Akron 7-foot center Zeke Marshall ranks fourth nationally in blocked shots per game (3.7).

Akron 7-foot center Zeke Marshall ranks fourth nationally in blocked shots per game (3.7).

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – Although VCU Coach Shaka Smart and Akron Coach Keith Dambrot share many basketball philosophies and favor similar playing styles, both of their teams play to their strengths.

VCU is loaded with athletic, speedy guards to fit its “Havoc” system of full-court pressing and open-floor playmaking. By contrast, Akron is geared more toward its strong post players Zeke Marshall, Demetrius Treadwell and Nick Harney.

Marshall is a particularly fascinating match-up. The senior from McKeesport, Pa. is arguably unlike any player the Rams have seen this season. Standing 7-feet tall with a 7-5 wingspan, Marshall is a rejection machine. He’s like government red tape in gym shorts.

Although still raw on the offensive end in many ways, Marshall has made continued progress over his career and is decidedly more effective than in the Rams’ previous meetings with the Zips in 2009 and last season. This year, Marshall has used an effective right-handed hook shot and short jumpers with stunning efficiency. In 32 games, he’s shooting 65 percent from the field, and he leads the Zips in scoring (13.1 ppg).

As valuable as Marshall has been on offense this year, it’s his shot-blocking ability that makes him special. Marshall is blocking 3.7 shots per game in about 28 minutes a night, a number which translates to about five per 40 minutes. Just the threat of Marshall in the paint is enough to alter game plans. VCU drivers will have to account for him. He’ll also own a decided height advantage over his most likely post match-up, 6-9 VCU forward Juvonte Reddic.

When these two teams met last season in Akron, Marshall made life difficult for VCU, blocking six shots while altering a number of others.

“It felt like 15 blocks,” Smart said Tuesday.

Marshall is averaging 7.0 rebounds per game, a reasonable, albeit not outstanding number for a player of his size. Although he’s added muscle over the years – he was noticeably thinner when the Rams faced him in 2009 – Marshall weighs in at 235 pounds, and stronger players may be able to move him away from the rim with proper positioning.

In all, Marshall presents the Rams with a unique challenge, one Smart is acutely aware of.

“I don’t know much about the NBA, but I’d be surprised if he doesn’t find a way to stick at the next level,” said Smart.

VCU will likely attempt to negate Marshall’s skills by pushing the pace, rather than let him set up shop in the paint. It won’t be easy, as Marshall runs the floor well for a 7-footer. Akron, meanwhile, will play play from the inside out, and then back in again.

“They’re going to try to speed us up, make us try to make mistakes and we’re going to try to throw the ball to our big guys and it’s as simple as that,” Dambrot said.