I didn't sleep much, nor well, last night. The combination of a jacked up college basketball atmosphere and a bitter, tough loss didn't leave a salty taste in my mouth. It was more iron and steel, like somebody forced me to eat a crowbar. It didn't sit well as I watched the clock turn 3:00am, then 4:00am.
That's what it's about. There was March intensity in the Siegel Center on a chilly November night–on the floor, in the stands, and in the locker room. When we talk in vague concepts like "the price of success" and "nationally relevant program," these are the games we play. We don't always win them, but we certainly become a better program in every way.
It was a quality opponent who didn't back down. VCU played, probably, a C- game on offense. You have to give credit to Wichita State for that. Their guards, especially Malcolm Armstead and Demetric Williams, had much quicker hands than the players they replaced. The WSU bigs bothered our slashing guards.
"It was a disappointing game for me as a coach and for our
players because we weren’t on edge," said Shaka Smart postgame. "We weren’t at our
best in terms of the intangibles of the game that make us good. It’s a
valuable lesson to learn, but it’s a tough lesson to learn anytime you
lose a game that way."
Those intangibles, that edge, is VCUs differentiating factor. It's what you count on when the going gets tough on the floor. Smart spoke last night of Treveon Graham developing an unshakable confidence, that Graham is just a sophomore and an unyielding confidence is something he must develop.
I think one thing we saw last night was a testament to Bradford Burgess. By the time he was senior, on nights where he was in foul trouble and unable to get into a rhythm shooting the ball–a night like Graham had last night–Burgess found other ways to help the team win.
Graham will get there, there's no doubt, but it's part of this team maturing. Remember, last night produced an unbelieveable intensity, but it was only game number two.
Speaking of confidence, Juvonte Reddic showed up last night wearing his big boy pants. Sure, there's the 22/10 double-double, but Reddic took aggressive and confident shots. That 18-foot wing jumper early in the first half was a harbinger. It was a Gus Johnson rise-and-fire special.
I know Shaka Smart is somewhat displeased with Reddic's overall play:
"I didn’t think he played so well," Smart told Chris Kowalczyk. "He didn’t play bad.
He certainly made some shots and made plays. Without his points, you
know, we’d certainly struggle to get into the 50s, but overall, Ju, just
like most of our other guys, was not on edge, and he needs to be more
alert and more aggressive, and a lot of times he is. I don’t really
judge his game by his numbers. Certainly I’ll take 22 and 10, that’s
what he got, but there were a lot of other plays that he and his
teammates could have made better."
However, here's my take: I'd rather have Reddic hunting smooth jumpers and grabbing man-sized rebounds and have Smart unhappy with screening, cutting, and intensity than Smart grousing about Reddic not producing up to his capability. Just me.
A few random notes:
- That last play was most certainly goaltending, and it most certainly would never be called. Move on.
- Juvonte Reddic's free throw violation was VCUs 15th turnover of the game, two more than Wichita State. The last time VCU committed more turnovers than it forced: last January 28 in a 59-58 win over Georgia State (9).
- The coaching staff was concerned about WSUs rebounding ability, but VCU battled the Shockers to a 38-38 standoff on the glass. Offensive rebounds were essentially even (14-13).
- After getting 36 points from the bench against FGCU–who beat Jim Larranaga's Maimi team last night–Smart got just three points from Rob Brandenberg last night. In fact, Reddic (22) and Darius Theus (15) scored 37 of the team's 51 points.
- Neither team led by more than five points at any stage of the game.
The edge was not there, but I will argue the fight was very evident. Wichita State took VCU out of most anything it wanted to do. Graham had a bad night, Rob Brandenberg wasn't any better and Briante Weber was worse. The Shockers eliminated Troy Daniels from the offense.
With all of that slogginess, all of that exhausting fighting, the Rams had the ball in their hands with a chance to send the game into overtime against a very good opponent. We took a punch in the teeth, and while we didn't knock out Wichita State, we did not fall. I didn't sleep much last night, but I woke up this morning with a peaceful feeling of confidence. We're going to be fine.
I'll tell you this: I'll play Wichita State in November, on ESPNU, in front of a packed house, every single year. It's a legit opponent for the players, an at large beauty contest game, and hotly contested. It's everything college basketball should be, and certainly much better than scheduling three sub-200 RPI patsies and whimpering into the season (especially when you lose two of those games).
And I'd hate to be Winthrop right about now.