ARU: The Final Four Edition


Houston Texas

Above: Reliant Stadium (Houston, TX), site of the 2011 NCAA Final Four

And then there were four. Of course, this marks the second time in the course of the tournament in which “four” has been included in a round–”The first four” now marks the first two games of the NCAA tournament, and “The Final Four“, which I’m sure you’re more concerned about.

It’s pretty remarkable that one of “The first four” teams have made it to “The Final Four”, in VCU. The 2011 NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament has been nothing short of unreal. Let’s break down first the Butler vs. Virginia Commonwealth game, which be held at 6:09 EST, Saturday.

Butler (27-9, 13-5 Horizon) vs. VCU (28-11, 12-6 CAA)

When it comes down to these two teams, they both like to play hard-nosed defense. They have a passion for hustle, and they both have the mentality now that they belong.

Over the course of the tournament VCU has gone from an underestimated and underrated team, to a team that carries a sense of pride and fulfillment; however, the Rams aren’t done yet. VCU is looking to capitalize on their defense to ensure a sixth victory, according to VCU forward Jamie Skeen:

“That’s what’s got us here. For five straight games, we’ve been playing great defense…If we play great defense again against Butler, we can probably come out with the win.”

One of the key benchmarks in this VCU Rams team is their ability to keep the opponent on their toes.

“They keep teams off balance,” said Matt Howard, Butler’s leading scorer and rebounder. “You have to be prepared for multiple looks. They’re going to press. They’ll play a little bit of zone. Then they also have a good man-to-man. I think when you’re really scoring the ball really well, too, that gives you energy defensively. I think you can make an argument they’ve scored as well as anybody.”

How about the Rams offense?

Stat of the day: VCU has taken 895 three point shots this season. 895. They’ve certainly caught fire when they’ve needed to. They’ve made 44% of their 3-point attempts in the NCAA tournament, and have absolutely doused any chance their opponents have had against them in their earlier games.

VCU Weakness: ranked 238th (out of 336 teams) in field goal defense and 134th in scoring defense. They’re also 298th in rebounding margin.

I’ll throw a mental note out there–the Final Four isn’t your everyday cup of tea. This is the highest level of college athletic competition in the nation. Most stadiums seat anywhere from a few hundred to 20,000 fans. Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas seats more than 71,000 fans. It doesn’t matter who you are–that’s a different environment. There’s good and bad news for VCU with this one–Butler also comes from a mid-major conference; Of course, Butler also made their improbable run last year.

…They won’t have home court advantage this year.

Butler strengths: Ability to produce turnovers. The Bulldogs forced 16 Michigan State turnovers in last year’s tournament, and they’ll look to do the same in this year’s Final Four game.

According to ESPN.com, Butler now has won 13 straight, best of any of the Final Four teams. It is giving up a measly 59.6 points on average during the stretch, almost eight points better than its average through the first 23 games of the season. Only two teams have managed to get 70 or more off Butler during the streak, both in the NCAA tournament.

…I’d take that any day of the week.

Butler weaknesses: The Bulldogs have yet to see a defense quite like VCU’s. Point blank.

Butler will rely on Shelvin Mack’s offensive production to really push them into the Championship game. How heavy will they rely on a single player? How well will the Rams defend this presence? Too many questions, only time will tell.

My opinion: Butler had their opportunity last year to win the tournament. The Rams are the biggest Cinderella team since George Mason. If VCU can get hot early, expect them to win by 10. If not, I’ll take Butler any day of the week in a close match-up. Butler by 6.

Kentucky (29-8, 10-6 SEC) vs. Connecticut (30-9, 9-9 Big East)

Welcome back to Houston, Calipari. He should know the area quite well. Calipari won two regional games while in Houston, to lead the Memphis Tigers to a Final Four run.

He left a year later. But–no matter. The time is now, not then. I find it quite ironic that the “Preview” for the UK/UConn game on ESPN.com mentions no statistics on players, no information for the general public to use for “office talk”. Instead, ESPN has decided to feature the “rivalry” of the two coaches Cal/Cal (Calipari/Calhoun), and how they tend to view certain ideas and philosophies differently.

Tell me something I don’t know.

UK Strengths: Strength in numbers. Quite literally–when a player isn’t having a good shooting night, two other players fill the void, and then some. Case and point–Brandon Knight. Knight scored only 2 points versus Princeton (albeit, the most important two points in the game), and only 9 against the Buckeyes of Ohio State (again, the most important two). However, in his games against West Virginia and North Carolina, Knight scored 30 and 22 respectively.

In the regular season, Kentucky forward Josh Harrellsonaveraged just 6.4 PPG. But since the start of the SEC tournament, Harrellson is averaging nearly 13 points per game (12.9) while shooting better than 70 percent. He’s done all this while still being able to keep up with his production on the boards (8.8 RPG vs 8.7 RPG).

UK gets the job done–even if it doesn’t look pretty. Their margin of victory in the tournament is as follows (Princeton-2, WVU-8, OSU-2 and UNC-7). The Wildcats have arguably had the toughest road to get to Houston, especially after defeating Ohio State and North Carolina, back-to-back. Their competitive past schedule should give them the edge over UConn in this category.

UK Weaknesses: The team seems to know how to put points on the board, but they never fully capitalize on their dominance. The Wildcats really need to play their style of play, and not let UConn get into their rhythm.

UK and UConn have already met once this season–in the Maui Invitational Championship. The Huskies absolutely dominated the young and inexperienced Wildcat team. Kemba Walker had 30+ points in all Maui Invitational games (including Kentucky). UK will have a difficult time containing Walker, but they’re going to have to if they want to play one more game.

That first match-up consisted of a huge first half run by the Huskies. The starters during that game went a combined 6 for 26. Terrence Jones and Darrius Miller were the only offensive sparks in the lifeless Wildcat team, scoring 39 points.

Let’s see how far UK has come since November 24th, 2010.

UConn Strengths: Kemba Walker. 23.5 points per game, 5.3 rebounds per game. The man is nothing short of sensational. He’s a real “Diaper Dandy”, as Dick Vitale would put it. Walker has put up 107 points so far in the NCAA tournament, including 36 points against San Diego State.

UConn is no stranger to playing multiple games in multiple days. Perhaps, this is why they’ve had so much success in the NCAA tournament? The Huskies won five games in five days to win the Big East Tournament. Four of those wins came against ranked opponents (#22 Georgetown, #3 Pittsburgh, #11 Syracuse, #14 Louisville).

UConn Weaknesses: The Huskies only ran into one difficulty attaining their Final Four status (with Arizona). You have to question their fairly easy path to Houston to see if they really come ready and prepared to play in this one.

Kemba Walker. The man is a strength, but also a weakness. Until now, no teams had been able to stop Walker and his sheer size/talent. The Wildcats are different. UK will bring everything they have at Walker, and force the Huskies to show their other pieces to the puzzle as they should be able to defend him well.

My opinion: UK is starving for a shot at the Championship. Kentucky fans are craving it. Connecticut has the experienced players, they’ve actually heard of graduating players. According to ESPN, both coaches would rather talk about their personal issues, than the game. I’m going with UK in this one, by 8. Heaven help us.

I’d hate to get away with a premature comment, but I do believe the winner of the Kentucky/Connecticut game will be the team that eventually cuts down the net, and takes home the ring as the 2011 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship.

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About Jake Ryle

I'm a Sports Reporter/Anchor at KTBY/KYUR (FOX/ABC) in Anchorage, Alaska...Also an alumnus of Western Kentucky University, and a major in broadcast news. Have any fun ideas for The ARU? Let me know via email! jacob.ryle801@gmail.com

Posted on April 2, 2011, in ARU, Basketball, Game Previews, NCAA Sports, Previews and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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