Line: Butler (-3)
There’s a program called AccuScore that inputs all of the information and statistics about two teams and through whatever algorithms and formulas they have simulate the game over 10,000 times to project a winner. Not surprisingly, this game came out almost dead even—Butler at 50.3% winning percentage and VCU at 49.7%. Basically, people view this game as a toss-up, and for good reason. Butler has only had one game in this tournament that has been more than a three-point differential—that includes an overtime game, a game-winning free throw with less than a second remaining, and a buzzer-beater. VCU, interestingly enough, has only played one game that has been close in their one-point overtime victory over Florida State, adding wins of 18, 18, and 10 over Georgetown, Purdue, and Kansas, respectively.
What is going to be interesting in this game is which team sets the tempo. Both teams seem to be able to play different styles when needed, but at their best Butler likes a grind-it-out defensive battle, whereas VCU tends to push the pace whenever they can. Obviously, Butler has been there before, and while at times I think tournament experience can be a bit overrated, when you get down to the Final 4 I think it could make a big difference.
When George Mason made their famous run the national semifinals, their road wasn’t all that different from VCU’s. Mason took out one-seed UConn in the Elite 8, just as VCU took out one-seed Kansas. Then, the Patriots went up against an experienced Florida team in the Final 4 and ran out of gas. I think VCU is going to make this game a little closer than Florida’s 15-point win over Mason—especially because as much as I believe in Butler, they are not that Florida team of ’06 an ’07. Having said that, I see VCU’s Cinderella run ending much the same way.
Butler, at worst, is going to have two of the best three players on the court on Saturday night in Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard–with VCU’s Jamie Skeen . If VCU stays hot from beyond the three-point arc then you never know, but between their experience, their talent, their ability to slow the game down, and the unflappability in late-game situations—the pick has got to be Butler here, and I’m taking the points as well. Shaka Smart has led his team on an impressive run, and he’ll be a hot name for some coaching vacancies this summer, but I trust Brad Stevens more in this one.
Pick: Butler -3, UNDER 130.5