Dec 31, 2012, 11:00 AM EDT
VCU’s ridiculously ‘havocy’ this season: VCU may not be sitting atop the Top 25 this season, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is the best team that Shaka Smart has had in his tenure in Richmond. Let’s look past the fact that, you know, this group has the kind of talent that you usually find in the Big East or the ACC, not in the Atlantic 10′s newest addition.
VCU thrives on creating ‘Havoc’, which is the name that Smart has given his system. They press, they trap and they try to force turnovers. And thus far this season, the Rams have been the best team in the country at forcing turnovers. VCU’s opponents have turned the ball over on 30.4% of their possessions this season. But where VCU thrives is on steals, the live-ball turnovers that they can turn into layups and open shots at the other end of the floor. The Rams steal percentage is 19.0%, which is far and away the highest number in the country.
Illinois’ issues are on the defensive end: The knock on Illinois earlier this year was that they were too reliant on Brandon Paul; when he had an off night, the Illini were vulnerable. Well, Paul was awful against Auburn — 3-12 shooting, six turnovers — and the Illini still won, thanks in very large part to a 27-point, five-assist performance from Tracy Abrams.
The bigger issue was that Auburn was able to score 79 points against the Illini, a week after Missouri put up 82 on them. Illinois is 71st in the country in defensive efficiency, a number that has gone down after giving up 1.08 PPP and 1.09 PPP in their last two games. Illinois has a ceiling unless they get better on that end of the floor.
LBSU adds Keala King and Tony Freeland: Long Beach State was waiting all year to get Keala King and Tony Freeland eligible, and on Saturday, they saw their first action for the 49ers. Freeland, a transfer from DePaul, started and scored 15 points. King, who averaged 13.7 points as a sophomore at Arizona State, finishing with just one points and four turnovers in 19 minutes off the bench. We’ll go ahead and assume that performance was the result of first game jitters, because the possibility of a lineup consisting of Michael Caffey, Peter Pappageorge, Janes Ennis, Danny Jennings and Freeland with King coming off the bench is scary.
Phil Pressey isn’t the difference maker for Missouri, defense is: The Tigers are 58th in the country in defensive efficiency, which is surprising given how many good defenders there are on Frank Haith’s roster. It’s not because they struggle keeping teams from getting good looks at the rim; they are 20th in the nation in defensive effective field goal percentage. It’s not because they can’t rebound; the Tigers are one of the best in the country on the offensive glass and they’re way above average on the defensive glass. They don’t foul too much.
The problem? Missouri isn’t making plays defensively. They are 331st in the country in defensive turnover rate. They are outside the top 200 in block and steal percentage. Frank Haith doesn’t like pressuring defensively, which doesn’t make much sense based on the pieces that he has at his disposal, but it does explain why Missouri isn’t an elite defensive team.
Who is the best team on the West Coast?: Arizona will be the popular pick, and frankly, if you’re going based on record, they’ve earned it. The Wildcats are one of just four undefeated teams left in the country, they have a win over Florida and they’ve beaten San Diego State. But the win over Florida was a gift-wrapped collapse by the Gators, and the win over SDSU came thanks to an unbelievable defensive play made by Nick Johnson. Not exactly dominant.
Then again, who is better than them? I love Gonzaga, but their defensive issues in the back court worry me. SDSU has been promising, but they are still unproven. UNLV looked downright bad in their trip to UNC. UCLA looked good in their win over Missouri, but that was the first time they’ve looked good this season. Could it be New Mexico? I’ll give the Lobos the benefit of the doubt after losing to South Dakota State and Nate Wolters, especially considering their win at Cincinnati on Thursday. If Alex Kirk continues to be a force in the paint, the Lobos have the perimeter weapons to be scary come March.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.
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