(8) Butler vs. (11) VCU
(8) Butler Bulldogs
After making a surprise run to the 2010 National Championship game, Butler Head Coach Brad Stevens’ team learned that sophomore forward Gordon Hayward would forego his final two years of college eligibility to enter the 2010 NBA Draft. With a solid nucleus of Shelvin Mack, Ronald Nored and Matt Howard all returning, the Bulldogs figured to earn a berth in the 2011 NCAA Tournament but no one expected Butler to return to the Final Four, particularly after starting the season 14-9 overall, 6-5 in the Horizon League. Since that time, however, Butler has won 13 consecutive games. Howard, the team’s leading scorer, has been plagued by foul trouble throughout his career (he’s fouled out 23 times during his four seasons at Butler) but hasn’t fouled out of a game since Jan. 23 (an 86-80 loss to Wisconsin-Milwaukee) and his ability to stay on the floor has been a huge part of Butler advancing to its second consecutive Final Four. Mack and Nored (who now comes off the bench) combine to form one of the better defensive back courts in the country while providing Stevens with leadership and toughness. Butler attempt to slow the pace of the game, minimize possessions and execute offensively.
(11) Virginia Commonwealth Rams
Just two weeks ago, the college basketball world was outraged by the Selection Committee’s decision to grant Virginia Commonwealth an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament after finishing the regular season fourth in the Colonial Athletic Association and losing five of its last eight games. The Rams, however, have utilized their zone press defense in order to wear out opponents, force turnovers and create easy scoring opportunities. Coach Shaka Smart’s team ranks 17th nationally in three-point field goals per game (8.5) and has converted 65-146 (.445) shots from beyond the arc in the 2011 NCAA tournament. Senior forward Jamie Skeen leads the team in scoring and rebounding, and his 26 point, ten rebound performance against a very good Kansas front line helped propel VCU into the Final Four. With Skeen’s productivity on the inside (he also shoots .387 from deep) to go along with the backcourt trio of Bradford Burgess, Brandon Rozzell and Joey Rodriguez, the Rams can beat you inside or out. Look for Smart to try to speed the game up and force an experienced, steady Butler team into mistakes.
HOOPSWORLD’s Pick: Butler. The Bulldogs have simply been unflappable throughout their early struggles and later successes. Their deliberate style and ability to take care of the ball will get them past VCU and back into the national championship game for the second consecutive season.