Sometimes in sports fandom we get so caught up in the end goal that we forget to enjoy the journey, and as far as my VCU hoops journey has gone, 2013 was an all-timer.
The Rams went an impressive 28-9 over the 2013 calendar year. They won in dramatic fashion as well as in blowouts over rivals, and did so in what has to be one of the most satisfying years in VCU basketball history.
My personal list of the greatest games of 2013:
1. VCU 59 – UVA 56
The Rams traveled to Charlottesville in a nationally televised battle for state bragging rights. The Wahoos had ducked VCU for years but under head coach Tony Bennett agreed to a home-and-home series starting in Charlottesville (much respect to Bennett for agreeing to that). VCU fans felt the Rams were the top state team over the past decade after numerous NCAA tournament births and wins, including a 2011 Final 4 run. Despite that success, UVA fans felt VCU was an overhyped “mid-major” who would struggle if they had to play an ACC schedule. Rams head coach, Shaka Smart, fanned those flames when responding to a question on the subject, stating, ““the reality is if you go by the numbers, if you go by postseason, if you go by even guys going to the NBA, the best programs in the state are in the CAA. It’s really not even close.” That did not sit well with UVA fans, and this November they had their first opportunity to host the growing rivalry while hoping to prove once and for all who was the top dog in the state. Thousands of fans traveled to Charlottesville to fill the upper levels of what was a rare sellout at the JPJ. The teams battled in a real rock fight of a game, then in the final seconds each had opportunities to win. After Briante Weber missed the front end of a one-and-one, UVA’s Malcolm Brogdon had a chance to give the Wahoos a one-point lead at the line. Brogdon missed the first of two free throws, eliminating a chance to virtually put VCU away then and there while giving the Rams 9 seconds for one last shot. What happened next was one of, if not the greatest shot in VCU history. Rob Brandenberg drove to the right but was denied the paint, he looked to his left to find Mr. Direct Deposit himself, Treveon Graham, who buried a deep three-pointer to send Ram fans into a celebration that turned the JPJ into Siegel Center West.
2. VCU 84 – BUTLER 52
People call this a Final 4 rematch, but make no mistake, Butler in the long run got the MUCH better end of this deal (congrats Bulldogs). There is no such thing as a Final 4 rematch outside of an ACTUAL Final 4 rematch. That said, this was a damn satisfying consolation prize. The Siegel Center was humming in perhaps the most anticipated game in the history of the building. The No.20 Bulldogs traveled to the Stu in what would be the first and only matchup of the two teams as Atlantic 10 conference rivals, and VCU made sure they would enjoy every second of it. To quote the great Dick Vitale in his criticism of VCU’s inclusion to the 2011 Final 4, this one was a total “M&Mer baby”, a complete mismatch. Butler’s butter-fingered slow guards were no match for havoc, turning the ball over 20 times as a result of 17 steals by the Rams in a game Butler could barely advance the ball past halfcourt. This one also provided the iconic Briante Weber dunk photo that graced a New York City bus the Rams Peppas pep band would cruise on to make an impromptu appearance on NBC’s Today Show.
3. VCU 92 – ST. JOSEPH’S 86
VCU led most of the night in an early A-10 battle against the Hawks of Saint Joseph’s, only to see a Carl Jones three-pointer give the Hawks a two point lead with 1:28 left to play. Saint Joseph’s extended their lead to four up until a Chris Wilson turnover turned into a huge Troy Daniels three-pointer with 14 seconds to play to cut the Hawk’s lead to one. The Rams fouled Ronald Roberts Jr. with 11 seconds on the clock, sending him to the line where he would hit just one of his two freebies, a mistake that opened the door for senior guard Darius Theus to slash straight to the basket for a game-tying layup in what seemed like a blink of an eye. Theus ended regulation with a steal, in turn stealing what should have been a St. Joseph’s win. The Rams outscored SJU 12-6 in overtime in their first thriller as an A-10 member.
4. VCU 75 – XAVIER 71
Atlantic 10 teams don’t typically win at Xavier. And despite a 17-point second half deficit, the Rams rallied back to hand the Musketeers just their second home A-10 loss in 54 games dating back to 2007. Watching this one was brutal early on. The 10,000-plus seat Cintas Center erupted with applause as the X men made easy work of the No.24 Rams in the first half, but behind a hot-handed Troy Daniels, VCU rallied back for one of their grittiest wins of 2013.
5. VCU 82 – VIRGINIA TECH 52
See all I wrote about VCU and in-state ACC teams in No.1 on this list. Like UVA, VT had ducked the Rams for the 18 seasons since they last met as Metro conference foes. Virginia Tech fans spewed vitriol toward VCU after receiving a hotly-debated 2011 NCAA tournament bid over Virginia Tech despite their home win over then No.1 Duke that season. The Rams took that bid to the Final 4 but that did little to satisfy Tech fans who thought it should have been their team dancing that year. The Hokies had some reason for optimism heading into this one, winning seven of their ten games in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year, two of their three losses coming by a combined two points. But that optimism was quickly extinguished, as the Rams jumped out to a 37-8 lead to start the game in what would remain a blowout throughout. Fact of the matter is Virginia Tech isn’t a good team. But as a Ram fan who has had to CONSTANTLY hear how bad VCU would do if they were in the ACC, it certainly felt great to complete the sweep of in-state ACC teams…and in dominating fashion. VCU followed that game up by dominating Boston College the following game, yet another ACC opponent.
6. VCU 88 – AKRON 42
Call this one an honorable mention. The Rams were a heavy favorite over the Zips of Akron, so this was no surprise, but to defeat an NCAA tournament team (in the NCAA tournament no less) by 46 points is worth mentioning. We like the Zips. We like Keith Dambrot, A LOT. But still, once upon a time we were happy just to get to the tournament. To win a first round game in the always tricky 12v5 matchup by 46, that’s when things have changed at your program.
Take a look at that list one more time. That’s a calendar year in which we knocked off not one, but two in-state ACC teams, and in the most satisfying ways possible. As if that wasn’t enough, we destroyed Butler and an NCAA tournament team, came back from a huge deficit on the road to take down Xavier, and won yet another thriller against a Philly rival in the friendly confines of the Siegel Center. 2013, we’re gonna miss ya, but can’t wait to see what the new year has to offer.