Just one Final Four-related post today, but it’s one that seemed really logical for this week.
Let’s compare Virginia Commonwealth’s points per possession (offense and defense) and a couple other teams fans might be familiar with.
Based on these numbers, it isn’t unfair to conclude VCU was a considerably more effective outfit than Team B in two of the four common rounds (R32 and R8), as well as a better team in the round of 64. Team B’s only edge is in the round of 16.
Now, the comparison to Team A is more interesting. VCU isn’t quite as efficient when offense and defense are combined at each step of the way, but the margins aren’t too ridiculous. VCU netted 0.29, 0.27, 0.02 and 0.14 points per back-and-forths up the floor in its last four games. Team A managed 0.39, 0.34, 0.07 and 0.20 points per trip —- better across the board than VCU.
Based on that same ultra-simplistic look, Team B had advantages of 0.15, 0.08, 0.13 and 0.03 points per back-and-forths —- far off VCU in all but one round.
Since this is a post about VCU comparisons, it’s no surprise Team B is the first four NCAA tournament games for 2006 George Mason.
But as for Team A? That would be the first four rounds for 2006 Florida, the team that beat the Patriots in the national semifinals and went on to win the title.
This isn’t to say 2011 VCU is the same sort of team as ‘06 Florida (though if the Rams win two more games, they’ll have something in common). But it is meant to say Shaka Smart‘s team looks a lot more like the team that plowed through the tournament five years ago on its way to consecutive national titles than the one that emerged as the adorable underdog.
Mason relied on a steady defense and an ability to make its offense efficient for three rounds in 2006, then simply outscored Connecticut in a classic regional final. Aside from Florida State, Virginia Commonwealth just destroyed its opponents on the way to Houston.
In many ways, the easy crutch of comparing ‘06 Mason and ‘11 VCU is a disservice to both teams. The Patriots were excellent from start to finish that season, suffering only semi-questionable defeats against .500ish outfits from Wake Forest and Mississippi State. Mason was a slightly better offensive team in the tournament and a slightly less efficient defensive team (and understandably so, given the competition).
In balance, the Patriots made it to Indianapolis by being themselves.
That’s not the case for VCU, which wasn’t nearly as strong a regular season team as ‘06 Mason but is a superior outfit in March.
Even with the NCAA tournament factored in, the Rams are giving up more than a point per possession. The following is not a typo: In its final 14 games before Selection Sunday, VCU allowed a point per possession in 13 of them. The only team to fall short of a point per trip was Drexel, which routinely engages in rock fights and did so in a CAA quarterfinal that very nearly foiled the Rams’ NCAA hopes (and probably should get looked at again; another day, perhaps).
VCU is averaging 1.13 points per possession in the tournament; its season average is 1.09. In that way, the Rams are like 2006 Mason —- improving their offense just a bit in the NCAAs.
But their defense advanced even more than their offense. The Rams are yielding 0.95 points per possession in the postseason and 1.01 PPP for the full year. That’s curious improvement when Georgetown, Purdue and Kansas are involved instead of the bottom half of this year’s CAA (which, admittedly, had more issues on defense collectively than on offense).
In more basic terms, VCU has yielded 310 points in the NCAA tournament. Give up 62 points a night, and most teams will win quite a few games. For the Rams, it’s been five in a row —- and in a fashion quite unlike the way George Mason made its run five years ago.
The league VCU and Mason come from is the same. Their methods of making it to the Final Four are quite different. It’s worth noting that rather than buying the easy storyline a lot of folks would love to sell.
—- Patrick Stevens