UMass 80, VCU 75. Or, the Agony and the Ecstasy…
We can all find common themes in most any game–poor play or great play, good wins and bad wins. Turnovers, shooting, offense and defense. Officiating. Generally it adds up, and on most nights it makes sense. We can add a positive spin or negative spin and we all process things differently, but the bottom line is generally straightforward.
However I admit I may never have been more conflicted after a VCU basketball game than after last night's gut-punch against UMass.
One thing that is not in question: that was a helluva basketball game. If those 40 minutes and every player and coach from both teams didn't evoke the entire spectrum of emotions inside you at some point during a frenetic, electric, nuclear basketball game, then you need to go find another passion. It was not an edge-of-your-seat game. It was a can't-sit-down game. The final, excruciating buzzer sounded more than 12 hours ago and I still get a jolt thinking about the energy in that building.
On one hand, I remain confident in this VCU team. You can point to the small things and you would be accurate. But those small things and those errors are similar to the small things and errors in every single basketball game VCU has played this year and in years past. No game will be perfect, especially the style of play this team chooses.
Havoc is fun, but havoc is also risky and dangerous. Havoc creates mismatches and mistakes, for both teams. The bottom line is that havoc is VCUs system, so our DNA means the opponent will make more mistakes and VCU will capitalize. However that doesn't mean the other guy isn't trying, and it doesn't mean VCU is error free.
And you can call it equivocating, but this is a fact. VCUs four road losses have been against teams currently in first, second, and the two teams tied with us for third place in the A10. The last four games have been against top 40 RPI teams, and three were on the road in sold out, hostile, amped up buildings.
You can take this as a negative thing that VCU is 1-3 in those games. I choose to view it as we're not playing JMU and Towson in front of 2,200 people anymore. There is a price to pay to swim in this pool, and that price is not getting away with almosts. Remember, VCU is new money in town and there is much to still learn, but I'll take this neighborhood.
On the other hand, VCU lost a game it easily could've won. The Rams were wretched from the foul line (10-22) and played just loose enough to miss a golden opportunity. I will be honest here, too: I'm not much into moral victories. The ledger still says 20-7 and nobody's feelings about how we got there matters.
This team is tantalizingly close to greatness. It's evident in every game how fine that line is. The juxtaposition of the dental floss line and the stakes of being on either side of it are what has caused the agony. We all see it.
If we aspire to win on the level that we all want and know that we can, here's what I believe is the difference. It doesn't reside in the statistics and it doesn't reside in the trends. Every game plays out very differently and there is a unique path to get to its conclusion. Winning in March many times comes down to this:
With 2:01 to play and VCU trailing UMass 72-71. Rob Brandenberg was wide open in the corner and he launched a three. It rimmed out. With 1:47 to play and VCU trailing St. Louis 55-53, Treveon Graham was open on the high wing and rose to shoot a three. It bounded off the back rim.
Sometimes it isn't about the 39 minutes and the statistics. Sometimes greatness is no more complicated than making plays in critical situations.