NCAA Basketball Picks: VCU vs. Michigan

David Lawrence

Friday, March 22, 2013 5:29 PM UTC

Friday, Mar. 22, 2013 5:29 PM UTC

The Michigan Wolverines were able to win in the round of 64 on a night when their best player didn't shoot well. The VCU Rams were not tested at all in their round of 64 game.

VCU can win because…

It will boast the best ball-hawking defense in the country. The Rams, under head coach Shaka Smart, force turnovers on 28.8 percent of all opponents' possessions, the best rate in the United States. VCU's "havoc" defense rattles opposing ballhandlers and bothers offenses, preventing wing shooters from getting into a rhythm. VCU's philosophy is a lot like the approach a pitcher uses in baseball: he tries to throw off the timing of the opponent, making them think about something other than scoring. Even if a team is able to avoid committing a turnover against VCU, it will still lose the larger battle if it takes 20 seconds to settle into a halfcourt set. Teams generally want to be able to initiate the action on their offense within 10 to 12 seconds of getting the ball in backcourt (which is when the 35-second shot clock begins to run down). If 20 seconds are running off the clock and the first movements in a set play don't occur until there are 15 seconds left on the shot clock, VCU limits an opponent's options at the offensive end of the floor.

Michigan's shooters can go on hot streaks, but they're not utterly dependable. If Tim Hardaway, Jr., is not supporting Michigan's best player, Trey Burke, the Wolverines can become alarmingly thin, and they don't have players outside of the Hardaway-Burke combo who can create shots with dribble penetration. VCU has a very reasonable chance of putting the clamps on Michigan's offense. 

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Michigan can win because…

In this matchup between VCU's swarming defense and Michigan's ball-security offense, the Wolverines are in position to counter the Rams' takeaway rate of 28.8 percent. Michigan has the No. 1 ball-protection offense in the country, giving away the rock on only 14.4 percent of all possessions. Michigan is an inconsistent shooting team, but it regularly minimizes turnovers. This is what makes the Wolverines a tough matchup for VCU; the Rams thrive on turnovers so that they can get run-outs and easy baskets. If Michigan doesn't feed a steady stream of cheap points to VCU, however, the Rams won't be able to get nearly as much mileage out of their defense as they would like to.

One also has to emphasize that Trey Burke - far and away the best player on the Wolverines and a national player of the year candidate - hit just 2 of 12 shots on Thursday in Michigan's win over South Dakota State. The betting odds suggest that Burke won't shoot that poorly in this game. Anything close to a 50-percent shooting performance, especially from three-point range, should give Burke a productive stat line. Moreover, if Burke is indeed producing, VCU is going to have to commit more defenders to him, which will leave teammates open for high-quality shots at various points during the contest.


Outlook & Prediction:

This feels like a game in which both teams will land their share of blows. VCU will gain because Michigan's big men do not have good hands in traffic and will probably get stripped a lot on Saturday. Michigan's guards, on the other hand, will probably thrive, given their ability to protect the ball and create opportunities at the offensive end of the floor with dribble penetration. Ultimately, VCU - which narrowly missed the Sweet 16 last year - is playing with more confidence than Michigan right now. The Rams will find a way to beat the Wolverines by three or four points. Take them for this NCAA basketball pick.

NCAAB Pick: VCU at Bovada

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