NCAA Tournament Analysis: Saturday Games

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

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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

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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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O26 Game of the Week: Saint Louis-VCU Pt. II, Iona-Manhattan & More…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 27th, 2014

Each week the O26 microsite will run down the biggest upcoming game of the week as well as a handful of others to keep an eye on.

Saint Louis (25-2) at Virginia Commonwealth (20-7) – 6:00 PM ET, ESPN2, Saturday. Yes, this was our Game of the Week just two short weeks ago and yes, the Billikens all-but-clinched the Atlantic 10 crown by winning on their home floor. So why does the second iteration once again headline the week? Well, for one thing, it was a really good basketball game the first time around. Saint Louis held serve in Chaifetz Arena, sure, but not before VCU forced 17 turnovers and battled back from a double-figure deficit to make the final two minutes thrilling — it took a Rob Loe three-pointer with around 30 seconds left to ice it for the home team. And the defenses lived-up to their dominant billing, each limiting the opposing offense to well-under one point per possession on the afternoon. Even if you had tuned in for just five minutes of action, the high level of play and serious potential of both teams would have become quickly evident.

The Billikens and Rams will battle in Richmond this time around. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Chris Lee)

The Billikens and Rams will battle in Richmond this time around. (Chris Lee, AP)

And that’s the overarching reason why Saturday’s tilt — this time in Richmond — is the main event in an already-loaded week; Saint Louis-VCU isn’t merely a marquee A-10 match-up, it’s a marquee national match-up. Everything at stake in a high-profile power-conference game is also at stake here: perception, NCAA Tournament profile, late-season momentum, bragging rights, and in the case of the Billikens, a very long winning streak. Jim Crews’ bunch has reeled off 19 straight victories over the course of three full months, last losing way back on December 1 to still-undefeated Wichita State. Shaka Smart’s group, meanwhile — fresh off a painfully-close road loss to UMass last Friday — has not dropped a home game in more than a year, obliterating visiting opponents this season by nearly 17 points per contest. An unstoppable force meets an immovable object in Verizon Wireless Arena, and the basketball-watching public will be the beneficiary. KenPom has the home squad pegged as 62 percent favorites, which is to say, it’s more or less a toss-up. Tune in on Saturday — Round II should be great.

Four More to Watch

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Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on February 19th, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Another Look at A-10 Offensive and Defensive Efficiencies

St. Bonaventure and the inversion of Saint Joseph’s and Richmond with George Washington and Massachusetts excepted, conference records and efficiency differences are lining up. If this seems too early for this “alignment,” do not worry, as a week of upsets can jumble the differentials and records quickly, as even 10 games is still too small a sample size. Given the unbalanced schedule, however, this may be the best available predictor out there.

Table01140219

The bottom four teams identified last week (Rhode Island, George Mason, Duquesne and Fordham) continue to drift away from the other conference members, even as Saint Louis and Virginia Commonwealth separate themselves from their conference mates. Another trend worth tracking are the defensive efficiencies and the winning percentages of individual teams. As the standard deviation suggests, there is a greater variability between the conference defensive efficiencies (points per 100 possessions allowed — 7.7) than between their offensive efficiencies (points scored per 100 possessions — 3.1). For the Atlantic 10 so far this season, defense is the barometer that predicts each team’s prospects.

Pomeroy projects UMass, George Washington, the Joe’s and Spiders will tie up third through sixth place with 10-8 records. The application of tie-breakers will be necessary to set the seeds for Brooklyn should the multiple ties come to pass. If we look at those four teams as a mini-conference, the “standings” against each other so far:

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O26 Game of the Week: SDSU at The Pit, Gonzaga-BYU, Others…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 19th, 2014

Each week the O26 microsite will run down the biggest upcoming game of the week as well as a handful of others to keep an eye on.

San Diego State (22-2) at New Mexico (19-5) – 10:00 PM ET, ESPN2, Saturday

This game — this week — is a huge one for New Mexico. If it can avenge an early loss to UNLV tonight in Las Vegas, Craig Neal’s team will return home on Saturday with a chance to pull even with San Diego State atop the Mountain West standings and solidify itself as an NCAA Tournament lock. Up to this point, the only major feather in the Lobos’ cap is a win over Cincinnati back in early December, so beating the Aztecs this weekend would not only shake up the conference race, it would also carry serious resume-boosting implications. Not to mention bragging rights in a match-up that features two of the best fan bases west of the Mississippi.

Kendall Williams and the Lobos  welcome San Diego State to the Pit on Saturday. (Eric Draper The Associated Press)

Kendall Williams and the Lobos welcome San Diego State to the Pit on Saturday. (Eric Draper The Associated Press)

In fact, considering how closely matched the game is on paper, New Mexico’s 15,000-plus screaming fans might very well become a deciding factor when it’s all said and done. According to KenPom, the Lobos are pegged as the slight favorites with a win probability of 54 percent, a figure that will dip considerably when they head to San Diego in early March. But first they get to host the Aztecs in The Pit, their menacing, subterranean arena in which they boast an all-time winning mark well over 80 percent. Not many visiting teams escape unscathed. For San Diego State fans, the silver lining is this: Steve Fisher units have gone an admirable 6-8 in the daunting stadium since he took over in 1999.

Of course, the outcome will ultimately be decided on the court, and there, each team will have distinct advantages. For New Mexico, the ability to get interior scoring from its imposing frontcourt duo of Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow will be critical. The big men combined to average 36 points and 15 rebounds in the Lobos’ two victories over the Aztecs last year; in the one loss, they mustered just two points and nine boards total. Paint production will be especially important considering that opposing guards Xavier Thames and Winston Shepard are stingy perimeter defenders, capable of minimizing Kendall Williams’ usually-considerable offensive production. San Diego State, meanwhile, hopes to continue playing the excellent team defense that has limited opponents to around 0.94 points per possession this season, good for 17th in the country. They are long, fast, physical and will suffocate teams that are ill-prepared. On the other end, the Aztecs are led by the gifted Thames — who’s likely to win Mountain West Player of the Year — and the team-wide ability to garner second-chance looks by crashing the offensive glass. Forwards Josh Davis and J.J. O’Brien must out-bang the sizable New Mexico frontcourt if San Diego State hopes to generate enough offense to survive Albuquerque. The game will be high-stakes and high-energy, so flip to The Deuce and check it out when Saturday night rolls around.

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O26 Weekly Awards: Wyoming, Billy Baron, Brian Wardle & George Mason…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 19th, 2014

We are officially less than one month from Selection Sunday (hooray!), so standout performances (and dreadful upsets) are now more impactful than ever on conference races and NCAA Tournament aspirations. Let’s pass out some awards to the best of the best from the O26 last week.

O26 Team of the Week

Highlighted by the upset over San Diego State, Wyoming had a stellar week. (Jeremy Martin/AP)

Highlighted by the upset over San Diego State, Wyoming had a stellar week. (Jeremy Martin/AP)

Wyoming. The Pokes began the week with their biggest home win since joining the Mountain West in 1999, and ended it with their greatest defensive effort in that same span. On Tuesday night, Wyoming notched its first victory over a top-five team in Arena Auditorium in 16 years by defeating San Diego State, 68-82, to end the Aztecs’ 20-game winning streak and prompt a well-deserved rushing of the court. Not only did the Cowboys out-shoot, out-defend and out-energize Steve Fisher’s club, but they did so with style, eschewing open jumps shots (their offense is predicated on burning the shot clock and finding the best look possible) in favor of wide open dunks, time after time down the floor. At one point, as they opened up a double-figure lead midway through the second half, the team was exuding such high-flying swagger and cool confidence that it became hard to tell if you were watching  this year’s Wyoming club or last year’s Florida Gulf Coast. And when SDSU made a late charge to pull within four at the under-one minute mark, in a moment where it seemed the league powerhouse was going to exert its will, Nathan Sobey went ahead and threw down a transition slam — what else? — to bury the Aztecs for good. The last time Wyoming knocked off a team that highly ranked, the year was 1998, the opponent was Rick Majerus-led Utah, and the Cowboys’ head coach was… Larry Shyatt. The first time around.

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Richmond Misses Prime Opportunity to Bolster Its Tourney Resume

Posted by Lathan Wells on February 19th, 2014

The Atlantic 10 is a league that holds major NCAA Tournament implications in the upcoming weeks. As many as five teams could emerge from this conference, which boasts a solid RPI representation among its top squads and has held its own in the non-conference slate. As the season winds down to its final few weeks, intra-conference match-ups between the league’s bubble teams become that much more important. Richmond , for one, missed out on a key opportunity to stake its claim into NCAA Tournament inclusion on Tuesday night, and the lack of diverse scoring options that led to the Spiders’ 73-65 loss to George Washington may well relegate them to a spot on the outside looking in come tourney time.

Cedrick Lindsay's injury has severely depleted Richmond's scoring options (gettyimages(

Cedrick Lindsay’s season-ending injury has severely depleted Richmond’s scoring options. (Getty)

In early February, the Spiders lost two of their starters in rapid succession, with bruising power forward Derrick Williams and starting point guard (and the conference’s third-leading scorer) Cedrick Lindsay lost for the season. Williams left due to personal reasons; Lindsay suffered injuries to both knees in a loss to VCU that effectively ended his collegiate career. In their absence, Richmond had admirably carried a 3-1 record into last night’s game, but those wins had come against three teams from the A-10’s lower half of the standings. The team was leaning exceptionally hard on junior Kendall Anthony, who was playing 36.5 minutes and averaging 25.8 points per game replacing Lindsay at the point. The 5’8″ Anthony — a spark plug off the bench who later became Lindsay’s running mate — was never meant to carry this much of an offensive load. He put up 14 points on Tuesday but he was clearly the focal point of GW’s defense and struggled to find many open looks (5-of-12 FG). Future foes undoubtedly took notice of this effective scheme and will also put it to use to slow down the Spiders.

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O26 Storylines: On Harvard, Atlantic 10, #dunkcity Again…

Posted by Adam Stillman on February 14th, 2014

We are a little more than four weeks away from Selection Sunday. And the bubble picture is as muddled as ever. Let’s check out this week’s O26 storylines:

Is Harvard in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament?

Is it possible Harvard might miss the NCAA Tournament? (Robert F. Worley)

Is it possible Harvard might miss the NCAA Tournament? (Robert F. Worley)

Harvard was basically penciled into the NCAA Tournament before the season began. If the Crimson weren’t able to secure an at-large bid, certainly they’d run away with the Ivy League. Right? Well, all of the sudden Harvard isn’t looking like such a sure thing. You can thank Yale and its shocking 74-67 win AT Harvard last Saturday for that. Now those two sit atop the Ivy League standings with a 5-1 conference record. Furthermore, Yale boasts a more favorable schedule the rest of the way. The Bulldogs close out the season with a combination of four home games and four road games, including the return home game with Harvard. The Crimson, on the other hand, hit the road for six of their final eight contests. Is it time to hit the panic button for Harvard? Not quite yet, but the Ivy favorite is making things much harder than they should be. It still wouldn’t be a surprise to see Harvard win the league by a few games and earn the conference’s automatic bid without much trouble. But this storyline definitely can’t be overlooked for now. Ken Pomeroy projects Harvard as the favorite in all eight of its games, and predicts the Crimson will win the league with a 9-3 final record. Pomeroy projects Yale as the favorite in five of its last eight games, predicting the Bulldogs will finish with a 10-4 conference mark. It would be a travesty to see such a talented team miss the Big Dance, but the possibility of that happening isn’t all that far-fetched.

Can VCU keep pace in the Atlantic 10 race?

Saint Louis is on the verge of running away with the A-10 regular-season title. The Billikens (9-0 in league play) host VCU (7-2 in league play) on Saturday with a chance to move three games ahead of the second-place Rams. That would be a lot of ground to make up with just six games left on the docket. SLU, the defending regular season and tournament champions, can go a long way toward a repeat with a win Saturday at a sold-out Chaifetz Arena. Sure, there’s a return game at VCU on March 1, the only game the Billikens aren’t favored to win the rest of the way, per Ken Pomeroy. And that includes a season-ending trip to Massachusetts. Pomeroy projects the Billikens to finish 14-2 to take the title, with VCU coming in second at 12-4. The Rams need to steal a win Saturday, otherwise it’s looking like two straight A-10 titles for SLU. For more insight on Saturday’s game, read Tommy Lemoine’s excellent preview.

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O26 Game of the Week: VCU Visits Saint Louis in Defensive Clash

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 12th, 2014

Each week the O26 microsite will run down the biggest upcoming game of the week as well as a handful of others to keep an eye on.

Virginia Commonwealth (19-5) at Saint Louis (22-2) – 2:00 PM ET, ESPN2, Saturday

This game punctuates what could be a decisive week in the Atlantic 10. If VCU can take down George Washington on Wednesday night, it will claim sole possession of second place and remain just two games back of Saint Louis heading into Saturday. A victory would pull Shaka Smart’s club within a game of the top spot, setting the stage for a crucial rematch on March 1st; a loss would give the Billikens an overwhelming advantage over the rest of the league, nearly guaranteeing a second-straight regular season title. And conference implications aside, this game offers each team—both stingy-defensive units with second-weekend potential—the opportunity to notch a resume-bolstering victory just one month out from Selection Sunday. A lot will be at stake in Chaifetz Arena.

VCU travels to Saint Louis for an enormous Atlantic 10 tilt. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

VCU travels to Saint Louis for an enormous Atlantic 10 tilt. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

If last year was any indication, Saint Louis should have no problem handling VCU and its HAVOC defense, which is predicated on forcing turnovers and scoring points in transition. In their only regular season meeting of 2013, the Billikens—who run a slow-paced, ball-control offense—broke the Rams’ press time after time down the floor, committing just eight turnovers and getting countless easy looks under the basket. In turn, VCU was unable to get anything in the way of transition buckets—a huge problem against a dominant half-court defense adept at taking away the three point shot, the Rams’ next-best scoring method. Saint Louis coasted to a 14-point home victory in that one and validated it a month later in the A-10 Championship game, again staving off VCU’s pressure on its way to claiming the league’s postseason crown.

So, then, what hope could the Rams possibly have this year, on the road against virtually the same team? Well, for starters, the Billikens have been skating on the thin ice in recent weeks. Three of their last five games have been one possession contests in the final minute of regulation, including an overtime home victory over then-winless George Mason. They won all three—part of a current 16-game winning streak—but showed slight vulnerabilities on defense and at times struggled to score. If Saint Louis continues playing with fire, odds say it will eventually get burned. Plus, this season’s Billikens aren’t quite the offensive team they were a year ago (scoring at a modestly lower rate), and VCU is even better on defense. Anytime a middle-of-the-pack offense meets an elite defense, the former is probably going to have trouble at various points in the game. Of course, the same can be said for VCU’s offense and Saint Louis’ defense, but the point remains: the Rams certainly have a chance. And if they do manage to pull one out on the road, the A-10 will become a whole lot more interesting.

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