I don't have much to say about the actual basketball game, other than D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera is a stone cold assassin. That, and I considered it progress if Georgetown needed the rim when making a free throw. Otherwise it's tough to dig too deeply into this one. You saw it. It's impossible to get a feel when there is no flow. Some of the statistics are hilarious and I don't mean that in the funny way.
- VCU committed eight first half fouls. They were whistled for three fouls in the first 38 seconds of the second half, and Georgetown was in the bonus within 2:37.
- The Hoyas scored 29 total first half points and made 30 free throws in the second half.
- Both teams combined for 53 field goal attempts and 26 free throw attempts in the first half, and 43 field goal attempts and 62 free throw attempts in the second half.
- Georgetown shot three free throws in the first half and 34 in the second half.
That has nothing to do with hand checking rules, and everything to do with a glaring and pathetic lack of consistency in the way college basketball games are being officiated. If we are going to shoot 62 free throws in a half and a game is going to last 2:45, I'll take the old rules, thank you.
The problem that is now obvious: the NCAA has succeeded in increasing scoring, but the manner in which we have gotten to that point has made the game worse. It seems unfathomable that the NCAA would not expect coaches to adjust, finding the way they can best exploit a situation to their benefit. In this case, the offensive strategy is clear: bum rush the lane and find somebody to run into. Tom Izzo and Pat Kelsey have been outspoken about it. Shaka Smart is guarded in his words, but they are no less straightforward.
"I want to be careful what I say as it relates to the way the game is officiated, but I will say it is very difficult to continue to play aggressively when all of the sudden the game is called much closer than it had been earlier in the game," said Smart afterwards, nearly biting his lip to a bloody conclusion. "So I would that’s probably a factor."
I don't say that to take anything away from Georgetown. In fact, I would argue Briante Weber took better advantage of the convoluted way the game was being called than anyone. Weber, on at least three occasions, exploded down the lane and simply looked for somebody to run into. Even Robby picked up three fouls (all in the second half).
Spare me the "coaches will have to adjust" argument. They already have adjusted, but it's not the desired adjustment. Coaches are now instructing guards to drive the lane at will and go shoot free throws. The focus is not on cleaner defensive technique, it's on bullish, physical offense. Defenses, then, are going to have to resort to a Monty Python knight-running-away-from-the-killer-rabbit defense, or sit back in a 2-3 zone and bore everyone to death while offenses pass the ball around the perimeter for 30 seconds.
The officials are not calling any semblance of a consistent game. It's awful for every aspect of college basketball because coaches and players–the ones doing the actual work–have no idea what to expect. It distorts college basketball, and the growing cliche is becoming true: TV networks don't want two hour and 45-minute college basketball games. And not in March. For crap's sake, baseball games are shorter.
Enough about that. Regarding this basketball team and this weekend. My takeaways: we need to shoot the ball better and we need to grow defensively. It's actually quite simple, and it's not a foreign concept.
Has there ever been a season in which we didn't say the very same things? Here's what I wrote, just last November after returning from a 1-2 trip to Atlantis:
However the three-point shooting performance cannot be written off. It has become a three-game skid that is a combined 17-66 (25.8%) from beyond the arc. Troy Daniels seems a little sluggish the past two games in particular
The frustration we all felt at the rim-clangs this weekend has less to do with being a poor shooting team and more to do with margin for error.
The margin for error playing the top teams in the country is razor thin. VCU could get away with a poor shooting night or havoc lite night in years past. This new neighborhood is more demanding, more cruel, and less forgiving. You'd better make plays or you will lose. It's that simple.
VCU is not a bad shooting team. "Shooting" is not a problem. The difference is that the lulls against lesser competition are escapable. Great teams make you pay, and we paid. Two more defensive possessions that don't break down and two shots go in that did not, and either Duke or Missouri may have turned out differently.
On offense, the theme of the weekend was getting open shots but not knocking them down. True.
VCU may not be the 10th-best team in the country and probably never was. Heck the Rams weren't even ranked until later in the year last season and ended up with a five seed. My point is that the bridge jumpers are using Puerto Rico and the ranking as the basis for their sky is falling argument. I'm saying those two pieces are largely irrelevant.
The point is that this team and this season really is no different than any other. It's the expectations that got all cockeyed. Shoot better. Defend better. VCU is a flawed team but not fatally flawed. It is no more flawed than any other VCU team in the past.
"The number one thing we learned down here in Puerto Rico is that we have to get better. I think we already knew that, but now we’ve been smacked across the face with it," said Smart. "If there’s any silver lining, it’s that there should be a very clear realization that right now after these three games that there’s a lot of improving to do individually and collectively."
The key is growth, on and off the court. This is wholly independent from rankings and expectations, and fairly independent from the opponents who we use as a measuring stick for our growth. This is the process that you hear Smart mention.
The big question: what fires growth? To me that starts with leadership. Leadership is what separates 15-15 from 20-10 from 24-6. It is shown or exposed in times of adversity. It's one thing to lead from the front, but it's wholly different when you have to jump on a teammate. It's a special talent to be able to demand improvement, and accountability, from your friends. It's takes leadership to know when it's time to not be nice. That's when it matters most, and that, to me, is the most important facet to this season.
VCU has always grown and improved over the course of a season. It's a hallmark of the program. You can choose to dwell on the fact that VCU is not this and not that. And today you may be right and it still doesn't matter in the grand scheme of what we're trying to accomplish.
I'd argue we saw a modicum of improvement from Florida State to Long Beach State. The guys stuck to the process and eventually were victorious. And I'd like to say there was improvement from LBSU to Georgetown, but who could tell?
The pure fact is that last season's team was 3-3 at this point. In 2012 VCU started 3-3. In 2011 it was 4-2. Nobody jumped off buildings and these were the critical seasons in this program's growth. Settle down. And, once again, some words from last year at this time:
VCU is 3-3 and you have a salty taste in your mouth. You had to be brain dead or the world’s greatest optimist if you felt good leaving Charleston last year. Seton Hall and Georgia Tech were mundane basketball teams and both took it to us pretty good, and we left there 2-2. But by March VCU hung a 22-0 and 32-4 start on Mason and broke Drexel’s 19-game winning streak. Then, two weeks later the Rams dropped a five seed and nearly beat Indiana to get back to the Sweet 16.
So yeah, a 1-2 weekend cuts, and it hurts. Still.
But it’s like cutting your finger with a knife while chopping vegetables for a gourmet meal. You learn to not do that again, slap a band aid on that sucker, and keep moving forward with the meal. And at some time in the future that meal comes out of the oven complete and warm, and you eat like a king.