It may not be the same Shaka Smart led VCU team, but the defensive prowess is still formidable nonetheless. They have an opportunity to make some noise in the tournament, getting a high-powered Saint Mary’s squad as a +4.5 underdog. With both units running as some of the best defensive units in the nation, my prediction is that points come at a premium as the full game under cashes with ease.
VCU Vs. Saint Mary’s Prediction
Saint Mary’s may have slipped through the general public’s radar due to them getting steamrolled in the WCC conference championship, but don’t be fooled. This team is legit. They have hovered around the Kenpom historic metrics of a national champion throughout the course of the season, just falling short due to their reeling offense. They finished 40th in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency yet ranked a combined 49th in overall efficiency.
With their offense reeling, their defense has had to carry a brunt of their season long success as one of the more elite units in the nation. Ranked ninth in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, Saint Mary’s has done an exceptional job at limiting opposing offensive looks at the rim. Especially in the interior, limiting Opposing Effective Field Goal Success to a lowly 46.7%. Good for 26th in the nation per TeamRankings.
A majority of their defensive success has stemmed in the interior and middle level, doing an excellent job at clamping down on the ball handler. Whether it’s from a slashing guard or a low post big man, you can expect defensive pressure from the Gaels to force you into making mistakes. I will note that the perimeter has been an issue as of late, yet their embarrassing performance against Gonzaga skews their numbers in their last five recent contests. Still a metric worth monitoring as VCU shoots nearly 35% from deep.
Their recent performance against Gonzaga aside, the Gaels have held opponents to 32.8% from deep. A metric that is good for 98th in the nation, yet a bit fortunate as they allow opposing offenses to shoot threes at one of the highest rates in basketball. This is done by either daring them to shoot or trying to bait them into driving into the interior. It will be interesting to see how Saint Mary’s handles VCU’s Adrian Baldwin Jr as he is a facilitating scoring guard who can drive and dish, giving the Gaels interior fits.
VCU Vs. Saint Mary’s Prediction: Wait on the under
VCU Vs. Saint Mary’s Odds
Oddsmakers believe this is going to be a tight one as they opened VCU as a +5 underdog. Bettors have a stronger belief in their abilities to cover, let alone pull off the victory, backing the Rams down to +4.5 as of writing. The variance will be at an all-time high with two methodically slow paced defensive minded units limiting the number of possessions each team gets, resulting in a lucky bounce or two being the difference in a win or a loss.
As for the total, points are expected to be scored at a premium as oddsmakers opened the number at 120.5. Bettors believe that number was opened far too low, backing the over up to as high as 123. Because of this early line movement, I will patiently wait to see how high this can go before taking a position on the under. I also want to see how the Rams Baldwin Jr handles the interior pressure as a slashing playmaking guard, potentially scrambling the Gaels for scoring opportunities.
VCU Vs. Saint Mary’s Key Matchups
VCU pressure defense vs Saint Mary’s guards
While I tend to brush off the idea of tired legs late in the year as kids are more athletic than ever before, I can’t help but ponder on how much more successful VCU’s defensive pressure will be against the Gaels thin depth.
Saint Mary’s only plays six players meaningful minutes on a per game basis, yet at a very slow and conservative pace. VCU’s tempo is league average, yet their defensive pressure is more than capable of scrambling conservative guard play.
VCU’s ability to fly to the ball and smother opposing looks at the rim are a key reason why I believe the under will cash in my VCU Vs. Saint Mary’s prediction. Like the Gaels, VCU ranks top-35 in Defensive eFG% by holding opposing offenses to a lowly 47%.
I will wait on taking the under as early money has continued to hit the over. I also want to see how VCU’s Baldwin Jr handles the Gaels interior pressure as a facilitating playmaker, potentially giving their defense fits.