to play football, not to play trumpet
3/23/2013 – Michigan 78, VCU 53 – 28-7, Sweet 16
It doesn't take long for people to forget who you are. One loss to a MAC team on the big stage seems to do it, even if that MAC team was an overtime away from the Elite Eight. The next year you might find yourself on a bit of a skid to end the year, facing down another mid-major star and instantly targeted by the talking heads as upset city, baby*. Rule one of sports opinion: the last thing that happened will always keep happening.
If you ever find yourself in this situation, I'll be surprised since that means you've been a head coach for a zillion years. You'll also be feeling like John Beilein has been the past week. Drinking decaf tea. Thinking about covalent bonds. Enjoying your grandchildren. Pissed off.
I mean… John Beilein, projected first-round upset victim. I don't know if you know this, head-talker,—I think you should since you will never stop referring to Michigan's 1-3-1 zone—but John Beilein has been around the block. He's made verbs. Have you made a verb? Does it mean "higher seed has just been blitzed out of tournament by three-raining center"? No. It means "seemingly has not watched college basketball since he played it, and probably not even then." Except your verb doesn't exist. "Pittsnogled" exists.
Even if your theory is that Beilein's March blitzes ended at the Big Ten's edge, you've got more evidence against you than in favor of you. In 2009, a ramshackle Michigan ten-seed took out #7 Clemson. At one point that game was a blowout before Michigan went into clock-kill mode. They held themselves in against Oklahoma despite deploying Zack Novak against Blake Griffin and having to rely on Anthony Wright as their primary scorer with Manny Harris stapled to the bench, in foul trouble. Two years later Michigan ran Tennessee out of the gym in an 8-9 game and was inches away from taking #1 Duke to OT.
Basketball's weird, randomness is random, bad things happen to chemistry teachers, yeah yeah. Going out of your way to project John Beilein doing poorly in the tourney is like pressing Trey Burke: once in a while you get lucky. Over the long run you're going to end up holding your intestines, thinking about a foolish life ill-lived.
Don't even get the tiny slice of John Beilein's brain given over to his id (he keeps it between gluten-free pancake recipes and lamp instructions in a disused, dusty corner) started about what happens after you show Summit Trey Burke his intestines. If the tiny disused id could draw Beilein's attention for a fraction of a second, boy, would he be slightly peevish about VCU this, havoc that. About new hotness Shaka Smart and his defense with a name and everything and a two-year-old play-in-to-Final-Four run.
The definition of whippersnapper (Bryan Fuller)
The gap between expectations of serious men—Vegas installed Michigan a slight favorite—and the chatter of VCU havoc-ing Kansas and whoever might come next was large.
"All we've been hearing was the VCU 'Havoc,' we didn't hear anything about us, and we wanted to prove we're no team to mess with right now," Michigan freshman Nik Stauskas said. "All you heard is 'how are they going to stop Nate Wolters?' Stuff like that."
The thing is: Shaka Smart is a great tourney coach. Entering Saturday's game against Michigan he was 7-1 against the spread during March Madness. He did that whole first-four-to-Final-Four thing. He is appallingly young to have done this. I have to tell you that when VCU's band was putting Akron's to shame on Thursday and their dancers were just kind of, I don't know, moving, you know, in a certain way and VCU came out and blitzed Akron it was intimidating. This was before I knew they had a guy with a Tim the Enchanter hat even.
Smart has created an aura. VCU's presence at an NCAA tourney site brings an electricity with it. This havoc thing will be a verb sooner or later. Shaka Smart is 35.
It's just that John Beilein's been doing this since Shaka Smart was playing with Legos. No, since Smart was gurgling out his first words. Dude was one year old when Beilein started his coaching career at an age even more appallingly young than Smart did. On March 19th, Beilein was 10-2 against the spread in the tourney since '05. He's since added two more ATS wins to his docket, the last one a deconstruction of Havoc™ so comprehensive that Michigan put up 1.2 points per possession despite hitting just 30% of their infinite wide-open threes.
Anyone predicting VCU to do things forgot that this was a John Beilein team piloted by Trey Burke. I am almost certain the handshake in the aftermath did not feature Beilein telling Smart he was strapped with gats when Smart was cuddling a cabbage patch. But not completely. Kansas awaits; John Beilein sips tea with eviscerating intent.
*["Upset city, baby" patently unfair here since Dick Vitale in fact put Michigan in his Final Four. I enjoy being patently unfair to Dick Vitale. If you consider this a character flaw in me, I consider it a character flaw in you. So there.]
McGary, of course. (Fuller photo, Ace photoshop, board suggestion at right.)
It will not be news if I tell you that Mitch McGary had himself a day: 21 points on 10 of 11 shooting, 14 rebounds, and even a made free throw. He earned Obligatory Wes Unseld references from the announce team and The Sporting News.
Oh, and he just might be the best outlet passer we’ve seen since Wes Unseld. Matter of fact, he’s built a lot like Unseld, too, with a hard-edged game like the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer.
He dove on the floor with Michigan up 20, because that is what a St. Bernard would do.
To cap it all off, he gave Kammron Taylor a flashback seizure so bad that Chris Rock (That Chris Rock) had a twinge:
He and GRIII were the engines behind a blowout on the boards: 19% OREB for VCU, 41% for Michigan. He played 34 minutes with a single foul. It was a day. If he can go head to head with Jeff Withey… dot dot dot.
While I don't think that's super-likely, guys do have coming-out parties that suddenly announce they have reached the proverbial Next Level. Beasting on an undersized VCU team with their one quality post stuck on the bench for a big chunk of the game* might count. Going head-to-head with Jeff Withey and coming out even is indisputable. I'm saying there's as chance.
*[Reddic had 16 points on 13 shot equivalents in 24 minutes. His backups saw a total of 21 minutes, in which they attempted zero shots.]
Stat of the game. Michigan gave up all of four fast-break points to VCU and scored 15 of their own. That is the recipe for blowing Shaka Smart off the court.
Stat of the game, part II. Michigan had 12 turnovers, VCU 11. This number is of course under the 15 magic number, or 23 magic percent. VCU also managed just two more steals than Michigan.
Slash and burn. I got a lot of grief about this assertion when Michigan ended up in the same pod as the rams:
Whenever someone posts a bracket and says they like or do not like the matchups therein there is always the guy who says they will boil themselves alive if VCU is a potential second-round matchup. I say bring the Rams on:
VCU 100% dependent on (huge) TO margin. A-10 opponents actually shooting better than Rams.
I'll take that strength versus VCU's many other weaknesses in the matchup game.
Now everyone will kill me if we lose to VCU in the second round. I should have said nothing.
I'm not usually a point-to-my-awesome-prediction guy, because predictions are stupid. (Remember "NC State is the #8 seed no #1 wants to see?") In this case, though, WOOOOOOOO.
Michigan's three and a half ballhandlers defeated virtually all attempts to run that 1-2-1 diamond trap. Except for a brief period right after halftime when Burke got run into a few traps—a couple times by his teammates—trying to heat him up was more loss than win for VCU. The 15 fast break points don't seem to include a number of possessions where the broken VCU press led to crushing GRIII/McGary dunks.
Those two were 17 of 19 combined on twos, and GRIII's miss was a chaotic attempt with guys falling all over the place that McGary immediately rebounded and put back. All but three of those attempts were at the rim. The press mostly set up dunks or layups or Kobe assists, not turnovers.
How did this happen? Why didn't the quick turnaround hamper Michigan's preparation? The program is based on ball control.
"Preparation for a game like this does not happen in one day," Beilein said. "If you came to our early drills in October, in the summer, we're catching on two feet, we're pivoting, we're passing the ball to the outside hand. We're valuing each possession. You play a team like VCU, if you don't value each possession and take care of the basketball, they're going to run points on you like crazy. (They're) averaging 75 points a game, 20 of those are off defensive transition off turnovers. We work on it daily.
"The prep was really minor (on Friday), as far as 90 minutes of walking around, doing things."
This was a draw of doom for VCU, playing a team that basically spends every practice defeating your system.
Spike. Hello. Spike Albrecht's 14 minutes came with a made three, a missed two that really should have been a Kobe assist (he drew Reddic and threw one off the backboard to Horford; Horford managed to biff the putback), and a couple of assists. The second blew the roof off the Palace:
nooooooooooooooo! ohhhhhhhhhhhh! lolllllllllllllllllll
(Watch the bench, BTW.) This is the bit where you started cackling madly because this was officially a replay of Tennessee 2011, and bitterly wished Gus Johnson was doing this game—oh my God Gus Johnson doing this game.
Anyway, Spike has a nasty habit of dribbling 25 seconds off the shot clock but eventually teams get irritated that this little white kid is running around the court on them and foul him. I do not think this is a sustainable strategy, but there are worse backup point guards to have.
One thing he's got in common with all Michigan point guards since Darius Morris emerged: kid is unflappable. He showed that today and during a stabilizing cameo after Michigan had gotten run early at Ohio State. Contrast his play with a clearly rattled Caris LeVert, who cost Michigan a few points in four minutes in the first half and then ceded the rest of his time to Albrecht.
A HUMBLEBRAG CHAMPION IS YOU. Hardaway on his reverse two handed slam:
"Coach (John) Beilein always said if you're going to do something flashy, it better work," Hardaway said after the game. "I just tried to do the easiest dunk that I knew how to do.
"It ended up being that."
Supporting cast turnovers. VCU got to Burke a bit, forcing seven turnovers out of him. A couple of those weren't his fault—in particular I remember one ill-fated backcourt trap that Nik Stauskas led Burke right into—but that's a high number. It's offset by the 5 the rest of the team picked up. Hardaway and Stauskas operated as press relief and auxiliary ballhandling, finishing the day with a 4 to 1 A:TO ratio. Add in Spike's one TO in 15 minutes and that's an impressive job of TO avoidance.
It's an expected job of TO avoidance, mostly. The exception: Hardaway taking the ball up the floor for big chunks of the game without incident was a bonus. It helped that VCU couldn't put one of their flypaper PGs on him with Burke out there and Theus in foul trouble.
A series of missed lane floaters. VCU was hurt early by a series of possessions that ended with their guards—I guess they're all basically guards—getting into the lane, whereupon McGary would help but not really challenge. The resulting short floaters went clang clang clang.
Looking at the box score, might this have been the gameplan? Rob Brandenberg, Melvin Johnson, Briante Weber, and Troy Daniels were a combined 9 of 24 from two, and if you look at those dudes' season averages and squint away a fast break adjustment, that's not far off what you'd expect from that collection of mediocre midrange shooters.
In compensation, VCU suffered a 3/16 night from three, with designated sniper Tony Daniels going 1/9, and got to the line just 6 times, all of those attempts from large-ish folk Treveon Graham and Juvonte Reddic. Graham, VCU's highest-usage player, was limited to eight shot equivalents in 35 minutes. As a team, VCU picked up six assists on 23 made baskets. Michigan had 17 on 31.
The problem with Michigan's D is that they kind of have to give something up. If those are lane runners without a Kobe Assist waiting, that doesn't seem too bad.
Behold the power of a withering tourney blowout on Kenpom. VCU rocketed from 22nd to 14th thanks to their Akron annihilation; Michigan providing the Rams the greatest two-game swing in tournament history bounced them up four spots. They are now ahead of Kansas(!) even after the Jayhawks' crunching second half against North Carolina.
All of this is poisoned by Akron playing their game against VCU short four players and the three-standard-dev matchup advantage Michigan had against the Rams, but you guys we're totally beating Kansas! You guys.
I don't think we're going to beat Kansas you guys. They've struggled for 60 of their 80 minutes in the tourney so far, sure. That doesn't change their season-long performance and the looming terror that is Jeff Withey. It seems like their shot is dependent on whether Kansas is a funhouse mirror version of some fourth graders like they were for about 22 minutes against North Carolina or a lethal death machine like they were the final 18 more than anything Michigan does.
I say that in part because turnovers are a persistent Kansas problem. They don't really have a point guard per se; facsimile Elijah Johnson's assist rate is barely above his TO rate. But Michigan does not force turnovers much. Unforced errors from Kansas seem to be make or break for them in this one.
But there's a reason Kenpom has this even. Just as soon as I figure it out I'll let you know about it.
Second small downer thing. Michigan couldn't have put Jordan Morgan out there for like five minutes? I'm worried that his mental state is haywire right now and Kansas looks like a team that will demand more post rotation from M. They play a two-post system with 6'8" senior Kevin Young (season 3PA: 6; season 3PM: 0). Young is a top-100 OREB guy and almost-top-200 DREB guy who shoots 56% from two. Meanwhile, Withey draws 5.2 fouls/40.
With the prospect of McGary foul trouble looming and the possibility Michigan will want to run two posts out there in the event Young is beating up GRIII on the boards, you'd expect Morgan to get 15 minutes or more in this one except for the fact he disappeared almost entirely last weekend.
Rothstein on McGary:
McGary almost shrugged discussing the hit, with a sly smile yet insisting it was unintentional. That is part of what makes McGary a question mark for how good this Michigan team could be in the final two weeks of the season.
“Mitch, his confidence was incredible today, easy drop-offs and offensive boards that he got and he just kept going,” said Michigan redshirt freshman forward Max Bielfeldt. “He can go on a run, and he’s just very talented. When he gets his game going, he’s really, really tough to stop.
“He’s a guy, when he gets going, he’s going to keep going, and his enthusiasm keeps his game at a high level.”
Gary Parrish on… McGary.
"We're an even-keeled group," Stauskas said. "Except for Mitch."
The Daily's Everett Cook on… McGary.
“He came in weighing in the 250s, ballooned up a little bit, you know, enjoying the cafeteria a bit too much,” Alexander said. “Then he got back, recalibrated with his discipline.”
John Niyo on… McGary. (And other stuff.)
McGary had 20 pounds on VCU forward Juvonte Reddic, and probably 40 pounds on just about everybody else the Rams could throw at him. Funny what escaping from the rough-and-tumble Big Ten can do for a guy, isn't it?
"I mean, I guess it was easy to grab rebounds," he said.
Easy for him to say. But hard to do justice to his energy level — "He went down and chased all the loose balls," Smart said — that never waned despite his playing a season-high 34 minutes.
"That's Mitch McGary," Burke said. "That's what he does. He's the guy that gives us the spark and makes our engine run."
Baumgardner on McGary!
"Mitch was at the LeBron James Skills Academy the summer before he (committed to Michigan), and he was out of the game and he was getting cups of water for his teammates," Alexander recalled earlier this week. "That, in essence, gave us an idea of the type of person he is.
"A selfless spirit that allows our culture to grow."
Burke broke Darius Morris's single-season assist record in the game. Talking head recap. Beilein says things. Clownfrauds no more, doubters silenced, welcome to the jungle amirite. Trey would be relieved if he could feel hoo-man squishy emotions, but clearly he cannot so this is probably a misquote.
Five Key Plays. Mitch, destroy.
VCU plays with Havoc, but Mitch McGary is Chaos. First Sweet Sixteen appearance since 1994 means, yes, muppets:
and you can't have one without the other...
Survive and advance, baby.
As you're probably well aware by now, Michigan will face one of the country's most distinctive, attacking defenses when they play VCU on Saturday. While saying a game comes down to one factor is oversimplification, of course, in this case it's not unfair to say that how the Wolverines handle VCU's press will largely determine the outcome. With that said, let's take a deeper look at Havoc.
What Is It?
From VCU's official YouTube account. They like their RAWK, apparently.
Brian already blockquoted one Luke Winn article on VCU's press—a must-read before Saturday—in the game preview. Here's another description from Winn in a full-blown SI feature on Havoc from last month:
When VCU reached the Final Four as a No. 11 seed in 2011, Smart's second season as coach, its defense was not nearly as turnover-crazy, forcing takeaways on 22.1% of possessions. "That," Smart says, "was only half-Havoc." Full Havoc is now in place, complete with a full array of jargon: double-fist is VCU's man-to-man trap, which it uses roughly two thirds of the time; diamond is its 1-2-1-1 zone; a madman guards the inbounder and makes sure, Smart says, "he can smell your breath"; a jammer is occasionally employed to keep the ball from being inbounded to a point guard; heating up the ball means putting the dribbler under duress.
Ball-combusting guards are what make the double-fist deadly, and the Rams have three excellent ones in senior Darius Theus (steal percentage: 5.9), junior Rob Brandenburg (2.9%) and sophomore sixth man Briante Weber (8.3%, which leads the nation). As a pack they are called the Wild Dogs.
Although Smart graduated magna cum laude from Kenyon College, Wild Dogs is an inadvertent reference to Marcus Antonius's line from Julius Caesar: "Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war." The nickname has primal, rather than Shakespearean, roots.
VCU's athletic department put together a lengthy highlight reel of all the chaos their press created a couple years ago—as you can see above, "Havoc" is an apt description. This is an aggressive, trap-heavy press designed to create maximum chaos, both in creating turnovers and forcing teams to play at an uncomfortably fast tempo.
Have We Seen It?
Well, kind of. Michigan played one press-heavy team this year: Arkansas, a team that gave them a world of issues the previous year at their place. This season, in Crisler, the Wolverines handled the Arkansas press with relative ease, turning the ball over only 11 times en route to a 13-point victory.
The difference between Arkansas and VCU is apparent on film, however. The Razorbacks place far less emphasis on the trap, and deployed the press less frequently in general than VCU will—Arkansas pressed after some made baskets, but VCU will trap after all of them.
How Do You Beat It?
Against Arkansas, Michigan used the inbounder as a safety outlet when the Razorbacks trapped the point guard or denied him the ball entirely. This is a common strategy and one that worked out well, at least as long as Tim Hardaway Jr. wasn't losing his dribble after breaking the pressure:
The going won't be as easy against VCU, but it's clear that this is Michigan's go-to move to break the initial trap. There's no magic bullet for navigating the press, however; instead, a few general rules:
- Get the ball in quickly. The less time VCU has to set up their press, the better. Michigan took their sweet time in the above clips, but Arkansas was also far less aggressive than the Rams will be.
- Avoid the corners. Getting the ball to the corner—either in your own end off the initial inbound, or just after crossing halfcourt—is asking for a quick trap and a turnover.
- Make quick, easy passes. Keep it simple—you can see in the VCU-produced video just how often long outlet passes result in disaster, even if the intended target is open.
- Always look ahead. VCU is looking to incite panic, and nothing is more of a panic move than turning your back and covering the ball instead of looking up for a quick pass.
- Stay calm. Even when teams break the VCU press, they often play too fast and cough up the ball in the ensuing halfcourt possession. Getting across halfcourt is step one. Step two is looking for an easy bucket, and settling into the normal offense if one isn't available.
Keys For Saturday
I'm expecting to see a few things tomorrow:
- More Spike. VCU doesn't have the size to punish Michigan for going small, so expect to see Albrecht on the court a fair amount—not in place of Trey Burke, of course, but alongside him.
- More LeVert, too. Tim Hardaway Jr. is good at a lot of things, but dribbling in the open court is not one of them. LeVert is a much better ballhandler, even at this stage in his career, and could see a lot of time if Hardaway becomes a liability in his own end. Burke, Albrecht, Stauskas, and LeVert give the team four reliable players with the ball in their hands, which should be enough to minimize turnovers.
- Burke tearing up the sideline. While breaking the press is very much a team effort, one player can break a trap if he's particularly quick. Trey Burke, well, he's pretty good; if he can split a double or find an opening up the sideline, he's obviously the best option for breaking the press and immediately getting into the offense. I also wouldn't be surprised to see Burke as the inbounder, especially when Albrecht is on the floor—that keeps Burke out of the corner and, with a quick return pass, gives him the entire width of the court to work with.
- Smart counters. Brian pointed out that VCU's halfcourt defense in the first few moments after teams break their press is not very good, which isn't a huge surprise—that's the time when they're scrambling the most to get set. The Wolverines should be able to get some very nice looks right after they cross halfcourt. The key is to take what's there and not try to force the issue—and play right into VCU's preferred tempo—if there isn't a good shot to take right away.
These are words I may regret, but I think this matchup is actually a good one for Michigan. Unlike last year, they have multiple guys who are trustworthy to be the primary ballhandler—along with Burke, I trust Albrecht, LeVert, and Stauskas to successfully get the ball up the court against pressure. They don't turn the ball over much. They have the shooters and transition finishers to make VCU pay dearly when they can't force a turnover
As long as the young guards don't get flustered—both in getting the ball up the floor and settling into the offense once they get there—then Michigan should handle the press, well, at least a whole lot better than Akron did. If they can break even, or come close, in the turnover battle, the other matchups with VCU strongly favor the Wolverines.
|WHAT||Michigan vs Virginia Commonwealth|
|WHERE||Palace Of Auburn Hills
Auburn Hills, Michigan
|WHEN||12:15 PM Eastern, Saturday|
…er… let's come back to this later.
Surprise! VCU goes fast. They make you go fast, too, by pressing your ass off like the ghost of Nolan Richardson has given them a quest to let his weary soul rest.
Almost 40% of their shots come in the first ten seconds of the shot clock, which isn't actually that much more than Michigan (32%). The eFG gap is about the same for each team, except VCU is six points lower in each situation.
- MICHIGAN: 64% fast, 52% slow
- VCU: 58% fast, 46% slow
However, Michigan runs off rebounds a lot (20% of shots) and effectively (66% eFG). Their eFG on steals is 69%. VCU is at 57% on quick rebounds (14% of shots) and 64% on steals (12%).
The upshot: VCU's half-court offense is poor and they make up for it with the havoc. Their transition game is not as efficient as Michigan's, and they try to get you in transition as much as possible.
Note that the havoc does not stop once you cross halfcourt. VCU's defense is turrible in the first ten seconds when their press is broken; afterwards they recover well enough to hold opponents to 47% eFG.
WHAT IS THE HAVOC
A standard 1-2-1 trapping full court press… a third of the time. Michigan has faced this intermittently so far this year, usually when leading late against Big Ten teams. None of these teams has dedicated itself to the art of the press, nor have they reconfigured what they put on the floor to bend to its will… even so, Michigan has generally broken it easily by passing it between Hardaway, Burke, and Stauskas until such time as Burke has a sliver of a gap on someone.
The rest of the time, well:
[VCU's] go-to look is a trapping man-to-man called "double-fist." The double-fist only works if you have quick guards who can, in Rams parlance, "heat up the ball" in a one-on-one situation. This means getting the ballhandler out of control and blinding him from the impending trap, which comes from a secondary defender who's lurking near halfcourt.
"If you watch tape with me," VCU coach Shaka Smart said after the Dayton game, "the possessions where we heat up the ball, something good happens. And the possessions where we don't, where we run and try to trap a guy who's not under pressure? Something bad tends to happen -- an open three, an easy shot."
Can VCU heat up Trey Burke? That's the game.
Also in different order because VCU demands it to be so. Four factors. Ranks are in parentheses and out of 347.
|eFG%||Turnover %||Off. Reb. %||FTA/FGA|
|Offense||51.5 (61)||16.9 (22)||37.1 (28)||30.3 (306)|
|Defense||49.6 (214)||28.8 (1)||34.6 (289)||41.1 (282)|
VCU is number one by more than a percentage point in TO% and steals. They are bad at all other defensive things. They're okay shooting the three and defending it, take a lot of threes, give up a dead average number, and all of this is kind of futile because VCU is two different teams depending on whether they're in transition or the half-court.
To facilitate the pressing, VCU deploys a four-guard lineup. Junior post Juvonte Reddic is the only guy over 6'5" to get significant playing time. Partially as a result, he has McGary-like rebounding numbers. In statistics that look nothing like McGary, he has impressively few turnovers for a big who puts up a lot of shots and keeps out of foul trouble (at least for a big) despite having a healthy steal rate.
His shots are split evenly between attempts at the rim and jumpers, with the predictably huge gap between efficiencies: 68% at the rim, 41% on the jumpers. If his university-provided highlight reel of those jumpers is representative, a lot of those successful jumpers appear to be baby hooks from the paint:
If Michigan ends up leaving him open from 15 feet like they did Tony Fiegen, they're probably not going to get 6/6 on their face.
The next-biggest guy is 6'5" wing #21 Treveon Graham, VCU's highest-usage player. He's not a great shooter (73/49/36 with a moderate number of FTAs) but he's a decent one and like most of VCU's players he has a TO rate scraping the low teens. He gets to the rim quite a bit, with the usual split in efficiency between rim and not rim.
Corner gunner du jour is #30 Troy Daniels, a senior in the top 50 in eFG. 88% of his attempts this year have been threes, which he hits at a 41% clip. He never assists, never turns the ball over, and doesn't generate possessions with steals or rebounds. He is just a shooter. A good shooter who Michigan will have to find in transition, but just a shooter.
Senior #10 Darius Theus is a point guard in the traditional sense. He gets the ball to his teammates, has a lot of assists, and doesn't shoot much (just 13% of VCU shots when he's on the floor). He's a little turnover prone, but also there is a big flashy blinky light on his Kenpom profile next to his steal percentage, which is 5.5, #6 nationally.
Junior Rob Brandenberg (enormous disembodied head above) puts up a lot of shots at with mediocre results (69/45/36) and provides not much else peripherally save the requisite steals. He's above evenly split between twos and threes, and hoop-math says he's the worst two-point shooter on the team by a large distance.
VCU gets a lot more minutes from its bench than South Dakota (which played four starters 40 minutes and the last 32 yesterday). When not blowing out the opponent by 40+, it's essentially an eight-man rotation except one of the men is a two-headed backup post. Briante Weber is the primary PG backup, though VCU will run Theus and Weber out there at the same time. He's a statistical clone of Theus except he's a low-quality three-point shooter—Theus is meh—and his outstanding steal rate is a full 2.2 points higher than Theus's and #1 in the country. He does pick up 4.5 fouls per 40 as a result.
Freshman Melvin Johnson is the shootin' backup. He launches a greater percentage of VCU's shots when he's on the floor than anyone save Graham, but he's not particularly efficient. He's a 28% three-point shooter with 82 attempts on the year and hits 49% from two with very few free throws drawn. He doesn't get to the rim much, so he's mostly taking two point jumpers at a mediocre clip.
With DJ Haley oddly leaving the program just before the A-10 tournament, VCU is down to two large-ish dudes to spell Reddic, sophomore Jarred Guest and freshman Justin Tuoyo. Both gentlemen enter the court to play foul-heavy defense and rebound. When the ball comes to them they try to get rid of it as fast as possible. There's a big dropoff when Reddic leaves the game.
Major VCU nonconference games:
- Wichita State: L 53-51
- Memphis(N): W 78-65
- Duke(N): L 67-58
- Missouri(N): L 68-65
- Belmont: W 75-65
- Alabama: W 73-54
In these games the answer to "did VCU win?" is the same as the answer to "did VCU force at least 15 turnovers?" This is because of Havoc™.
In conference play VCU went 12-4 in the A10, Kenpom's #8 league. The A10 was virtually tied with the Valley for #8 and a long way behind the SEC, #7. Losses came against fellow bid-acquirers St Louis (twice, once in the A-10 tourney final), Temple, and La Salle plus an eight-point OT loss to John Beilein's old Richmond club. They beat Butler by 32 in early March. That was their only win against the other NCAA teams in the league in five tries. Memphis (a six) and Belmont (an eleven) also made it.
Until Sunday's league final that turnover metric held true. St Louis managed to best VCU despite 18 turnovers. All others kept it under 14. Meanwhile, I checked every win over KP100 teams. Every single one saw VCU reach the magic 15.
We have this formula for beating VCU, then:
- keep your turnovers around 10 or lower
- watch them shoot 42%/17%.
Don't turn it over. I am Jack's complete lack of surprise. VCU's defense is all TO generation, as is a significant portion of their offense. If Michigan and VCU have an approximately equal number of TOs the game comes down to rebounding and shooting. The first should be a push at worst, and if VCU shoots Michigan out of the tournament in the halfcourt, so be it.
If you have to plunge into 50/50 charge/block calls so be it. If a guy is coming over to bother you with a trap, for God's sake just run the guy over if it's even close. If you get half of 'em, that probably means nothing in terms of extra FTAs given up (especially since offensive fouls don't generate them) but will get you in the bonus quicker against a team that always gets into the bonus. It is also unlikely to put Michigan in serious foul difficulty since they do not foul. Meanwhile, VCU has six significant contributors above 3 fouls per 40*, a couple of whom (Reddic, Daniels) bring irreplaceable skills to the table.
Similarly, Michigan should go to the damn basket over and over in the halfcourt. One: Kobe Assists are there for the taking if Reddic is forced to help. Meanwhile VCU's main shooter off the bench is their worst and they hang on the edge of putting in a guy named Teddy Okereafor who has an ORTG < 90.
Do whatever you can to get whistles. If you commit charges, so be it.
Withstand the vicissitudes of fate. This game has a make-it-take-it aspect to it: when VCU scores, they get to press. When they do not score, Michigan gets to run, either off a steal or a rebound. In situations like this, withering runs either way are possible. Don't get too down, just get it across the timeline.
Punish when you break the press. VCU's generally horrible numbers outside of turnovers are an effect of concessions made to it: lack of height, lack of positioning. Even accounting for the former, their defense is not horrible in the half-court. In fact, opponent's eFG numbers when shots go up in the last 25 seconds of the shot clock are identical to Michigan's. Michigan's not great, but that doesn't help Michigan beat a team playing itself.
So: when you're roaring towards the basket with two guys on your back, Trey, do something crushing, or they get free turnovers.
Glenn Robinson: run at the basket with ill intent. The man has a size advantage in this one, and there will be transition. Go to the basket, and leap at passes or rebounds, and then dunk them, and then yell something unintelligible afterwards, preferably at least five times.
Trey: don't have the worst game ever. That's out of the way, I hope.
Akron: get your sweaty germs all over VCU. It could happen?
VCU: don't get your sweaty germs all over Michigan. Er.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by one even though Kenpom doesn't know it moved VCU up ten spaces yesterday for VCU's destruction of a hollow shell of Akron, not actual Akron.