The fact that VCU is facing Butler in the Final Four is both ironic and appropriate. Ironic because based on conference affiliation, the Bulldogs represent the least stories opponent the Rams have faced thus far in the postseason. Appropriate because Brad Steven's club is about as battle tested as they come and is the only team still standing that can lay claim to having been at this stage before.
Of course what makes this game truly appealing is the undeniable respect the two teams will have for one another. Whether they want to admit it or not, each of VCU's "victims" in the NCAA Tournament has probably had at least some degree of subconscious thought pertaining to the inferior status of a Rams team that had no business being in the field of 68. Butler isn't going to overlook this Cinderella, they've already played that role once and are filling it yet again. Just as these two teams are free wheeling with their mutual respect, they'll be equally as parsimonious when it comes to yielding position on the court. The Rams and Bulldogs have both exacted their style on the opposition with deadly efficiency and undoubtedly the one that manages to continue this trend tonight will be granted to opportunity to play for a national championship on Monday.
The first thing that is readily apparent in this match-up is how good both programs are at the basics. VCU and Butler both shoot well overall, protect the basketball and hit the offensive glass. As we can see below the differences in the four factors of winning are very slight - though it should be noted that the Rams offensive rebounding efforts have stepped up tremendously since the NCAA Tournament began.
What isn't shown here specifically is offensive rebounds against, an area that VCU has managed to a complete 180 in since the tournament began. As we touched on in previous posts, the Rams were among the worst teams in the country in this particular defensive metric, but over their last five games have limited opponents second scoring chances to the degree that they would have been one of the best nationally had they produced at this rate all season.
Butler's ability to defend perimeter shots could ultimately make or break their chances of advancing to Monday night's final. The Bulldogs are going to slow the tempo this game down, that's where they are comfortable and to date, no tournament team has been able to prevent Brad Stevens club from doing so. This has worked to their favor thus far, but VCU has been among the best half court offenses all season and have taken it to another degree in the playoffs given their tremendous three-point shooting over the last two weeks. This hasn't simply been a case of the Rams simply riding a wave of hot shooting, but rather the byproduct of moving the basketball and creating open scoring chances. The majority of these looks have come out of pick and roll sets where Joey Rodriguez has been able to freelance with the basketball and create off the dribble, so rotation of help defenders will be important for the Bulldogs (though they have defended jump shooting teams well this season).
The scoring breakdowns for both teams in the tournament has remained consistent with what the regular season produced. Jamie Skeen (who has been a national revelation), Brandon Rozzell and Bradford Burgess have been the key scoring options for VCU, again with Rodriguez proving the catalyst for the Rams offense. Butler - as the distribution chart shows - has relied on stars Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack to provide the bulk of the scoring. Mack in particular has produced at a very high rate in the postseason, netting 30 points against Pittsburgh and leading the way over Florida with a 27-point effort. Undoubtedly, the Rams will have their hands full containing the physical guard who has managed to score against elite defenders who definitely exceed anything he will see individually from VCU.
It's already been preached and it will be talked about today - this game comes down to pace. VCU wants this game in the 70's or higher, Butler can play in the low 70's, but really wants to keep it in the 50's and 60's. The Rams ability to create space in the half court set will likely make or break their chances as the Bulldogs aren't apt to allow many second chance scoring opportunities. Furthermore - and this hasn't been an issue yet - Matt Howard must stay out of foul trouble, otherwise Jamie Skeen will be in position to go off just as he did with a monster 26-point showing against Kansas in the Elite Eight. This match-up should also be interesting to observe as both can spread the ball offensively on the perimeter as face-up fours, but neither defends away from the paint very well.
Neither team should see any surprises tonight and neither will likely be capable of pulling off any - that tends to happen when Cinderella looks in the mirror. One of these teams will play for a national championship on Monday and both are equally capable of winning it all. When the final horn sounds though, Butler has simply been too good at forcing their game on opponents this tournament, so with that thought in mind, expect the Bulldogs to be playing one more game follow tonight's final.