VCU's shooting won't beat Butler's scrappy game

RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:53 PM ET

HOUSTON — Sadly, one of the greatest stories in NCAA tournament history will come to an end on Saturday night.

Sorry Virginia Commonwealth, Butler is going back to the main event.

Butler returned to the Final Four against all odds a year after one of the most stirring runs ever and VCU, one of the last teams allowed in‚ by virtue of a play-in game against Southern California — went out and topped the Bulldogs.

VCU is a fabulous story, but the fairy tale ends here. Butler has big-game experience and a couple of players who simply find a way to get it done when it matters most, in Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard.

Butler might play ugly, scrapping and clawing to pull out victories, but it wins. VCU is a little more exciting in its ability to rain threes on opponents as well as putting the pressure on opponents.

If the game isn’t pretty, Butler runs away with it, but if it is easy on the eyes, the Rams will keep it close, underdogs or not.

“Taking the approach of playing extremely aggressive, confident, loose basketball. If we follow that formula, the same formula we’ve used over the last few weeks, we’ll be fine,” summed up Rams head coach Shaka Smart.

Smart also knows that his Rams must continue to fire away and make a considerable number of outside shots in order to pull off another upset.

“The scoreboard never moves any faster than when that ball goes in from behind the arc, for any team, not just us,” he said.

“We’ve shot the ball well from three all year. We set our league record, all-time for most three-point makes ever in our conference (and have) shot at a higher percentage in these last five games.

“When you watch the Butler-Wisconsin game, Wisconsin got pretty good shots and they didn’t make them. That’s why they didn’t win the game. Sometimes it comes down to that.”

Unlike Kansas, the latest team to fall to VCU, Butler will be ready for anything and everything the Rams throw at it.

There is no pressure on Butler, just like there is zero pressure on the Rams. While that should allow VCU to keep it close, Butler just seems to find a way.

Butler came within a rimmed-out Gordon Hayward buzzer-beater of beating Duke in the championship game a year ago and made it back to the precipice of the title game even without its marquee player, who left for the NBA’s Utah Jazz.

But more than a miracle, Butler needs to continue to play its sound, steady defence.

“Butler is probably the toughest defensive team we’ll face all year,” said VCU’s Bradford Burgess.

“All of our coaches have said the people they talk to, they’re so physical on the defensive end, it will just be a challenge for us cutting, making passes, being strong with the ball. With that toughness, that’s how they’ve been winning ball games, that’s how they made it to the Final Four.”

The Rams will try to break down that defence not just by nailing threes from all over the court, but also, by posting up Jamie Skeen, one of the better low-post threats in the NCAA.

For Butler’s Howard, VCU’s defence seemed more of a concern.

“They do mix things up a little bit. They keep teams off balance,” Howard said.

“You have to be prepared for multiple looks. They’re going to press. They’ll play a little bit of zone. Then they also have a good man to man.”

Did the veteran Bulldogs see themselves getting back to this point?

“Yeah, I think after what we were able to do last year, I mean, you start to realize a little bit more if you lock in, really focus, are able to execute your game plans, that anything can happen,” Howard said.

“Of course, in many situations you have to have a few things go your way. If you look at our first four games, there has been some things like that. But when you have that confidence and understanding of what it takes, you can make things happen.”

Added guard Shawn Vanzant:

“Me, personally, I always felt that we had a chance to be very special. I always thought we could make it this far.”

Actually, Shawn, you’re going a little bit farther.


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