“I’m way more comfortable,” Gardner said. “Last year was my first year starting, and it was rough, a lot of ups and downs, a lot of adversity. A lot of adversity I fought through, and I feel like I did a really good job of never giving up, never giving up on myself and my teammates. I feel my teammates recognized that, and my coaches recognized that, and I feel like that will help me.”
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.
[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.
Off. Reb. %
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
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.
While I don't know much about VCU, it seems that Michigan matches up pretty well from the descriptions I have read. Michigan's main strength is having the best point guard in the country, which along with our other guys who can handle the ball (Albrecht, Stauskas, Hardaway) will help mitigate the press. It almost seems like we've been practicing playing Albrecht and Burke together in recent games specifically for this one. And Michigan's main weakness is halfcourt defense, particularly interior defense, but it doesn't seem that VCU is a team built to take advantage.
I hate watching teams I like play against press defense teams. But I'm hopeful in this one.
I wonder at what point Michigan did start practicing for VCU. I'm sure the coaches were drawing up plans from the time the NCAA seedings were announced, I would think that some practice time was devoted to it as well, even before the game with SDSU, given the liklihood of facing them and the difficulties their defense presents.
Since I cannot help decide the outcome, I'm going to try to just watch as a fan of basketball and let the cruel gods of the NCAA Tournament do what they will. This is two of the best coaches in the country going at it.
"All of the doughnuts have names that sound like prostitutes."
Outside of getting past that stupid half-court line within ten seconds, the x-factor will be our size advantage (wait...Michigan has a size advantage and we're not playing Northwestern?) with GR3 and McGary.
I love knowing that McGary is so cool with the ball, and probably has the best passing ability for a big man in the Nation.
GR3, please replicate everything you did before the South Dakota St game. Whatever you did, it worked. Thank you.
GR3 + McGary = confident 7+ point win.
(Please show up again GR3. That was a lot of fun to watch)
McGary flashing into the center of the diamond press and passing the ball to the cutter on the opposite wing could be a very effective way to beat the press, so long as he's reminded to keep the ball high and never dribble.
Does not seem likely considering our inability to close tight ones. I prefer an 8 pt spread. Don't turn the ball over. Win. Simple enough formula. Please no foul trouble either. I was worried as shit when I knew this matchup was coming but strangely feeling better after our performance last night and more breaking down of havoc D. We'll see. Go Blue!!!
No write up about their band? That was the most interesting part of the game yesterday. The band director had one set where he stripped down to a tank top and then put on some baseball jersey thing while directing. Between him and the tuba guy rocking out hard enough for me to worry about his safety it was entertaining, much more so than whatever Akron was trying to do.
There were at least three of them in the front row -- amazing that they can play while dancing like that, and that nobody got hit by a swinging tuba. It was also fun to watch the director and see if he'd fall off the chair he stood (and danced) on while conducting. Highly entertaining -- I was hoping for the VCU match-up last night, if for no other reason than to see the band again.
If Michigan comes out flat, falls behind and play like they don't want it then VCU may win going away. If Michigan comes out hungry and finishes with buckets on their offensive drives, then they will win. If we limit turnovers, break the press and get open looks, it could be an easy Michigan win. I hope we win by 10 to 20 points! At least it will be more of a home game for Michigan!
Overall, I'm a bit worried about this game, watching how VCU destroyed Akron. Even with all their sick players the zips would probably have still beaten NDST!