ESPN:: 1. Virginia Commonwealth Rams
GK rating: 83.6
Chew on this for a moment. VCU’s 83.6 rating means that 83.6 percent of the time, the Rams will beat a generic Giant (defined by our model as the average of all Giants since 2007).
Think about that. Not only is a VCU win over an average Giant not an upset, it is to be expected this season. Our model computed GK ratings for every team in the country and only Florida (89.2) came out better. In other words, VCU is more suited to be a Giant Killer than if Indiana, Miami, Michigan State or any other top-ranked team ended up with, say, an 11-seed. That’s staggering.
How do we explain it? Well, there is an incredibly strong link between steals and GK success, and no one in the country swipes the ball better than the Rams do. They come up with 7.6 more steals per 100 possessions (weighted for strength of schedule, as all further references will be) than the average Division I team. The Rams, as usual, hoist up a ton of 3-pointers (36.9 percent of their attempts), another GK indicator. And this season they have added offensive rebounding to the mix, a new wrinkle for Shaka Smart that has them grabbing 9.3 more offensive boards than the average team per 100 possessions, 12th in the country.
VCU, in other words, is almost like some fictional Giant Killing machine dreamt up by our model. The only thing stopping the Rams from wreaking more of their signature “Havoc” this March could be their seeding. Joe Lunardi has them as a 7-seed right now, which could make them a formidable Round of 32 threat.
As I have stated in previous posts, VCU’s general game plan is what makes them the perfect “Giant Killer.” It is almost like Shaka Smart knows what it takes to be a giant killer and built a philosophy and entire program around those two traits (forcing turnovers and jacking 3’s).
I, personally, think that as long as their shooting doesn’t go ice cold (which is a lot more common with teams that seem to live by the 3-pointer), VCU could very well be a Sweet 16 team. I will probably put them in the Sweet 16 in my bracket*. VCU, repping the A-10 well. As a conference we are incredibly lucky to have snagged them.
*Of course this is all subject to change depending on what draw they get in the final bracket. I wouldn’t mind seeing a match-up where VCU plays Florida. Two of the best defenses in the game going at it, should be an exciting game to watch.