VCU flusters, flummoxes and frazzles Butler with its swarming defense

Jeff Eisenberg

VCU forces more turnovers per game than any team in the nation, but the Rams are very susceptible defensively against a team that takes care of the ball. Butler boasts one of the Atlantic 10's most efficient offenses, but the Bulldogs lack a great ball-handling point guard and can sometimes be turnover-prone.

[Also: Notre Dame reaches out publicly to Catholic 7]

Pit those two teams against one-another, and it didn't require an advanced degree in Xs and Os to identify the key to Saturday's game, nor did it take one to determine which team fared better in the matchup.

In the first and likely last meeting between the teams as Atlantic 10 foes, VCU routed Butler 84-52 because the Rams' trademark swarming pressure defense left the Bulldogs bewildered and befuddled. At times they struggled to get the ball across mid-court or get into a set offensively, committing 13 first-half turnovers and surrendering 24 first-half points off them en route to 45-21 halftime deficit.

The experiment of converting Rotnei Clarke from shooting guard to point guard has produced sporadic results, but Butler needs a better passer and ball handler against an opponent who pressures the ball as well as VCU. Nothing coach Brad Stevens tried to do to compensate helped much either, whether it was playing Alex Barlow more minutes or having Roosevelt Jones help bring the ball up court.

VCU grabbed 16 steals and forced 20 turnovers for the game, fueling a high-octane offense led by 20 points from Troy Daniels. Butler got a combined 27 points from forwards Khyle Marshall and Roosevelt Jones, but it wasn't nearly enough to offset the Bulldogs' woes taking care of the ball.

As a result of Saturday's outcome, VCU (23-6, 11-3) remained within a game of first-place St. Louis in the Atlantic 10 race and Butler (22-7, 9-5) fell back toward the jumbled middle of the league. Both teams are safely in the NCAA tournament regardless of how they finish, but suddenly the Rams have a good shot of escaping an eight-nine game and the Bulldogs are in danger of slipping toward that spot in the bracket.

What will be crucial for Butler is Clark shaking off this five-point afternoon and regaining his shooting stroke. He has uncharacteristically struggled from the perimeter since his return from a three-game absence as a result of a neck injury suffered when he plowed head first into the basket stanchion at Dayton.

It would also help Butler if its NCAA tournament bracket doesn't include teams with long, athletic guards capable of pressuring the ball the way VCU did Saturday. That has been a problem for Butler several times this season, and on Saturday, it enabled the Rams to get a measure of revenge for their 2011 Final Four loss.

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