What to expect: VCU hosts #20 Butler

VCU hosts #20 Butler Saturday afternoon in a matchup that pits the Rams vs. the Bulldogs for the first time since the 2011 Final Four.

VCU-Butler-Front
  • What: VCU (22-6, 10-3) vs. Butler (22-6, 9-4)
  • Where: Stuart C. Siegel Center
  • When: Saturday, March 2nd at 12:00 PM
  • Watch: ESPN 2 (Comcast 5, 851HD; Verizon 74, 574HD)
  • Listen: Rams Radio

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Virginia Commonwealth University hosts #20 Butler Saturday afternoon in the Stuart C. Siegel Center in a matchup that pits the Rams vs. the Bulldogs for the first time since the 2011 Final Four.

The Rundown

On August 13th, 2012 the VCU basketball schedule was announced, and Ram fans everywhere collectively circled one game on the Ram’s impressive schedule. For VCU and Butler, a lot has changed in the past 700 days, but no matter what players, coaches, fans, or the media say, this is a big game because of the Final Four.

Plenty of people involved have played down the importance, but Coach Smart summed it up nicely on Monday: “Butler has a terrific team, so our focus is on finding ways to win the game and find advantages in the game. There is an excitement. You’d have to be crazy not to be excited about this game as a player, a fan, a coach, as anyone involved.”

The Team

The dismissal of Chrishawn Hopkins. The bizarre departure of Chris Harrison-Docks. The passing of Erik Fromm’s father. The Rotnei Clarke injury.

Despite facing serious adversity this season, the Butler Bulldogs are putting together a memorable campaign that includes a 13-game winning streak, a second-place finish in the Maui Invitational, and victories over Marquette, UNC, and currently ranked #1 Indiana and #2 Gonzaga. Butler is just 6-4 in their last ten games, but records and streaks have rarely dictated the play of the 2010 and 2011 national runner-ups.

While their team lacks big name players like Gordon Hayward, Shelvin Mack, and Matt Howard, they have a knack for winning including three of the best game-winners of the season by three different players: Rotnei Clarke over Marquette, Alex Barlow over #1 Indiana, Rooselevelt Jones over #8 Gonzaga.

Finishing with only 22 wins, last season was the worst of Coach Steven’s five year career. Bulter ranked 28th in defensive efficiency but lacked the offense to even win the Horizon League. After finishing 341st in 3-point percentage in 2012, Stevens added senior transfer Rotnei Clarke and top-100 recruit Kellen Dunham in moves that turned their biggest weakness into a serious strength. Clarke and Dunham can really stretch the floor with 3-point shooting and now Fromm, Chase Stigall, and Andrew Smith are even more potent from range.

The offensive improvement helps, but Butler still wins by slowing down the game and playing great defense. They rank 15th in defensive rebounding percentage and 76th in defensive field goal percentage. They rely on the strength and grit of center Andrew Smith, forward Khyle Marshall, and small forward Roosevelt Jones to frustrate opponents inside the paint and on the glass.

If one thing makes VCU nervous, it should be Butler’s ability to force teams to play in the half court. Butler topped Indiana, arguably the best transition team in America, by rebounding and limiting their transition opportunities. Against St. Louis and Xavier, VCU’s half court offense struggled. If the Rams can’t run on Saturday, it could be a long afternoon in the The Stu.

The Star: #15 Rotnei Clarke

17 PPG, 3 RPG, 2.8 APG, .433 3PFG%

After playing three seasons at Arkansas, Rotnei Clarke is capping off his career with a great season at Butler. Clarke has knocked down 91 3-pointers this season (2nd in the A-10 behind Troy Daniels) while shooting an impressive .433 from range.

Clarke will handle the ball, but Butler wants to use him off of the ball (this was the downside to losing Chrishawn Hopkins). VCU can’t afford to lose Clarke on the perimeter, especially off of well executed ball screens. He will hit shots, but there is a huge difference bewteen three 3-pointers and five plus 3-pointers.

Supporting Cast

#3 Alex Barlow (PG, Sophomore) • Barlow joined the team as a walk on last season, but he has earned his way onto Butler’s starting lineup in an attempt to get Rotnei Clarke more catch and shoot opportunities. Barlow’s overtime game winner against Indiana belongs in the movie Hoosiers.

#21 Roosevelt Jones (SF, Sophomore) • Jones has made a career out of hustle. He’s not the tallest, the fastest, or the most skilled, but few players have the knack for getting things done like Jones. At 6-foot-4, 227 pounds, he is a strong defender. If he guards Troy Daniels, VCU should try to run him around ball screens all afternoon.

#23 Khyle Marshall(F, Junior) • Marshall is another valuable front court defender for Butler. He’s only 6-foot-6, but he has the defensive skill to give Treveon Graham trouble. Marshall scores in bunches infrequently, he’ll grab that annoying offensive rebound, and he’ll force that frustrating shot clock violation.

#44 Andrew Smith (C, Senior) • In Butler’s two biggest victories this season, Smith was matched up with Indiana’s Cody Zeller and Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk. In both games, Smith held his own, played even with, and sometimes out muscled two player-of-the-year candidates. Smith was on both Butler national runner up teams, he is the Bulldog’s best player, and he will definitely be a handfull for Juvonte Reddic on both ends of the court.

#24 Kellen Dunham (SG, Freshman) • Dunham is one of the premier freshmen sharpshooters in the nation. A great catch and shoot player, he is 51-137 (.372) on the season from range. Ram fans will maybe get to know him over the next three years as he matures into one of the best shooters in the nation.

The Prediction

Flip a coin. Butler hasn’t looked the same since stealing that home game against Gonzaga, and VCU hasn’t been playing their best basketball of the season. Both teams want it, but only one can have it. KenPom picks VCU to win 72-64 with a 76% chance of victory.

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Butler Profile

  • Location: Indianapolis, IN
  • Enrollment: 4,667
  • All time series: Butler leads 2-0
  • Last meeting: 4/2/11. Butler won 70-62.

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Aaron Williams

Aaron Williams loves music, basketball (follow @rvaramnews!), family, learning, and barbecue sauce.

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