I knew something was up before we left the hotel.
There was a hospitality event going on, with the Ram Nation that made the trip overtaking the Hilton, spilling out from the bar and into the common area. The VCU players, two or three at a time, made their way through the crowd and into a conference room for a final team meeting.
Each successive group prompted a cheer, and the players smiled and high-fived their way through the crowd and into the conference room. That is, all of them but one.
Now we all know Weber. He would smile and laugh his way through a root canal, knocking away instruments from the hands of the frustrated dentist. Not this afternoon. Not Briante. Weber kept a steely gaze, off into the distance. He saw something, but it was not in that hotel. It was 5pm but it was really 10pm.
Briante Weber's keen focus and stone face, the first I've ever seen, told me everything I needed to know about the upcoming NCAA tournament game with Akron. It was obvious, but it would be five hours before it would play out.
Akron never stood a chance.
You saw it, the frightening devastazione of havoc. We can break down the statistics and name players of the game, but that's really unnecessary. Here's what I believe is the summary:
First, when the game was in any sort of "it matters" stage, that is the first 28 minutes, VCU committed ONE turnover. One. Uno. The Rams played a staggering 39-possession first half with that single turnover. And shot more than 60%. That's an executioner's offense.
And, as pointed out by Robby, after Akron took a 6-4 lead, VCU went on an 80-31 run in the next 34 minutes.
Here is the ESPN wrap up and box score, for those inclined.
It's always interesting to keep a keen eye on the VCU bench. You learn things, and see things, that give you a better sense of what Shaka Smart is trying to accomplish. For instance, with 12 minutes to play and the Rams leading by more than 30 points, Smart took Troy Daniels aside and had one of those "teaching moments."
We found out postgame that Smart was chastising Daniels because he failed to box out on an Akron shot attempt. That's one of the many reasons Shaka Smart is a great coach. His team was winning by more than 30 points and he's coaching his kids just as hard to do the little things like boxing out.
One other thing I noticed was video coordinator Donny Lind carrying around a plastic ConnectFour game. You remember those games, right? It was odd to say the least. I can't ever remember looking on a college basketball sideline and seeing a coach with a children's checkers game in his hand.
As one of the team's goals on Thursday night, they wanted 40 deflections. As motivation, Lind kept the ConnectFour game with him, and on every VCU deflection of an Akron pass, Lind plopped another checker into a slot. The goal–fill up the ConnectFour game.
It's one thing to check a box on a piece of paper, but it's quite another for the players to have that visual stimulus of working towards their goal. Lind could hold up his ConnectFour game to show them their progress towards 40 deflections, and essentially a grade for how well they were defending.
There are 42 slots in a ConnectFour game, and Lind had prefilled two of the slots. By halftime the Rams had filled in 19 of those slots. VCU fell three or four short of the 40-checker mark, but havoc met its mark. No matter, the true victory was in the process of filling up those slots.