If No. 12 Saint Louis Billikens want to assert their Atlantic 10 dominance, they will have to deal with some "havoc".
Virginia Commonwealth University and Saint Louis will play on Saturday in the game that could decide the A-10 regular season title. VCU comes in as the hungry challenger trying to knock off SLU and end their 16 game winning streak. SLU wants to show it can defeat a high-quality opponent after suffering close losses to No. 21 Wisconsin and No. 4 Wichita State earlier this season. The game will be televised on ESPN and will show contrasting philosophies on team defense.
Defense is what drives these teams and it's what jump starts their offenses. The Billikens play a strong half-court defense; they want to shut down every crease and opening and force a team to make contested or poor shots with seconds left on the shot clock. It is a tight half-court defense with five seniors who have played together for years, it does not bend or break very easily. The Rams want to create "havoc", the term that has defined their defensive philosophy since VCU Head Coach Shaka Smart took over the program. For those of you living under a rock, "havoc" is a 1-2-1-1 full-court diamond press that forces traps, cross court passes that create easy turnover opportunities and is designed to frustrate any ball-handler on the court and make them commit turnovers. Turnovers are key for both teams as they use them to create transition offense, obviously, turnovers will be a key factor in deciding which team wins the game on Saturday.
Saint Louis Guard Jordair Jett and Forward Dwayne Evans will be key for Saint Louis if they want to defeat VCU. Jett will be one of the primary ball handlers for the Billikens. He has been excellent for the Billikens in their close victories against Rhode Island and La Salle. However, he has a tendency to be turnover prone which feeds into VCU’s "havoc" strategy. The Rams will try to force the ball into Jett’s hands so he is forced to make tough decisions. The Billikens can counter by allowing Saint Louis Guard Mike McCall Jr. to be the primary ball handler to break up the VCU pressure. Evans is the other key player for the Billikens.
Evans has quietly lead the team in scoring and has to bring his a-game for this contest. One disadvantage for VCU is that they play a four guard set. That set gives the Billikens a rare size advantage with Evans and Forward Rob Loe. Evans must attack VCU Forward Juvonte Reddic and get him in foul trouble early. Reddic’s interior presence is a key factor of VCU’s play, but the Billikens must apply pressure on him early and often to force the Rams to go to their bench early.
VCU has a difficult challenge ahead of it. They must force the Billikens into poor decisions in the front court, in order to force turnovers and create scoring opportunities. However, another key factor for the Rams will be their ability to hit three-pointers. VCU Guard Treveon Graham has hit 33 percent of his three-pointers this season and VCU Guard Melvin Johnson has hit 40 percent of his three-pointers. Both guards will have to convert their three-pointers against the Billikens. That will be a difficult task as the Billikens have the third best three-point field goal defense in the nation only allowing opponents to hit 27.4 percent of their three-pointers. VCU will have to move the ball effectively in their half-court offense in order to get the Billikens out of their usual defensive assignments.
Johnson will also be an x-factor for the Rams. He must knock down his three-pointers and provide a consistent scoring threat against the Billikens allowing Graham and Reddic more open scoring opportunities.
It will be an exciting game featuring two teams who are hungry to prove themselves to the nation. If the Billikens do not panic against "havoc", they will fine, but if they lose their cool, VCU will strike fiercely and in bunches. However, Saint Louis’ experience will be key in overcoming the VCU pressure.
Prediction: No. 12 Saint Louis 67 vs. Virginia Commonwealth 60