NCAA Tournament: Butler-VCU preview
HOUSTON óThat Butler and VCU proudly wear the same small-conference, lovable underdog label is readily apparent.
Less obvious is their shared devotion to the not-so-sexy practice of hard-nosed, aggressive defense ó long a trademark of Butlerís game but much more of a surprising late-season development from the running, gunning Rams.
ěThatís whatís got us here. For five straight games, weíve been playing great defense,î VCU forward Jamie Skeen said Friday. ěIf we play great defense again against Butler, we can probably come out with the win.î
Eighth-seeded Butler (27-9) plays VCU, which has gone from the ěFirst Fourî to the Final Four, in the national semifinals tonight.
ěItís more of a challenge because you know everybody is looking at their defense, how good they are,î VCU point guard Joey Rodriguez said. ěWe want to come out and try to prove to people we can play defense just as good as them.î
Virginia Commonwealth (28-11) is a shooterís dream team, a roster full of guys who think theyíre in range as soon as the bus nears the arena. (Itís no coincidence TV analyst Steve Kerr joined the Rams for a shooting contest during practice at last weekendís Southwest Regional.)
The Rams have launched 895 3-pointers this year ó no, thatís not a misprint ó and are shooting an unbelievable 44 percent from long range just in the NCAA tournament. Theyíve finished with 12 3s in three of their first five games, with Brandon Rozzell making six on his own against Georgetown and Bradford Burgess doing the same against Florida State.
But donít mistake VCU for the Globetrotters.
The Rams are not exactly Wisconsin wannabes, ranking 238th (out of 336 teams) in field goal defense and 134th in scoring defense. Theyíre 298th in rebounding margin. Yet theyíre in the Final Four because they shut down Southern California, Georgetown, Purdue and Florida State before manhandling top-seeded Kansas.
The Jayhawks, once the top-ranked team in the country, managed just 61 points while shooting 35.5 percent overall and 9.5 percent from 3-point range, all season lows. After not trailing by more than two points the entire tournament, Kansas was down by 17 before halftime.
Overall, Virginia Commonwealth is allowing an average of 62 points in the tournament, almost five fewer than their season average. Theyíre holding opponents to 39 percent shooting, well below their season average of 44 percent.
ěThey keep teams off balance,î said Matt Howard, Butlerís leading scorer and rebounder.
ěWhen youíre able to score and get into those different defenses, I think that really helps their defense.î
If anyone knows that, itís Butler.
The Bulldogs are one of the soundest fundamental teams in the game ó these are the guys who play in the gym where ěHoosiersî was filmed, after all. They can shoot, and they do it quite well. Howard shoots almost 49 percent, while Andrew Smith is averaging almost nine points a game on 62 percent shooting.