

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. Saint Joseph’s started the week on the bubble and ended it with an Atlantic 10 tournament championship. The Hawks now head to the Dance with lots of confidence – having just beaten VCU and its vaunted defense for the second time this season – and lots of experience: three of the team’s most prominent players are seniors. Still, this is just the second time Phil Martelli has taken his program to the NCAA Tournament since it entered as a one-seed in 2004, and the first appearance since 2008. It was an important, much needed accomplishment for the veteran head coach. And perhaps he couldn’t have done it without the help of his pint-sized assistant coach on Sunday.
  2. This is probably Martelli’s most balanced team in several years, ranking 68th and 55th overall in offensive and defensive efficiency, respectively. The Hawks take a lot of threes – often kick-outs or dribble-screen hand-offs – and make a high percentage of them. Especially senior shooting guard and leading scorer Langston Galloway, who knocks down 44 percent of his triples and is capable of taking games over. The team is also efficient in the paint, thanks to a versatile front court featuring 6’8’’ Ronald Roberts, Jr., a superior athlete with the ability to make game-changing (and momentum changing) plays on both ends of the court, and Halil Kanacevic, who provides a tough, workman-like interior presence on defense and a surprisingly multi-skilled offensive game. They are the team’s top two rebounders and shot-blockers, and Kanacevic actually leads the way in assists due to his Arvydas Sabonis-like passing skills. The Hawks do have a pair of glaring weaknesses on each end, however: they are awful from the free throw line, and they rarely force turnovers. At 64.4 percent, only a handful of schools are worse from the stripe, and Saint Joe’s turnover rate was dead last in the conference. Read the rest of this entry »
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Assessing the Atlantic 10’s NCAA Tournament Chances

Posted by Joe Dzuback on March 16th, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference.

The chances for six bids, a record high for the Atlantic 10, are strong. The source for the seeds is the Bracket Matrix (a consensus of approximately 100 bloggers/bracketologists).

St. Joe's Made Quite the Run This Weekend (credit: Mid-Majority)

St. Joe’s Made Quite the Run This Weekend (credit: Mid-Majority)

Virginia Commonwealth (#6 seed)  — For the Rams, who have had problems generating offense from the half-court all season, turnovers leading to fast breaks and transition threes are especially important. Virginia Commonwealth’s HAVOC approach to defense is designed to generate turnovers through aggressive pressure and quick traps. HAVOC defense values turnovers and the scoring opportunities they create over shot defense. The key to negating the Rams’ strategy is to grow old and patient. Lineups that feature upperclassmen, especially in the ball-handling positions, can break the press on most possessions and make the Rams pay with easy baskets. A turnover or two should not rattle the backcourt and cause hasty, turnover-inducing decisions like the ones that plagued George Washington in the Atlantic 10 semifinals on Saturday. thrives in a hurry-up offense and defense that values turnovers over shot defense. Break the Rams’ press and avoid the half-court traps, unlike George Washington’s guard Joe McDonald Saturday, and the opponent should have a clean look at the basket. He and freshman point guard Miguel Cartagena threw two passes away with under four minutes to play and the Colonials down nine. “You can see it in their eyes… in their body language… when they are rattled,” a scout observed. Smart’s squad is the A-10’s best bet for a deep run this NCAA Tournament. While they have their flaws, they also have an experienced coach who will get them ready to play.

Saint Louis (#6 seed) – VCU may get most of the “defense” ink, but St. Louis has compiled the most impressive defensive resume in the conference… up until two weeks ago, holding opponents to 0.93 points per possession, good for #8 in Division I, according to Ken Pomeroy. The defense is vintage Rick Majerus — stifling shot defense (especially out to the three-point line) that values defensive rebounds, limited fouls and a hand in the face over turnovers. Their late February/early March slump could be anticipated because the Bills’ had a string of small point margins through much of their 12-0 start to conference play. Their 1-3 close has hurt their projected seeding and possibly their confidence. While Austin McBroom and Mike McCall are decent from beyond the arc, they are specialists. Opposing defenses know if McBroom or McCall (or forward Rob Loe) has the ball, the shot will come from the outside and anyone else will drive the lane or pass into the low post. Jordair Jett, the A-10 Player of the Year, has proven to be able to create his own shot, but everyone else needs a setup or set play to score. The Bills will have to find a third/fourth option on offense to take a deep run.

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VCU Likely Crushes Richmond’s NCAA Dreams, Bolsters Hopes of March Success

Posted by Lathan Wellls on March 7th, 2014

VCU continued to put thoughts of their three-losses-in-four-games stretch to rest Thursday night, vanquishing their city rivals from Richmond, 56-50. While the depleted Spiders didn’t appear on paper to have the manpower to match up with a Rams squad fresh off an upset of Saint Louis, it was still a rivalry game in which anything can and did happen. Richmond’s 26-22 halftime edge and 11-point lead with 15 minutes to go was enough to prove that. Still, the comeback win was encouraging and important for VCU’s push into March, and also emblematic of the reason Shaka Smart’s club becomes so dangerous come tourney time. A look into Smart’s numbers away from home and against familiar opponents while at the helm demonstrates why opponents hate to meet the Rams late in the year, no matter the game’s location.

Coach Smart's team is ridiculously successful in "return games," boding well for conference tournament play (sportsillustrated.com)

Coach Smart’s team is ridiculously successful in “return games,” boding well for conference tournament play (sportsillustrated.com)

Everyone knows about the well-documented defense that VCU employs. The attacking Havoc style has been alive and well all year long, as the Rams currently rank third in the Atlantic 10 in defense (allowing 66.0 PPG coming into the match-up with Richmond) and lead the nation in turnovers forced. The key to this team’s success, though, is in its balance. VCU also ranks second in the conference in scoring, making it the only team in the A-10 that can boast top-three rankings in both statistical categories. That means the Rams can hound their opponents to death with the full-court press, but also boast five starters averaging at least nine points per game. While Richmond’s formidable match-up zone defense had its way with Smart’s offense for the bulk of the game and there was a definite lack of impact from the bench, the frenetic pace the Rams employ and the variety of scoring options at their disposal proved vital in the second half and illustrated why they’re a scary team to meet late in the year.

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