What a season. Clearly yesterday wasn’t the ending we had all wished for, but don’t let that take away from the journey that was one of the best year’s in VCU basketball history.
The Rams headed to Auburn Hills this week as a chic Final 4 pick, and after dismantling Akron in the second round by 46 points, looked very much like a contender to actually get there. But VCU ran into a buzz saw in their following contest, catching Michigan in a tournament home game for the Wolverines in what was pretty much the exact opposite of the Akron outcome.
VCU got one quarter of solid hoops, trailing Michigan by a single point 10 minutes into the game. Then, after keeping within six for the following six minutes, saw the wheels officially come off. The Rams were outscored 13-4 to finish the half down 15 points, cut the lead to 11 to start the second, then for the final 18:31 of play were outscored 40-23 to finish the game in the Rams largest loss since 2003.
In a sense, the weekend mirrored VCU’s play this year: run a team off the court one half, go ice cold the next. For the vast majority of the season VCU survived that split personality, earning the Rams their highest NCAA tournament seed (5) since 1985, but with a roster littered full of top-100 talent and probably 17,000+ Maize and Blue fans backing them, Michigan wouldn’t allow such an opportunity.
It was a bitter pill no doubt, but don’t let VCU’s final destination define what was an incredibly exciting season for the Rams.
The black and gold entered their first-ever season in the Atlantic 10 with a talented team that had just missed a second-straight Sweet 16 the previous season. Despite that showing and with a roster full of young talent, many questioned how VCU would fair in making the jump from CAA to A-10. After a 12-3 non-conference start against one of the best OOC schedules school in history, the Rams lived at the top of the Atlantic 10 standings, sharing the spot with the Billikens of Saint Louis before eventually falling to second overall in the regular season standings.
After a strong regular season, VCU headed to Brooklyn for their first conference tournament away from Richmond in almost 20 years, taking a giant crowd of Ram fans with them, greatly outnumbering the next largest fan base in attendance. VCU outlasted St. Joe’s and UMass in the Barclays Center before eventually falling to regular season champ Saint Louis in the tournament final, but despite the loss was a massively successful tournament showing for VCU and their fans both on and off the court.
Coach Smart and company thrilled fans throughout the season. The Rams knocked off a ranked Memphis team in their fourth game of the season, dominated an Alabama squad coached by former VCU head coach, Anthony Grant (yes, that mattered to VCU fans), pulled off the always enjoyable road win at Old Dominion, came back from down four with 14 seconds to play against St. Joseph’s, winning one of the most thrilling games in Siegel Center history, dominated Butler by 32 points in a nationally televised ESPN2 game and, in total, racked up 27 wins this year. Needless to say, it was a great time to be a VCU fan, especially if you were able to make it to the 17 sold out home games the Rams hosted this season. The Rams have completely sold out the last two seasons, and own a 35-game sellout streak that predates their trip to the Final 4 in 2011.
Returning 74% of their scoring next season, the good times should continue to roll on Broad St. The Rams lose seniors Darius Theus, Troy Daniels and David Hinton, but return four of their top five scorers including Treveon Graham and Juvonte Reddic who rank No.1 and 2 in both points and rebounds for VCU.
VCU also adds five new faces to next year’s team, six including redshirted walk-on Torey Burston who joined the Rams toward the later part of this year.
That group is no doubt headlined by local product and VCU legacy, Jordan Burgess. Burgess was supposed to join the team this season but was forced to sit due to eligibility issues. The Benedictine product has a year of practice with the team under his belt, comes to VCU as a top-100 recruit and I have been told was supposed to be a serious contributor this past season before being forced to sit (if you want to get real excited, I was told he was ever better than the incredibly impressive Melvin Johnson, VCU’s other top-100 recruit who burst onto the scene this season). He’ll be joined by Mo Alie-Cox, who, like Burgess, was forced to sit due to ineligibility issues. Mo wasn’t able to practice with the team but should be a more mature newcomer being a full year removed from high school. Mo is one of the most physically imposing players I have encountered, and should provide some real size, muscle and athleticism down low for the Rams. Those two will be joined by three highly recruited newcomers in Jequan Lewis (6’1 PG), Antravious Simmons (6’9 F/C) and Jairus Lyles (6’1 G), all of whom turned down BCS offers to wreak havoc on Broad St.
Off the court VCU will begin a major addition as well, with a multi-million dollar practice facility scheduled to begin construction either this spring or summer.
The future clearly comes with it’s share of the unknown, but Coach Smart, as well as VCU Athletics and University President Dr. Michael Rao, have positioned VCU as one of the hottest brands in college basketball, and with no sign of turning back, the sky is truly the limit for VCU basketball.
The focus in college basketball–and in life really– is often too much on the final product. My recommendation to you however, is to reflect on the incredible five months this particular VCU team gave you and not the one rough afternoon we had just a day ago.
To our staff and players, I am incredibly thankful for all the wonderful memories this 2012-13 season provided. I’d say “see you in November” but truth is, like most Ram fans, this is a year-round obsession for me. So instead, I’ll say happy recruiting season! Let’s get the discussion going!