For all the similarities in coaches and programs, and the media's continued attempts to juxtapose Butler and VCU, Saturday's game is a contrast in styles. There's hullabaloo, which is a lot of fun, and there's the grease board detritus of coaching Xs and Os--that's where this game will be decided.
The Bulldogs prefer to slow down and run offense with hard screens and fast cuts. They work a bevy of shooters free from deep. Like a child dipping Oreos in milk and slurping every cookie crumb, it's controlled, precise, and devastatingly effective. And when the ball doesn't go in the hoop, Butler is among the nation's best at retrieving it. They grab 73.1% of available defensive rebounds (16th) and 36.1% of available offensive rebounds (47th).
Flying in the face of that is havoc. VCU leads the country in terms of turning over teams (29.1% turnover rate), and Butler is a middling ball protection unit--about one of five possessions end in a turnover (11th in the A10, 157th nationally).
They can be sped up and discombobulated.
Ken Pomeroy lists VCU a 72-64 winner, with the Rams having a 76% chance of winning by any margin.
- Butler is 3-0 against top 25 teams this year, beating #1 Indiana, #8 Gonzaga and #9 North Carolina.
- Freshman Kellen Dunham came off the bench to lead the Bulldogs with 14 points, all in the first half, in Butler's loss to St. Louis last weekend.
- Rotnei Clarke leads the A-10 and ranks sixth in the nation in three-point field goals made per game (3.64). Clarke has had at least four three-pointers in a game 14 times this season.
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five Things I'm Watching
1. Arc Differential: Troy Daniels is fifth (99) and Rotnei Clarke seventh (91) nationally in three pointers made this year. Keep in mind Clarke missed three games with a neck injury. I want to see Daniels outgun Clarke, but more importantly "the other guys" have to outshoot Butler's "other guys" from beyond the arc. I'm looking at The Freight Train and Rob Brandenberg, and maybe a tiny bit of Melvin Johnson.
2. Fix It! You've seen it a million times--the wide open shooter bombing in a three in a transition situation. Or, a trailer on the break thunders down the lane for a layup or flush. I'm looking to see how well the Rams are able to locate the Butler shooters when the press is broken, and the number of times VCU forces them to retreat.
3. Post Establishment: Butler is the best A10 team defending the two-point shot (43.4%). Guess who is tops in the conference? That's right, it's VCU at 51.9%. I want to see VCU throw the ball into the paint early and often to establish Juvonte Reddic. Slash the corner and get to the rim. Logic dictates if the Rams can establish the paint Butler will adjust, which in turn will free up some looks from beyond the arc. Then, we get back to point #1--knock down threes. I'm an old guy, so I like the old inside/out offensive approach.
4. Scrappy Doo. One way to beat Butler, aside from getting the pace going our way, is to beat them at their own game. I want to see VCU get the lion's share of 50/50 loose balls, diving all over the floor like wild dogs, forcing jump balls and backcourt timeouts. The Rams need to match--and exceed--Butler's physicality. In short--outscrap a scrappy team. It's the ability to play both pretty and ugly at the same time. Like their coach, Butler is an unflappable team. I want to see them frustrated and flapped.
5. Done. Next? The old cliche is that college basketball is a game of runs. I'm most interested in what happens next, after the run. The counterpunch. Butler's going to pound VCU at times. I want to see the Rams respond to being on the wrong end of a 12-2 run with six straight points. I want to see a 12-2 run to the good become a 22-8 run. An 11-point deficit needs to be shaved, and an 11-point lead needs to get to 15, not six. It's what happens after what happens that matters, because what happens will happen. You read that right.
We Don't Work For Free
Rotnei Clarke (17.0ppg, 3.7rpg, 3.7apg) is a ridiculous shooter with ridiculous range. He's made 91-210 from three this year but has a very underrated midrange game. Of note: Clarke also sports a havoclicious stat of having more turnovers than assists.
Roosevelt Jones (10.4ppg, 6.4rpg, 3.2apg) is a 6-4 combo guard of the highest magnitude--Jones will actually play all spots 1-4 on the floor. Jones loves to drive and is great with the in-between game--that is, floaters and runners. Jones is their best defender.
Andrew Smith (11.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg) is a big 6-11, 245-poung center who loves to bang in the post and midrange, and plays hard on every play. Smith is just plain effective. No more, no less.
Khyle Marshall (10.4ppg, 6.4rpg) is an active, athletic 4-man who plays with a high energy. Butler will run lob plays for him.
Kellen Dunham (9.9 ppg, 3.3 apg) is a 6-6 freshman and another big time shooter with deep range (51-137 threes).
Alex Barlow (2.2 ppg, 2.9 apg) is a wild card in that he doesn't post crooked numbers but facilitates Butler's attack very well. He doesn't like pressure, so keep an eye on him.
Kameron Woods (4.0ppg, 4.4rpg) is a very athletic, long 6-9. He can shoot to 17 feet.
Eric Fromm (3.6ppg) is a skilled 6-8 post, but half of his field goal attempts are threes.
Finally, Chase Stigall (2.1ppg) is turnover-prone, but 15 of 17 fiedl goals made are threes.
We often talk about getting the game going to the VCU pace, to the VCU identity. This is a game where it isn't a choice. We have to go out there and play like those wild dogs of havoc, for 40 minutes. And if it takes five more minutes, so be it.
It's about ambush and attack, smother and suffocate. While Butler can certainly hoist away from deep, and from the baseline, the VCU backcourt has a huge physical advantage. The Rams should be able to dictate style of play via sheer willpower.
Butler is 15-2 in March over the past three seasons. You know what we think of streaks.