Auburn Hills, MI – The South Region played Round 3 in the North as March Madness continued in Auburn Hills, Michigan March 23, 2013, for the right to go to the Sweet Sixteen game series. This premier match-up pitted the 4 seeded Michigan Wolverines against the 5 seeded Virginia Commonwealth University Rams in both teams’ hopes of making the next round Sweet Sixteen, subsequent Elite Eight and on to the Final Four of the NCAA Championship stretch. Michigan started the NCAA regular season undefeated at 16 – 0 and 27 – 8 overall by this game, while Virginia Commonwealth came into the game slightly better at 27 – 7 overall. Young VCU Coach Shaka Smart, only in his fourth season, is thus far having a stellar career in the NCAA and has already won his 100th game against Duquesne this past January.
Michigan’s undefeated start was the best in the school’s history and, believe it or not, better than the famed “Fab Five” of old that featured stars Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, Ray Jackson and Jalen Rose, most of whom went on to star in the NBA. Most NCAA basketball critics agree that this was the best class of freshmen recruited in history, and they were also the only such class to go to the final NCAA Championship Game.
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The Wolverines opened up with a “3 guard” set, starting Trey Burke, Nik Stauskas and Tim Hardaway Jr., in a rotation that was reminiscent of the nearby Detroit Pistons of earlier days when they won back to back NBA Championship Titles utilizing the 3 guard set under then Piston Coach Chuck Daly in 1989 and 1990.
Daly was thought to be highly unconventional, if not crazy for the then mostly unprecedented formation, as Michigan Coach John Beilein may have been before this game.
Both coaches were proven crazy, that is – crazy like foxes, as this offense is tough to defend against and tough to stop on defense after transitions. The formation itself presents a problem for teams to defend against it as it inevitably causes mismatches, draws the big men out of their realm and typically forces teams to play different players in positions and ways other than intended. The center and forwards have to rotate off and out of normal defensive sets and plays, to cover the quicker and erratic guards, or a team has to utilize a third guard when not structured to do so, and as dictated by their base of plays. If a team does not opt for the substitute added third guard, the two defending guards have the added frustration of covering more passes, floor action, shots and options. The set creates problems on both sides of the ball and has become more widely used this season as teams have to learn to adjust to defend and score against it.
The “3 guard” offense only works though, if the 3 guard team’s remaining two big men can handle the boards — and on both sides of the ball. This is where Michigan’s Bigs Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III came in. Robinson III is also often used as a fourth guard, which can cause teams more frustration. The 3 guard set is being utilized more than usual this season, some say in part due to Michigan and other teams’ success from it.
Virginia Commonwealth is better known for a more than good defense that is known for creating havoc, as once described by CBS broadcaster Verne Lundquist. The team keeps pressure on opponents with full-court presses, steals and a high turnover rate. The Rams lead the NCAA regular season with a plus 8.2 turnover per game ratio, while the Wolverines only allowed 9.2 turnovers per game, which were the fewest allowed, and another record for this season.
If any team was thought to be well-suited to defend the 3 guard formation, the Virginia Commonwealth Rams were it. The teams’ defense forced 22 turnovers, creating 34 added points in their 2nd round win against Akron, whom they whipped by 46 points. The Rams only allowed Akron 42 points of offense, which were the fewest ever allowed in VCU’s NCAA tournament history.
So this game appeared to be well matched at the opening tip. And the first quarter went that way as the two teams went to an early time-out 13 – 11, Michigan up, with 14: 48 minutes remaining in the half, but that soon changed.
Wolverine guards Nik Stauskas, Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and the Wolverines were deadly as the Wolverines moved the ball around well to set up clear looks for a couple of quick 3 pointers each, by Burke and Hardaway Jr.
The Rams started 3 guards as well to counter the Wolverine offense. VCU Rams Darius Theus, Troy Daniels and Rob Brandenberg got the jobs as guards along with forwards Treveon Graham and Juvonte Reddic for the opening tip.
The Rams utilized strong presses in defense of the Wolverine offensive attack and forced a couple of turnovers. They also tried running the half-court offense to slow the Wolverines down but had no luck.
Reddic hit one to bring the Rams to within 11 points at just near 2 minutes remaining m the half. This long awaited score, after a 20 – 6 Wolverine run, would make it 32 – 21, Wolverines up by 11.
The two teams went into the half at 38 – 23.
Daniels hit a nice, clean jumper early in the second half to bring the rams to 38 -25, Wolverines lead. Reddic hit a nice reverse lay-up off the steal and quick pass by Graham to come up to 38 -27. Reddic posted-up in the lane to pop in a short jumper to come to 40 – 29. Theus picked up his 3rd foul early, at near 17 minutes remaining and was relieved by Weber.
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Brandenberg drove the lane for a lay-up to make it 42 – 31 and that was one of the best runs that the Rams would have, as Reddic then picked up his 3rd foul also. The — better and deeper than most — Ram bench came in played well. The Rams went right down near the 12th man on the bench in attempts to fight back, but most of the damage was already done.
The Wolverines won it at 78 – 53.
The Virginia Commonwealth Rams need not hang their heads. It takes a strong team to keep on battling with such a deficit, but if any one thing can be said about the Rams, they can say that they didn’t quit. The Rams kept battling to the last minute in this runaway game, they were just out-matched and in hostile territory.
[Florida Gulf Coast University Team and Coach are Special]
From this point on, FGCU is the last team to be able to upset anyone as teams in the remainder of the championship series are all elite teams, so no defeat will be a true upset.