"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us." –Emerson.
Up next: Xavier, the latest biggest game we've played all season. The Musketeers knocked off Rhody last night to get to 8-4 in conference, one game behind VCU and Butler and a half-game behind 8-3 LaSalle.
Forget drama. The facts are compelling enough. If VCU wins this game, the Rams are two games up on Xavier in the standings–three with the tiebreaker–with three games to play. A victory essentially dispatches another team standing in the way of a top four seed for the A-10 tournament. The top four teams receive a first round bye in Brooklyn.
What's more, it's another top 100 victory opportunity, on the road. The selection committee hearts top 100 road victories in late February. (Side note: the A10 has 10 teams in the top 100 of the RPI, and 13 teams in its top 140. The CAAs top rated team is George Mason at 141.)
While we will get to the Xavier scouting report–and that is important–the major takeaway today is that the rest of this season is about VCU, not the opposition. It's about what lies within us. If St. Louis taught us anything, it's that this team must bring the defensive prowess it's capable of mustering in order to beat down good basketball teams.
I go back to a stat that still floors me: VCU knocked down 11 of 13 field goals and scored 25 points in eight and one-half minutes against St. Louis. That's a pace of roughly 125 points over 40 minutes. However the Rams could only wring three points off of the St. Louis lead in that time frame.
VCU started the game a wretched 3-23 from the field, but finished it by making 21-31 (67.7%). And before you dismiss this as garbage time shooting, remember the 11-13 streak occurred bridging halftime. The Billikens were still in get-after-it mode, and VCU was able to eat it alive.
St. Louis is a very good defensive team but the Rams managed to solve
it. VCU shot 44.4% overall–better than the wins against UMass (41.3%) and Fordham (34.3%). Both of those games were at home. And consider
VCU made an efficient 6-13 threes versus the Billikens.
The net: the VCU offense is better than you think, and we simply cannot assume the defense will be there. We have to play defense in order to be a great defensive team. Good teams will expose a lack of defensive intensity, and VCU will play good teams from this point through late March.
Offense does not concern me.
The defense, however, has to show. That's about effort. Want to. Energy. Smarts. Every one of those aspects is within you. Us. The opponent is irrelevant. It's like a coach told me several years ago: "nobody can stop you if you want to play good defense. There is no scouting report that can counteract energy."
There's been 10 games this season in which VCU has not reached double-figures in steals. Our record: 4-6. Or, we've not reached 10 steals in every single loss. You are also very well aware of the number 15. VCU is 21-0 when forcing 15 or more turnovers.
That's why the remainder of this season is about us not them. If we do the things we do best–create havoc by suffocating teams in the halfcourt when they are able to solve the press–this team is formidable. The inability to defend teams in the halfcourt is havoc's oyster without a pearl.
That's what was missing Tuesday, and that's our hammer.