We've got five hours of interstate in fron of us, so there's no better opportunity than right this moment to crank out a few words on VCUs 90-54 victory over Winthrop.
Probably the biggest thing I took from this afternoon's contest was a group of moments, glimpses, visions of what this team can become. Let's not get ahead of ourselves. There's a long way to go and VCU isn't taking down the Lakers. Winthop was okay but looked very much like a fourth-place Big South team.
However this is the precise game that depicts "getting better every day." When you hear Shaka Smart pop off a "he's a very good player; he just needs to blah-blah-blah" this was a game where some blah-blah-blah carried into the game. It was a sign of growth. It was a flash of the team we can become.
Juvonte Reddic went for 17/7 but he is a different looking player. Reddic is smooth in every facet of the game this year, comfortable in his own skin. His snatch of a errant entry pass that he turned into a three-point play was a thing of beauty, a man-sized statement. Reddic flashed three jump hooks and a baseline jumper. Kid is different, in the good way.
Melvin Johnson may have scored 12 points and knocked down his first two career threes, but Johnson's poise was striking. He looked like he belonged on the floor.
The front of the press, with Treveon Graham and Jarred Guest, proved impossible to solve. After Winthrop's second-half burst, Smart tweaked the press and put those two at its head. Their size and length helped produce three straight turnovers and six quick points. Winthrop head coach Pat Kelsey slammed and shattered his clipboard in response.
Speaking of Graham, he flashed some of that confidence Smart would love to see. Graham had 10 of VCUs first 16 points, including two threes and hitting both free throws.
Briante Weber hit four threes and had zero steals. But Smart said postgame that Weber impacted the game defensively as well. Mark that, and don't be misled by the flashing lights of steals. Weber was on the right side of that line of control. (But some steals would be great, too.)
Guest and Justin Tuoyo played their roles: two hard-fought minutes in multiple moments. And I'll say Troy Daniels's ankle is just fine.
Duh: VCU shoots 30-55, hits 13-25 from three, and knocks down 17-20 from the line and the Rams will be tough to beat. Side note: Darius Theus hit 2-3 from three, bringing him to 5-10 on the season.
Bonus side note: Smart had the most controlled, calm yanking of five players I've ever witnessed. Once the Winthrop second half run hit 8-0 to reduce the lead to 13, Smart called timeout and walked out onto the court with all the emotion of pulling a carton of milk out of the refrigerator. I've seen more emotion during a yawn.
But five new guys sat down and were coached during the timeout.
The Curmudgeon's View
We're about ready to step up in weight class, and a combined eight turnovers from Theus and Teddy Okereafor is painful. The problem, too, is that many were unforced. On at least four trips down the court one of them rushed the ball and threw a bad pass, or had his pocket picked. It's the very definition of making bad decisions. Your center is making bad decisions will hurt you; your point guard making bad decisions will kill you.
They are the types of plays you can get with against Winthrop, but not against Memphis, Alabama, or St. Joseph's.
Once again, I had to go back and edit this into the piece, for lack of memory. Still working out the kinks…
VCU Stars of the Game**
*** Juvonte Reddic. As mentioned above, Reddic has found a different gear, a mature gear. The work of Will Wade is paying dividends, as Reddic's footwork, and really his ass-work, gave him great block position for three jump hooks. Winthrop's James Bourne was a strong, beefy defender, and Reddic made minced-meat of him. He still needs off-ball edge work, but anytime he's involved in a play, Reddic has a certain rattlesnake to his game. (PS–hey Ju, pullup threes on the break are not good shots for you.)
** Melvin Johnson. Continuing our Grandmaster Flash theme from the preview, Melle Mel gave us The Message. Again, let's not overreact to a one-game performance, nor to 12 points, but Johnson's comfort level on the floor was four levels beyond Wichita State. Johnson's defense has a ways to go–he was caught at least twice looking the wrong way and was behind on a coverage–but from a progression standpoint, Johnson is worthy of two stars.
*Treveon Graham. This was a close call between Graham, Briante Weber, and Troy Daniels. However Graham gets the nod because of his fast start offensively, but also his attention to things other than offense. Graham drew a charge, was very active defensively, and had a nice recovery steal. There was a certain calmness about how Graham approached yesterday's game–the "loose" part of Smart's ACL philosophy. After providing a scoring lift, Graham did the other things that helped the team create a big margin.
**So sponsored because I like this idea so much I stole it from my friend Jerry Beach at Defiantly Dutch.