Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
If there is one trend that has been apparent throughout this year's tourney, it's that you need great guard play to advance. Guards set the tone for the offense, create opportunities for their teammates and have to hit big shots down the stretch.
Both VCU and Butler have gotten great play from their guards in the tournament and will need another big effort from them today to survive.
VCU is led by PG Joey Rodriguez, who at 5'10" often plays like the biggest man on the court. While not a high-scoring guard, he has complete command of his team and always seems to make a big play when the game is on the line. If he can break down his defender off the dribble today and get in the lane, he will create a lot of easy buckets for the Rams.
Flanking Rodriguez are guards Bradford Burgess Ed Nixon, and Brandon Rozzell.
Burgess has been electric for the Rams in the tournament and had huge games in VCU's wins over Florida St. and Purdue. He can penetrate off the dribble or knock down the three, and if he gets on a roll, Butler will be in for a long day. Nixon and Rozzell are role players that play solid defense and are strong outside shooters.
Butler is led by Shelvin Mack, an all-world guard that is playing as well as anyone left in the tournament. Picking up where he left off in last year's tournament, he is seemingly immune to late-game pressure, as he has knocked down big shot after big shot to send teams like Wisconsin and Florida back home.
Mack is joined by Shawn Vanzant and Ronald Nored, making this backcourt the most experienced group left in the tournament. Vanzant is a streaky shooter from outside, but can hit the midrange jumper and get to the rim. Nored doesn't score much, but his ability to lock down opposing guards on the defensive end is a big reason why Butler is still alive.
VCU has the guards to play with anyone in the country, but they don't have someone like Mack, who can single-handedly take a game over. They have to figure out how to contain him if they want to win.
Advantage: Butler (slightly)