Sometimes lessons are learned over time. They take on various forms of the same theme, and marinate in your mind as time passes and you are given the opportunity to learn. You slowly discover you are thinking differently about something very familiar to you.
And sometimes the lesson comes fast, punching you straight in the teeth before you finish smiling.
Welcome to division one basketball, Illinois State. The Redbirds suited up five juco transfers and two freshmen last night against VCU. A visit to The Stu was probably not the best venue choice to debut. A game that was 5-2 after two minutes became 20-4 after eight minutes and 35-8 after 12 minutes. The game finished sloppy, a 96-58 party.
We will dig into the numbers and analysis more deeply in future games, but a deep recap of a game that was out of hand after 12 minutes insults your intelligence and wastes my time. We will let the coaches pick apart what they need on tape, those minute points that are critical to the team, and focus on a big win and what we saw.
We all got together for the first time in months last night, and enjoyed what The Sporting News' Troy Machir last year called:
Ram Nation isn’t a fan base as much as it is a congregation of wild celebration and intimidation.
The band is no ordinary pep band. It’s a rowdy accompaniment of brass, belting out paeans and rallying cries.
“Havoc” isn’t just the term of VCU’s trademark defense, it’s the embodiment of the entire Ram Nation. From the players, to the coaches, the staff, fans and band members.
The season has begun, and VCU is 1-0. End of story.
What Jumped Out At Me
The Terrance Shannon Project: The times when advance billing lives up to expectation are rare. Shannon bested expectations. He scored 14 points and grabbed six rebounds, but he made a number of old man plays that will never make a box score. I'm talking about tipping balls to teammates on purpose, setting cinder block screens, and flat out hustling.
The one that stands out the most was late in the first half he was on the block and boxing out on a free throw. An Illinois State player missed the free throw, and Shannon transitioned from boxing out to being ahead of the field and scoring a layup. Shannon outran bigs and guards. VCU was winning by about 30 at the time.
However the freedom of movement afforded Juvonte Reddic was phenomenal. Reddic brought the full arsenal last night–a back-to-the-basket spin move, a face-up 18 footer, and a dribble drive down the lane for a layup.
However Reddic also had two dunks that were the result of weakside cutting. The ISU defense was preoccupied with Shannon once, and then The Freight Trein, and Reddic zipped to the hole, corralled a pass, and flushed the ball home.
You always hear this about guards, but it fits for the big man: he makes his teammates better.
We Kid Because We Care: Doug Brooks and JeQuan Lewis were deer-in-the-headlights freshmen and it was awesome to see. Lewis went to a rarely-used eight consecutive crossover dribbles before using his foot to pass the ball to PA announcer Hunter Elliot, and Brooks looked like the junior high kid who sees beer at a party for the first time.
But Lewis rebounded and looked solid in his second shift. His drive and pull-up 10 footer was the kind of move made by a player with a natural talent. Brooks never hesitated on the three he knocked down, and just as in the exhibition game Brooks was always around the ball.
In case you were wondering: the awesome part is that they both were shaky but once the nerves passed were an asset on the floor.
(Side note: Jarred Guest's pass to Paris Lee to end the first half? Some jokes need no words.)
Sorry Yogi, But VCU Has Deep Depth: Get used to the Rams looking different this season. Last year's team was chock full of scrappers and specialized skill. This year's team features slashers and deep skill. That leads to this mental thought process: "okay, we've got three guys on the court I trust, and the other two guys are good. Oh look, two fresh subs and they are good too."
What I mean is this: the dropoff in skill level we faced last year when getting deep into the bench doesn't exist. VCU can run any three of Reddic, Brandenberg, Graham, Weber, Guest, and Johnson onto the court. Those trusted (or, known) quantities are supported by any two of Burgess, Shannon, Brooks, Lewis, or Alie-Cox. That leads to a lot of comforting lineup combinations.
Speaking of Jordan Burgess, we need to find that kid a nickname. He's so strong, but smooth and natural. The best I've got right now is that he's like a rock rolling down a hill. But that's not right because a rock doesn't glide like Burgess. Help me out.
The Curmudgeon's View
The Rams committed nine first half turnovers. Yes the second half was sloppy and you cannot place blame nor value on that, but a nine-turnover half isn't going to get it done on nights VCU is not shooting a zillion percent. That's focus and attention to detail. I gave Lewis and Guest a hard time in fun above, but those are the exact kinds of turnovers that must cease. I'll tell you this and I'm serious: we will struggle with Virginia and Florida State if we are that casual with the basketball.
Terrance Shannon, on not letting up in the second half: "They say you kill an ant with a sledgehammer."
Shaka Smart, on his thoughts of what he saw: "A lot of good. A lot to work on. A lot to work with."
VCU takes a 70-minute ride up 64 to Charlottesville to play the 24th-ranked Virginia Cavaliers on Tuesday.