Final Four 2011: 10 Keys to Victory for Shaka Smart and VCU
Shaka Smart and his VCU Rams have shocked the college basketball world. However, the job isn't done yet.
VCU has already won five games this tournament, defeating USC, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State, and Kansas.
One of the most impressive parts about this cinderella run is the list of teams they have beaten. Taking down schools from the Pac-10, Big East, Big 10, ACC, and finally the Big 12. Talk about diversity for VCU.
Shaka Smart hopes to command his troops to another victory over a different conference, the Horizon League.
If Shaka Smart and VCU want to continue their incredible run, several things will need to happen.
These are the 10 keys to VCU advancing past Butler, on their way to the Final Four.
10. Try to Equalize the Rebounding Battle
It's well known that VCU is not a good rebounding team. In fact, some people would go as far to say that they are a terrible rebounding team.
Luckily, the Rams lack of rebounding has not hurt them yet. Against Florida State, VCU was outrebounded by 18, but somehow managed to come away with the win.
You have to believe if the Rams don't attack the boards just a little bit, it will come back to bite them eventually.
Now there's nothing wrong with VCU getting out-rebounded by just a few, but giving Butler 18 surely will end VCU's run.
VCU needs to attack the boards like there's no tomorrow versus Butler.
9. Win the Turnover Battle
This will be a very underrated part of the game. A common basketball rule of thumb lies within the turnover battle. The rule states that the team with fewer turnovers will win the game.
Against Butler, this will certainly be the case.
Both teams play smart, protective basketball. The schools also average right around 11 turnovers per game.
The fact that they are both low-turnover teams make this stat that much more important.
After this Butler-VCU game, check the scoreboard and see who won. Then check who won the turnover battle, as that will surely be the indicator of the winning team.
8. Use Senior Leadership to Your Advantage
This game matches experience verse experience. Butler has the big game experience, while VCU has more senior leadership.
VCU boasts seniors Jamie Skeen, Joey Rodriguez, Brandon Rozzell and Ed Nixon. The seniors also account for over 110 minutes combined per game.
Considering that stat, VCU will always have at least one senior on the floor. Against Butler, count on Skeen and Rodriguez playing the entire game barring something unforeseen.
Both teams have plenty of knowledge and proficiency on the court, making this game so much fun to watch.
If the game is close with only a few minutes left on the clock, count on a defining play from one of the several seniors on the floor.
7. Matt Howard Vs. Jamie Skeen
Matt Howard verse Jamie Skeen is the biggest match up of this game. The two senior forwards are arguably the best players on their respective teams.
Howard is a 6'8" banger who likes to get rough, scrap, rebound and score easy buckets. Skeen is a 6'9" forward who likes to shoot, grab loose balls and play with more finesse to his game.
Both Howard and Skeen will need to do some serious homework before they go toe to toe. These seniors can impact the game in so many ways, making this match up crucial.
From the outside looking in it seems like Howard will have the advantage.
Howard is a rebounding monster, especially on the offensive end. Skeen will need to force Howard's plus size frame out of the paint early and often.
If VCU wants to limit rebounds and second chance points, it all starts with keeping Matt Howard away from the bucket.
6. Feed the Hot Hand
Throughout this tournament, VCU has had one hot hand per game. Whether it was Jamie Skeen against Kansas, Joey Rodriguez against Georgetown, or Bradford Burgess versus Kansas and Purdue, the Rams are good at finding the hot hand.
Apparently all VCU needs is one guy to step up in a big way, and follow that with solid play from everyone else.
Bradford Burgess has generally been the hot hand this tournament. With Jamie Skeen being guarded by Matt Howard, it will likely be Burgess that the Rams turn to.
Butler needs to put a tight leash on Burgess to avoid the dagger three pointers. If Burgess can't step up, someone else will without a doubt.
With VCU getting a week off, the scare of cooling down is definitely there. However, Shaka Smart is a great coach and will figure out a way to keep his guys loose and ready.
5. Stick to "VCU" Basketball
VCU has been blowing out teams for several reasons. One of the main ones is their style of play.
The Rams are a great transition team, being able to execute tasks other teams can't.
On the offensive end, the Rams like to get out and run. They tend to race the ball past half court, make one or two passes, then jack up a three with at least 25 seconds left on the shot clock.
For defense, the Rams love apply tons of pressure. Whether they run a full court press, or simply decide to smother you once you pass half court is up to Shaka Smart. Either way, VCU will get after you on defense.
On the contrary, Butler likes to play a slow pace, half court game.
VCU needs to stick to their principles, playing the brand of basketball they have been throughout the tournament.
4. Let Joey Rodriguez Run the Show
VCU has gotten to the Final Four on the back of Joey Rodriguez, and for good reason. The senior is almost mistake free, rarely making a bad decision.
The longer that Rodriguez holds onto the ball, the better.
Rodriguez is great at finding open teammates in a variety of ways. His most useful technique is cutting past his defender, drawing the double team, then kicking the ball out to an open teammate for three.
Rodriguez is a solid shooter, but not a huge threat. He has shown his ability to hit the three when his team needs it, but VCU certainly doesn't expect him to be the high point scorer.
Joey Rodriguez needs to take advantage of whoever is guarding him, since Butler doesn't have the quickness at point guard to stay in front of him.
3. Contain Shelvin Mack
This is the single player VCU needs to be most scared of. It's junior combo guard Shelvin Mack.
Mack has the ability to score in a variety of ways, making him very dangerous.
Just take a look at Mack's scoring numbers over the tournament. His scoring totals go 15, 30, 13, and 27. Notice something? Mack is extremely streaky and can light up the game at any second.
Butler needs their biggest players to step up in the biggest of games, meaning Mack needs at least 20 points.
Now don't get the scoring importance wrong. Butler is very capable of winning without a huge game from Mack, but that doesn't make them a better team. Butler is at it's best when Mack is, making his impact on the game absolutely crucial for both schools.
2. Listen to Shaka
There's an old saying that goes "if it isn't broken, don't fix it." For VCU, this is exactly what they need to follow.
The Rams have gotten to the Final Four by the spectacular coaching of Shaka Smart. Shaka has out-coached, out-maneuvered, and generally just done a way better job than coaches he has gone against.
Shaka has had a trick or two up his sleeve for every team, and Butler will be no different.
It's well known that Butler prefers to play a more relaxed brand of basketball. Besides running a possible full court press, Shaka needs to shake things up against Butler.
The Bulldogs are very well coached by Brad Stevens, meaning Shaka needs to be creative with his game plan against Butler.
Keep an eye on Shaka verse Butler, this guy is a tricky one.
1. Keep Shooting from Downtown
VCU has made it this far for one reason, and that's shooting. The Rams have clobbered teams in the shooting category, routinely crushing their opponents confidence by knocking down shots.
For the tournament, VCU is shooting an unconscious 45 percent from three-point land. This is virtually unheard of. If the Rams can shoot like that against Butler there is no doubt they come away with the win.
The Rams have been shooting so well that against Florida State they were outrebounded by 18, yet still managed to win the game.
Expect VCU to shoot threes early and often against Butler.
However, if the threes don't fall early VCU could go into panic mode. Remember, VCU hasn't had to play from behind a large deficit, making those early shots that much more important.
VCU has to let the threes fly and not look back.