Anyone who's ever heard Blaine Taylor turn a phrase in his often off-the-wall vernacular knows the Old Dominion men's basketball coach has a unique perspective. In the case of Saturday's Final Four matchup between VCU and Butler, that perspective includes a rare insight as one of two coaches — along with Xavier's Chris Mack — to have faced both teams this season.
Taylor's Monarchs lost to Colonial Athletic Association foe VCU 59-50 at home on Jan. 22 before beating the Rams on their home court, 70-59, on Feb. 12, then beating them again, 70-65, in March 7's CAA tournament championship game. As a ninth seed, ODU faced eighth-seeded Butler in the first round of the NCAA tournament on March 17, losing 60-58 on a last-second layup.
Based on those experiences, Taylor shared his thoughts on five key factors facing each team.
Butler, shooting 35.5 percent from 3-point range on the season, has made timely 3's in the tournament, but shot better than 30 percent from long range just once in a 71-70 second-round win against top-seeded Pitt.
VCU has unleashed a barrage of 3's from the get-go, shooting 37.5 percent in a win against Southern California before upping that to 48 percent (12-of-25) to demolish Georgetown. The Rams shot 38 percent from 3 against Purdue and 46.2 against Florida State before going 12-of-25 again in a 71-61 win against Kansas in the Elite Eight.
VCU's 8.5 3-pointers per game rank 17th in the nation.
"Both teams are quite proficient from the 3-point line," Taylor said. " (VCU) is doing it off actions that cause the defense to break down. Butler's pretty good at not breaking down."
Butler's tendency to shoot the 3 can lead to some long — and often funky — bounces, as Taylor knows all too well. The Monarchs led the nation with a plus-11.7 rebounding margin but were out-boarded 32-29 by Butler, in large part because too-strong 3's regularly eluded ODU players camped underneath the basket or were chased down by the players who let them go.
Often, the Bulldogs fired from long range deep into the shot clock, but got the rebound and a second shot, or drew a foul and went to the free-throw line.
Butler out-rebounds opponents by 3.1 boards per game. VCU, outrebounded 84-44 in its two losses to ODU, is being out-rebounded by 3.8.
"What will be interesting for me to watch will be the rebounding margin," Taylor said. "When we were successful against VCU, we rebounded the ball quite well."
VCU is known for the full-court pressure it likes to use for nearly all 40 minutes, though the Rams have also mixed in more zone in their Final Four run. Butler is a bruising, challenge-every-shot defensive team that denies the ball to shooters and can make offenses — even those that aren't Wisconsin's — look bad.
"(The Rams) are going to press and try to get after them, but then they'll try to switch things up throughout the course of the game," Taylor said. "Butler's fairly predictable. They're going to try to bunker back in."
Taylor expects the Bulldogs to particularly focus on cutting off VCU point guard Joey Rodriguez's penetration and shutting down 6-foot-9 forward Jamie Skeen, who has flaunted an inside-outside game to the tune of 78 points in five tournament games, including 26 against Kansas.
While VCU is the pressing team that likes to force opponents to play at their fast pace, Taylor warns that Butler is no slow-footed sloth.
"VCU will want to have a frenetic pace, (but) Butler averages 74 points per game," Taylor said. (The Bulldogs average 72.1 going into Saturday's game). "We scouted 39 different plays when we played them."
The Rams average 8.3 steals per game, rank 16th in the nation with a plus-3.4 turnover ratio, and had the top-seeded Jayhawks gasping for air in the second half.
VCU has been able to push the pace thanks to top-notch bench play, led by senior guard Brandon Rozzell, who has scored 70 points in the tournament and had 26 against Georgetown. The Rams' bench outscored the Jayhawks' 22-3, with Rozzell scoring 12 points.
VCU coach Shaka Smart, 33, won 27 games last season, his first at VCU, which had never won two NCAA tournament games before this season. Butler's Brad Stevens, 34, went 115-21 in his first four seasons at Butler and has been here before.
Stevens' team came oh-so-close to upsetting Duke in last season's national championship game when Gordon Hayward's heave at the buzzer fell just short, and Taylor thinks the Bulldogs' track record may serve them well on Saturday — and beyond.
"I would not forget that Butler played in the championship game last year, and the other three didn't," Taylor said. "… UConn and Kentucky have name value, but Kentucky is fairly young, and this is a big stage. UConn has a great player (in Kemba Walker), but they've had an up-and-down season.
"I think (VCU-Butler) is going to be a really good game, and I do think the team that wins will have a really good chance to win on Monday night."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun