Final Four 2011: 10 Keys to Victory for Shelvin Mack and Butler
March Madness has brought together two of the most unlikely teams in the Final Four. Everyone wants to talk about how these teams made it, when in reality, we need to talk about what team will win it. There are many keys to the game that will decide the outcome.
The favorite of the two, Butler, looks to continue another cinderella season against VCU. The Bulldogs will have their hands full against the hot shooting Rams of VCU.
Butler head coach Brad Stevens has guided Butler to consecutive Final Four appearance. Stevens has his crew playing smart, concise basketball that comes straight out of the textbook.
Under the veteran leadership of Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard, Butler has trumped Old Dominion, Pittsburgh, Wisconsin and Florida.
Talk about a heck of a run for the Bulldogs.
However, the work isn't done yet. Butler squares off against an even bigger cinderella team in VCU, meaning they will be the favorites for the first time this tournament.
So what will it take for Butler to make another title game appearance? Here are the 10 keys to the game for Butler.
10. Play Butler Basketball
One of the main reasons VCU has upset so many teams is because of their style of play. VCU likes to run with the ball and take quick shots in transition.
However, Butler is very different. The Bulldogs prefer a slow pace, half court, and take-good-shots type of game. How these two teams will function on the same court will be interesting to watch.
When VCU beat Kansas, the Jayhawks weren't able to handle the Rams style of play. VCU disrupted Kansas on both sides of the floor, jumping out to an early double digit lead.
This shouldn't be a huge concern for Butler. Brad Stevens is an excellent coach who should know how to handle teams like VCU.
If VCU decides to press Butler, the Bulldogs can't panic. Kansas was completely thrown off by the press, committing turnover after turnover.
Be careful Butler, and get ready for Shaka to throw some sort of wrinkle at you.
9. Outrebound the Rams
The Rams average 32 rebounds per game, good enough for 301st place in Division I basketball. On the other hand, Butler averages 35 rebounds a game, which puts them in the middle of the pack among Division I teams.
Even though neither team is outstanding on the boards, this will be a crucial part of the game. VCU is considered a "short" team, so Butler needs to take advantage of it.
Senior forward Matt Howard is a rebound machine, averaging nearly eight per game on the season.
When VCU beat Florida State, the Rams were outrebounded by 18. The fact that the game was even close is a miracle.
VCU is one of the few teams that can even be in a game when down 18 rebounds, much less 10.
Expect Butler to outrebound VCU, while also taking better care of the ball than the teams VCU defeated.
8. Slow Down Joey Rodriguez
VCU's "X" factor so far, Joey Rodriguez, has been solid as a rock this tournament.
The senior point guard has eclipsed double digit assists twice during the big dance and rarely turns the ball over. Rodriguez typically is the smartest player on the court, always making the right decision.
Rodriguez is generally listed at 5'10", but he sure plays bigger. Throughout the tournament, Rodriguez has been the shortest player on the court. This has done nothing but work to his advantage so far, allowing the senior to use his supreme quickness.
Against Butler, Ronald Nored and Shawn Vanzant will get the task of locking down Rodriguez. These two need to do a good job of limiting Rodriguez's touches, considering how he impacts the game in so many ways.
Keep an eye on Rodriguez, who continues to raise VCU's chances of winning every time he touches the ball.
7. Listen to Brad Stevens
This game may come down to coaching more than anything.
Brad Stevens put himself on the map last year and cemented his place on it this year. After guiding Butler to back-to-back Final Four appearances, Brad Stevens officially knows his stuff.
You can't help but think that Butler's run this year has a whole lot to do with coaching. Butler lost their best player Gordon Hayward to the NBA, yet they were still able to make the Final Four.
The coaching experience could be the big factor in this game, especially if the game is close in the closing minutes.
Observe how Brad Stevens has his team handle VCU's unorthodox style of play. Stevens has guided Butler over schools who run completely different systems, and VCU is no different.
This game is another testament to Brad Stevens and his growing name as one of the elite head coaches in college basketball.
6. Expect a Big Game from Shelvin Mack
When Butler has succeeded in their huge "upset" wins this tournament, Shelvin Mack has been the man to step up.
Against No. 1 seed Pittsburgh, Mack went off for 30 points. Mack put on a shooting display that game, going seven-of-12 from three. More impressively, Mack had committed just a single turnover in 38 minutes of play.
When Butler squared off against Florida, Mack shined even brighter. The junior had 27 points, four rebounds and four assists. Mack impacted this game in just about every way possible. He made shots, dropped dimes and played solid defense on the highly-touted guards of Florida.
Mack tends to shine in the biggest of moments, making it all the more likely he will end this game as the leading scorer.
5. Win the Turnover Battle
At the end of the game, the turnover battle will decide who wins and loses this one.
Both teams play a very smart brand of basketball, making every single turnover that much more important. Coaches Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens have taught their teams how to play basketball with a high IQ.
There isn't a player in this game that doesn't value the ball with his life. In fact, these teams average similar turnovers per game, right around 11.
Extra possessions make or break games at this point. Both of these teams know every time they have the ball they will be under a magnifying glass.
Bet on the team with the least turnovers coming out on top, while punching their ticket to the national title game.
4. Rely on Veteran Experience
It's no secret that Butler went to the national title game last year. Now it's time for Butler to take advantage of that experience.
Nobody in the tournament has the big game experience of Butler.
They will rely on the veteran hands of Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack. These are two of the main parts leftover from last year's title run.
With the game on the line, expect the ball to be in the possession of Mack or Howard.
3. Matt Howard vs. Jamie Skeen
Jamie Skeen versus Matt Howard is easily the biggest matchup of the game.
Skeen of VCU has had an electric tournament so far, tearing up future first-round picks. In the biggest game of them all, Skeen showed up in a huge way.
Skeen went for 26 points and 10 rebounds against Kansas. Squaring off against the Morris twins down low, Skeen did everything he was asked of and more.
Skeen played good defense, made open shots and forced the Morris twins to commit turnovers.
As well as Jamie Skeen has been playing, senior forward Matt Howard has dominated his region in the post.
Howard has scored no less than 14 points each game so far, while also gobbling up rebounds down low. For Howard, it's more about the presence he has provided.
Howard is continually a force in the frontcourt, shutting down players like Jon Leuer, Alex Tyus, Vernon Macklin and Gary McGhee.
2. Don't Let Shaka Outsmart You
Shaka Smart has thrust his name onto the national scene this tournament. The 33-year-old coach has done it in a variety of ways.
Smart has his Rams playing an unconscious brand of basketball. VCU has boosted their three-point shooting an entire 10 percent from the regular season, and the confidence Smart put in them has to take credit.
College basketball experts ripped on the selection committee for putting VCU in the field, which was all the fuel Smart needed.
Smart showed the team tapes of what the analysts said, which can only help them perform as underdogs.
Not only was Smart able to motivate the Rams by outside skeptics, Smart has them playing frustrating basketball.
VCU has disturbed their opponents by running with the ball, draining threes in transition and barely turning the ball over.
Butler needs to be careful, Shaka likely has another trick up his sleeve.
1. Slow Down the Shooting of VCU
The main reason VCU is in the Final Four is because of their shooting. The Rams have been red hot from three-point land, which has gotten to their opponents early.
Throughout the big dance, VCU is 45 percent from down town. If Butler wants to take down VCU, the perimeter defense has to be there.
Brad Stevens will need to watch some tape to figure out how he will slow the Rams down.
They often shoot threes in transition, but can do it other ways, as well. Point guard Joey Rodriguez has been able to dribble around until finding an open man for three.
Expect Brad Stevens to have his Bulldogs guarding VCU from at least 24 feet out, considering the Rams have shown they can make them from there.