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Memphis, And Much More…

Programming note:
Blogging this week will be all over the place, so stay tuned. I have
little idea of what's in front of us logistically. I do know that
Tuesday is prep and travel, and Wednesday I've deemed as Pool and
Pigmentation Day. However I do promise to keep posting as interesting stuff occurs.

So keep checking back–my hunch is that there will be more frequent, but shorter, updates.

***
We
will start the Memphis prep with what we know: the numbers. Granted,
2-3 games is a small sample size, but we can glean "kind of" teams both
VCU and Memphis want to be. We know history, we can listen to coaches,
and we can thus make educated guesses about what's important. These can
be refined into analysis once we hit Atlantis.

This game screams strength-on-strength:

  • Memphis likes to play fast, wants to play faster. Fast plays right into the hands of havoc.
  • Memphis has the 31st most efficient defense in the nation and VCU has the 31st most efficient offense.
  • Memphis
    is the nation's fourth-best team in terms of taking care of the
    basketball (11.9% turnover rate) and VCU is the nation's 11th best at
    producing turnovers (forcing a TO on 29.6% of opponents' possessions).
  • Falling in line with that number, VCUs steal percentage is second
    nationally (21.1%) while Memphis is 33rd-best at avoiding swipes (only
    6.4% of possessions).
  • Memphis is 50th nationally, allowing offensive
    rebounds on just 29.2% of opponents shots. VCU is 27th nationally,
    grabbing rebounds on 43.5% of our misses.
There's more, but it's
incredibly interesting to see how these two teams match up.
Hilariously, until Sunday morning, Ken Pomeroy had VCU losing 67-66,
giving the Rams a 48% chance of winning. However on Sunday morning,
Pomeroy flipped. He now has VCU winning 68-67, giving the Rams a 54%
chance of winning. I guess when Ken re-ran the numbers, Treveon Graham's
short jumper at the buzzer went in.

But seriously, VCU carries
an Arc Advantage that may be the telling number: VCU hits 37.7% from
deep (92nd nationally), and Memphis defends threes at a 36.6% rate, only
244th nationally. And it plays out on the other end of the floor as well: Memphis hits the three at only 29.4% (229th) and
VCU defends the three at 26.0% (66th).

Josh Pastner, the head coach at Memphis, was unhappy after Memphis slogged to a 65-54 win over Samford Saturday night.

"I was disappointed in our lack of everything," he said. "I thought we played slow. I thought we were really slow. I
thought we were slow in all areas. We were slow offensively and
defensively. Our pace wasn't good."

And more Pastner:

"We are not a team that needs to play slow with our speed and
athleticism. We were slow, and our guard play has to be
better. I don't want to come down and run set plays. I want to get into
the flow and pace."

He doesn't want to run set plays? No matter
the outcome, this game has the potential to be ridiculously
entertaining, and exhausting. Memphis's athletes and desire to maximize their abilities presents a high level challenge to havoc. And as we've seen before, havoc is underestimated until it's unleashed on you.

Strength on strength. I wouldn't want it any other way.

***

Here's a quick, high level look at
the Tigers that matter. Pastner has gone mainly with an eight-man
rotation. In fact, only eight players saw the floor against Samford. In
their first game, Pastner went deeper into the bench when Memphis jumped
all over North Florida.
The Tigers were sixth in the country in field-goal percentage last
season (49.1%) and were 21st nationally in KenPom's offensive efficiency numbers. Five players return who played 21 or more minutes.

Tarik
Black
is a load on the block. Black goes 6-9, 260 and shot 68% from the
field last year, mostly around the basket where he hit 75% in finishing
situations. Black is a preseason first team All C-USA pick and on NBA draft boards. Worthless
note, except for possible heckle material: Thursday is Black's birthday.

Joe
Jackson
is the point guard and he is a good one. Jackson is
slight–only 6-1 and about 170 pounds–but is very fast in the open
court. He isn't a prodigious scorer and not a particularly great
shooter, but he just plain gets the job done. His ability to withstand
havoc is where he will be most dangerous. Jackson is a preseason second team All C-USA pick.

Antonio Barton can shoot it. Barton is a 42.9% career three-point shooter and hit four threes against Samford.

Those
are specialists, but 6-7, 240-pound Adonis Thomas might give VCU the
most trouble because of his versatility. Thomas can play the block but
also shoot the three. Don't let his 0-5 arc performance sway you–Thomas
hit 40.5% of his threes last year.

Similarly, Chris Crawford, a
2012-13 preseason All C-USA second team member, is an elite athlete.
Crawford excels on defense (63 steals last year) but is a capable scorer
and three-point shooter (51 threes, 39% last year).  Crawford has the
second-most FGA on the team last year (276).

DJ
Stephens, Shaq Goodwin
, and Seton Hall transfer Ferrakhon Hall round
out the main eight. Stephens grabbed seven rebounds in 17 minutes
against Samford and has been a quality role player his entire Memphis
career. Goodwin is a highly-touted 6-9 freshman. Six of his nine
rebounds are offensive. And Hall is also a solid role player who can use his size well in spot situations. (Think DJ Haley.)

***

What does all that mean? I don't yet know, but we will figure it out. There's plenty of time.

Meanwhile, I demand (ha!) that you soak up this week, as it's a specific benefit of the Final Four run, and of last year's validation. It's the national salute of a basketball program on the rise to be a part of this great event. You should be very proud and enjoy every moment of it. For a little while, forget the Xs and Os and take stock of where we are, and where we're going.

It's also a litmus test. VCU may have the opportunity to play three ranked teams this weekend. No matter how it falls, it's quite a challenge in front of us. The days of hoping to get a BCS bottom feeder on the schedule for name's sake only are over. This is what the "big time" (again–whatever the heck that means) features. Take this weekend's games and add a  nonconference slate that features Wichita State, Alabama, and Belmont. Impressive.

Let me put it this way: Old Dominion is the seventh most appealing non-conference game on the schedule. Think about that for a moment. Think about what every ODU game has meant in the past. Oh, it still means the world to us, but the stakes are different. In years past, both programs had a lot on the line when we tipped off. The stakes are vastly different this year. We have three games this week alone more important to our season.

Now don't get me wrong. That is not a dig at ODU. Rather, it's a pat on the backs of everybody that got VCU to this point. I mean it. It's Dana Kirk through Shaka Smart, Calvin Duncan through Dom Jones and straight to the 13 that suit up on Thursday. It's been bumpy at times, but here we are.

Remember how you felt in Buffalo? Remember Kevin Harlan calling "Is this the dagger?" I still get chills, and I still play the YouTube video.

Enjoy this week, because that kind of a game is on our regular season schedule now.