Xavier v. VCU: Preview

Four Rams in the shot, but only one Colonial. That's HAVOC. - USA TODAY Sports

Shaka Smart, HAVOC, and VCU travel to the Cintas for the first time in conference. It's a tall order for a young Musketeers backcourt, but an upset isn't out of the question.

It seems like this game has been right around the corner since Xavier started the conference slate 4-0. Especially since back to back losses to Charlotte and St. Joseph's, this game has loomed as one big chance to grab a win that no one would have predicted the Musketeers could get. In less than 24 hours the game will finally tip off and the premier team in Atlantic 10 history will welcome one of the new claimants to the throne. The fact that Xavier is desperate for the wins they need to secure a first round conference bye only heightens the tension.

VCU comes in to the game with the mystique they had built up just having taken a bit of a dent. After a 9-2 conference start and only two losses since Thanksgiving, The Rams went to Saint Louis and took a beating even worse than the final score of 76-62 would indicate. The Billikens slowed the game and prevented VCU's Havoc defense from ever having a chance to get set. That loss left the Rams only a game ahead of the Musketeers in the conference table and knocked them from first place. While the Rams NCAA place should be secure, they will certainly be keen to avoid taking a loss that will look awfully bad on the resume.

Team Fingerprint:

Defense, defense, defense. Called HAVOC (not an acronym, capitalized for emphasis) the VCU press is a defense junkies dream. Essentially a 1-2-1-1 diamond, the Rams prefer an on the fly switch into a man trap thing that works only if your front men are blazing fast and your bigs cover massive amounts of ground. If VCU stays in the diamond formation they will sink with the ball and look to trap around the halfline. In their preferred man attack, they hit the ball the instant in comes in and don't quit until the half court. When teams clear out to avoid presenting trap opportunities, the Rams let Briante Weber and Darius Theus do their thing and then bring an extra man seemingly out of the ether. At its best HAVOC is this generation's 40 Minutes of Hell.

Inside the half court, a strange thing happens. The Rams defense, utterly terrorizing to the tune of a nation leading turnover rate of 29%, suddenly becomes quite average. The Rams also lead the nation (by nearly two full points) with a steal percent of 17.4%, but that comes from the suffocating press. In stats that measure half-court defensive efficiency, VCU doesn't look quite so good. An effective field goal percentage of 49% is only good for 199th in the nation and an offensive rebounds allowed number of 34.7% is good for a dreadful 285th. VCU allows opponents to shoot 49.4% inside the arc. The Rams also aren't afraid to foul a bit, sporting an FTA/FGA of 38.

Offensively VCU shoots well (effective FG of 51.5%), takes care of the ball (17.6% turnover rate), and crashes the glass (38.4% offensive rebounding). The Rams rarely get to the line and aren't great when to do, but they mitigate that by making 51.2% of their two point tries and 34.8% of their attempts from deep. A lot of that is instant offense from the press, but the Rams aren't afraid to step back and launch if need be.

Starters:

The player: 6-5, 215 pound sophomore guard Treveon Graham.
The numbers: 15.6/6/1.7 on .464/.389/.721 shooting.
More numbers: 118.7 ORtg, 53.2% EFG, 12.5% OR%.
The words: Graham may thrive in the VCU system, but he has the game to play anywhere. Not one of the renowned ballhawks, Graham likes to operate in the half court by getting the ball and going to the rim. More than adequate (39%) from deep, Graham can fill it up in a number of ways. He's also one of the better offensive rebounding guards in the nation.

The player: 6-4, 200 pound senior guard Troy Daniels
The numbers:
12/3.3/.7 on .410/.403/.688 shooting.
More numbers: 233 3pt attempts, 121.3 ORtg, 58.6% EFG
The words: Daniels has attempted 33 of his 266 field goal attempts from inside the arc this year. That means he chucks up an astounding 8.6 threes per game. Capable of going off (33 against ETSU, 29 against Fordham) or completely vanishing (3 against St. Joe's and Belmont), Daniels is a mercurial weapon in fitting with the Rams all or nothing style.

The player: 6-2, 180 pound junior guard Rob Brandenburg
The numbers:
10.4/2.8/1.6 on .402/.335/.661 shooting.
More numbers: 3.2 Steal %
The words: Brandenburg is one of the key pieces of Havoc. The guard covers ground quickly and makes the fundamental reads that free his more spectacular teammates to go for the ball. That's not to say Brandenburg can't come up with a pick or two, his steal percentage would lead Xavier.

The player: 6-9, 235 pound junior forward Juvonte Reddic
The numbers: 14.6/8.3/.6 on .568/.167/.712 shooting.
More numbers: 58% EFG, 120.3 ORtg, 13.7 OR%, 21.1 DR%
The words: Reddic is the size on VCU. As a result of being the lone big man, a lot of the rebounding load falls on his shoulders. Reddic also blocks nearly a shot a game and anchors the very back of the press.

The player: 6-3, 200 pound senior guard Darius Theus
The numbers:
6.7/1.7/4.8 on .442/.306/.636 shooting.
More numbers: 2.7 steals per game, 5.9% steal%, 30.2% assist rate.
The words: Theus initiates both the offense and the defense for the Rams. Theus has incredibly quick hands and a big body that he will use until the referees make him stop. Theus doesn't shoot well but compensates for that by finding teammates who do. Still, his value is as a game changing defender.

Reserves:

VCU isn't actually as deep as all their press would have you believe. Briante Weber leads the charge of the bench with an absurd 8% steal%, far outpacing the second best on ball defender in the nation, Theus. Weber scores 5.1 per game and chips in 2.9 assists to make up for his woeful 38% from the floor. Another guard (VCU generally has four on the floor) Melvin Johnson comes off the bench and starts shooting. His 6.9/1.6/1.1 come on 43% from the floor and a shots% of 24.7%, second highest on the team. 6-8 forward Jarred Guest gets 2.5/2.3/.2 but crashes the offensive glass almost as hard as Reddic.

Three questions:

- Can Davis and Christon handle Havoc? Hopefully neither of those guys is up worrying about Havco as I write this, but it would be understandable. The young backcourt for Xavier doesn't take care of the ball extremely well (Davis' 27.3% TO Rate is especially troubling) and Theus and Weber will be their face after every dead ball. If the guards can slow Havoc a bit, this is a totally different game.

- Will someone feed the beast? Travis Taylor will be a monster if he gets the ball, you can count on that. VCU is athletic and quick, but they have no one who can handle Taylor inside. Of course, that has been the case many times this year and Travis has been starved for service. If the Musketeers break the press, Taylor should be the first, second, and third options.

- Does someone have the guts? As this is a family sit we will stick with "guts" as out description of intestinal fortitude. Simply, someone on Xavier needs to step up and make some big plays. Make no mistake, the Musketeers will get hit in the mouth a couple times today, what they need is someone who can score points, stop runs, and keep the hope alive. That could be Brad Redford or Justin Martin from deep, Semaj getting room to run, or Travis Taylor being himself, but someone has to shoulder the load.

Three Keys:

- Make VCU a halfcourt team: The Rams want to run, make a layup, run some more, steal the ball, and then run. Xavier has no chance if that happens. The Musketeers must get the ball into the halfcourt and initiate offense to slow things down.

- Only one shot: Nearly as vital as getting the Rams in the halfcourt is giving them only one bite at the apple. VCU will crash hard on every shot so it is incumbent on Xavier to seal off and make the Rams knock down that initial shot. When not just laying the ball in or dunking it, this Rams team is not incredibly skilled at getting the ball in the hole. Watch whoever draws Treveon Graham (most likely Martin or Christon) to see if they can keep him off the offensive glass.

- Make free throws: KenPom has this one as a 67-63 VCU win and only gives Xavier a 34% shot at pulling the upset. For that to happen, the Musketeers will have to knock down some free throws. VCU will foul in the their attempts to come up with steals and contest everything. If Xavier punishes them by making over 70% at the line, they are in with a chance.

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