The bottom line goal in basketball is winning. Everything, and I mean everything, flows from that simple data point. You can form opinions and analyze scenarios and eat statistics until Ken Pomeroy tells you to stop, but the goal is as clear as it is simple: win.
That didn't happen last night as GW, and the environment at the Smith Center, was everything we thought it would be. Kevin Larsen dominated the first half, and Patricio Garino made the second half his coming out party as the Colonials held off a feisty VCU effort, 76-66.
It's worth noting that the Rams threw two sizeable havoc haymakers in the second half, twice cutting the GW lead to four. Both were the kinds of punches that folds most teams. Both times the Colonials were wobbled, and both times they responded in kind. Good teams do that. Garino was particularly impressive.
There are funny-looking numbers in the boxscore, many of which don't make sense. We will get into that tomorrow because quite honestly, I need to make sense of them. But when you boil it down the basics, that one clear and simple goal, VCU failed last night.
When it comes to people, there are three ways in which they fail to attain goals: unable, unwilling, and unactualized. When it comes to basketball, this holds true.
Sometimes you just aren't good enough. You are unable. There are certainly outliers (see: Chaminade v. Virginia), but generally speaking Kentucky is going to wallop Savannah State.
Sometimes you aren't prepared enough or don't care enough to walk up to that line of success and step over it. You are unwilling. Troy Daniels is not on the verge of an NBA contract because he chose Honey Boo-Boo repeats over shooting 1,000 jumpers each day.
Unwilling is the gateway drug to unable and is the worst form of losing. Those two go hand-in-hand. And that leads us to the third category: unactualized. You can have the ability and you can prepare to the max and you can work your tail off and still fall short.
That's where I see this VCU team–finding a way to consistently actualize its ability and its desire.
This basketball team is certainly able. The same group of guys that bricked nine straight three-pointers last night was the same group that made six in a row. The defense again forced more than 20 turnovers. No it isn't perfect and yes there are problems to fix, but that isn't the point. The point is that this team has ability in its core form.
They are most definitely willing. This team never lays down and always fights, sometimes to a fault, until the end. It has a spirit. That is the most important aspect to success in my mind, willingness.
You need to find ways to get your Able Percentage–a fictitious number I just made up for the amount of time you play at a high level in relation to your ability–very high to win consistenly and in March. That's doesn't happen without a willingness.
As the old saying goes, VCU was ready, willing, and able last night. The issue lay in the execution, or actualization. Shaka Smart talks about the process and the details, very necessary when you are playing a very good opponent and in a hostile atmosphere. Details are more important on the road.
VCU is good enough to skip some details and beat George Mason at home. But we're not good enough to skip some details and win against a quality team on the road. And let's be clear–we have bigger goals than having fun in Brooklyn.
The Rams could've won this game, but never should've won this game. GW was up to the task, and while it may be an unpopular opinion, I believe they deserve a pat on the back. VCU didn't lose this game–GW won it.
I wrote that this game was a litmus test for VCU. We did not do the things we needed to do to win last night and that stinks, but I believe we can draw from the fact that we learned a lot about where this team is and what it needs to do. I will grant the glass-half-empty crowd that this cannot become a recurring habit, but just as we rebounded from Northern Iowa we will rebound from this.
And here's a question to the half-emptiers: this is a good GW team, someone who has beaten five major conference teams this season. We were in their barn, on a night they made special because VCU was in the house, and we played an unactualized, mediocre game. And had a chance to win. VCU practices to get better, so imagine when we are better.
There's also this: we didn't lose by 30, and we didn't lose at JMU.