Discussing one big advantage Kansas has over VCU; also, will Rams coach Shaka Smart read this blog?
Jesse Newell: Welcome back to the GameDay Cram Session, as Kansas is taking on VCU on Sunday afternoon in the Elite Eight in San Antonio, Texas.
Tom, what were your impressions of VCU's Shaka Smart when he took the podium during Saturday's media day?
Tom Keegan: I’m going to try really hard to answer this without using a pun. My late friend Mike Penner, who for a while penned his Los Angeles Times column under the name Christine Daniels before switching back to Mike Penner, used to refer to puns as “the lowest form of communication.” So let me just say that if I could sum up Shaka Smart in one word, it would be, “Intelligent.” What a sharp guy. Great communicator. That’s the common thread you come to realize about good college basketball coaches. They are such impressive communicators, which makes sense because they’re obviously great at communicating to their players how to win basketball games. Danny Manning, should he decide to pursue a head-coaching position after the tournament, will have that going for him. He’s a very direct communicator.
JN: I left impressed by Smart as well. He seems down-to-earth and also has come up with creative ways to motivate his team.
Before the Florida State game on Friday, he made up a video showing all the prognosticators picking against his team (including ESPN's Jay Bilas). He also burned a calendar (the month of February) during his March 1 practice to signify to his team that the poor month was over.
Perhaps the best part, though, was when he used a "Dumb and Dumber" reference after talking about KenPom saying that his team only has a 0.9-percent chance of winning the championship.
"So you're saying we have a chance," he said.
He sold me there. Seriously, though, he's a perfect fit for Missouri's coaching opening, and I wouldn't be surprised if this is the first of many matchups for Smart against KU.
Speaking of the Jayhawks, you had a great call last Cram Session by saying Josh Selby would break out and have a good game. Any gut feelings with this one?
TK: Thanks for reminding me of that. Classy move on your part. Nothing as bold as that one, but I do like the twins’ chances of both having huge games. Ditto for Thomas Robinson.
JN: This definitely appears to be a game where KU's frontcourt should have plenty of success. Not only is VCU a poor rebounding team, it also allows opponents to shoot 49 percent from two-point range (47.8 percent is NCAA average).
The Rams are good at taking the ball away (11th nationally in steal percentage) so their best defense against the Morris twins might have to be stealing the ball from the KU guards before they get it to the post.
Other than that, it appears the Rams will most likely have troubles trying to keep the Jayhawks from scoring inside.
All right, Tom, what's your prediction?
TK: Kansas 82, VCU 62.
The Rams have had an amazing run, but haven’t played a team of KU’s caliber. I’ll be surprised if this one is close.
JN: I'm going with KU by 15. (Will Shaka Smart or one of his assistant reads this in time to put it up on every VCU locker?)
As everyone knows by now, KenPom.com is my basketball bible, and VCU's rank there (58th) is almost directly between Colorado (55th) and Nebraska (62nd). And that's after winning four straight NCAA Tournament games to boost their position.
The Rams are the reason why we watch sports: To see if the unbelievable can happen. Before the NCAAs, KenPom's projections gave VCU a 1 in 500 chance of reaching the Elite Eight. Remarkably, the Rams still made it.
I can't sit here and predict another miracle for VCU, though. KU is better in nearly every phase of the game and shouldn't have many problems (or any problems) scoring, especially inside.
I'm with you, Tom. I'll be surprised if this one is close. Then again, that's why we watch sports to begin with.
All right, who's your Hawk to Rock?
TK: Thomas Robinson.
He is one remarkable rebounder and VCU figures to miss a lot of shots that he’ll get and fire to a guard.
JN: I'll resist the urge to get cute. The can't-miss Hawk to Rock pick in this game is Markieff Morris, so I'll go with him.
VCU is one of the worst 30 defensive rebounding teams in the nation and also doesn't defend the inside well. Not only that, Markieff is coming off a game where he scored just five points on 2-for-8 shooting with six rebounds after getting into foul trouble early against Richmond. That snapped a streak of 11 straight games with double-figure scoring for Markieff.
Give me 22 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks for Markieff.
Tracking the picks
Predictions tally (through 37 games)
Tom: 32-5 record, 386 points off (10.4 points off/game)
Jesse: 35-2 record, 409 points off (11.1 points off/game)
Hawk to Rock
Longwood: Tyrel Reed (6th in Keegan ratings)
Valparaiso: Marcus Morris (1st)
North Texas: Tyrel Reed (6th)
Texas A&M-CC: Marcus Morris (5th)
Ohio: Markieff Morris (3rd)
Arizona: Marcus Morris (1st)
UCLA: Tyshawn Taylor (1st)
Memphis: Markieff Morris (4th)
Colorado State: Tyshawn Taylor (2nd)
USC: Tyrel Reed (6th)
Cal: Marcus Morris (6th)
UT Arlington: Tyrel Reed (8th)
Miami: Marcus Morris (3rd)
UMKC: Markieff Morris (9th)
Michigan: Thomas Robinson (8th)
Iowa State: Tyshawn Taylor (7th)
Nebraska: Josh Selby (9th)
Baylor: Josh Selby (3rd)
Texas: Marcus Morris (3rd)
Colorado: Markieff Morris (5th)
Kansas State: Marcus Morris (4th)
Texas Tech: Markieff Morris (4th)
Nebraska: Mario Little (7th)
Missouri: Tyrel Reed (7th)
Iowa State: Markieff Morris (2nd)
Kansas State: Brady Morningstar (2nd)
Colorado: Marcus Morris (3rd)
Oklahoma State: Marcus Morris (1st)
Oklahoma: Tyrel Reed (3rd)
Texas A&M: Tyrel Reed (1st)
Missouri: Tyrel Reed (3rd)
Oklahoma State: Josh Selby (7th)
Colorado: Thomas Robinson (7th)
Texas: Marcus Morris (2nd)
Boston: Thomas Robinson: (6th)
Illinois: Tyrel Reed (7th)
Richmond: Marcus Morris (4th)
Average Hawk to Rock: 4.5th in Keegan ratings
Longwood: Markieff Morris (1st in Keegan ratings)
Valparaiso: Brady Morningstar (8th)
North Texas: Tyrel Reed (6th)
Texas A&M-CC: Thomas Robinson (2nd)
Ohio: Tyshawn Taylor (4th)
Arizona: Brady Morningstar (8th)
UCLA: Markieff Morris (6th)
Memphis: Thomas Robinson (1st)
Colorado State: Markieff Morris (1st)
USC: Thomas Robinson (2nd)
Cal: Markieff Morris (2nd)
UT Arlington: Brady Morningstar (10th)
Miami: Tyshawn Taylor (8th)
UMKC: Josh Selby (1st)
Michigan: Tyrel Reed (4th)
Iowa State: Marcus Morris (1st)
Nebraska: Thomas Robinson (3rd)
Baylor: Tyshawn Taylor (6th)
Texas: Josh Selby (8th)
Colorado: Jeff Withey (7th)
Kansas State: Tyrel Reed (8th)
Texas Tech: Thomas Robinson (1st)
Nebraska: Tyrel Reed (5th)
Missouri: Markieff Morris (3rd)
Iowa State: Brady Morningstar (4th)
Kansas State: Marcus Morris (4th)
Colorado: Josh Selby (6th)
Oklahoma State: Elijah Johnson (2nd)
Oklahoma: Markieff Morris (2nd)
Texas A&M: Thomas Robinson (7th)
Missouri: Markieff Morris (6th)
Oklahoma State: Tyshawn Taylor (4th)
Colorado: Marcus Morris (1st)
Texas: Brady Morningstar (4th)
Boston: Markieff Morris (3rd)
Illinois: Tyshawn Taylor (3rd)
Richmond: Tyshawn Taylor (3rd)
Average Hawk to Rock: 4.2nd in Keegan ratings