Flash back to October, just for a moment. Alongside Halloween costume choices, there was space in your mind to think about what VCU basketball would look like. Picture it. Picture how you believed a game would play out in early February. You can go back there now. Just for today, it's okay.
Briante Weber was managing the offense and wreaking havoc on defense, wasn't he? Juvonte Reddic was posting double-doubles. Treveon Graham was doing Treveon Graham things, notably putting the team on his back for a stretch and finishing with the quietest 13/8 boxscore ever. Melvin Johnson came off the bench to drain threes and swag his way around the court.
Rob Brandenberg was explosive, too. There was inside thumping and outside shooting. The crowd was frenzied. Ah, the freshmen: Mo Alie-Cox impacted the paint and JeQuan Lewis impacted the open court. Six players finished in double figures as the Rams displayed an inordinate amount of depth.
That's the picture, wasn't it?
Yesterday, for the very first time this season, at least for a full 40 minutes, we saw that team.
Okay, the moment is over. Let's sprint back to reality, which is this: six players finished in double figures as the Rams displayed an inordinate amount of depth in beating Richmond. The manner in which VCU won represents another step forward for this growing team.
Against Dayton, Weber put 18 points, five assists, and zero turnovers on the stat line and played a whale of a floor game. Then at LaSalle, Reddic and Graham combined for 61 points and 27 rebounds and VCU gutted out a double-overtime win. Then Johnson swagged his way to 13 points against Fordham–important because VCU slogged its way to the win and swag is important in slog.
And yesterday everybody got in on the act, a true balanced effort. Jarred Guest may have garnered four fouls in about 12 seconds, but he also played with energy. There were productive minutes all around.
The point of this: VCU is quickly becoming a very dangerous basketball team. The Rams are difficult to defend for the simple reason that you can't point to one thing, take that away, and expect to create an advantage. The offense is like a well-watered Chia Pet in a sunny windowsill–growth everywhere.
And then you have to face that defense.
There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance, so fine it makes dental floss look like the trunk of a sequoia. This team is brimming with confidence and staring at that line. Just as VCU is a dangerous team, so is that line.
With one step into arrogance, we can wipe away three weeks of building–and really six weeks of building since Northern Iowa–with one dud against Rhode Island. There's no getting around that fact.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing, though. It has to be managed, that entitlement to appreciation ratio. It's like boxing out on missed shots. Pay attention to the detail and nuance. It would be easy for the see-saw to tilt the way of "we have arrived!" and that's a real danger. That's how trap games arrive, the duds that drive everyone from Shaka Smart to you to Dick Vitale crazy.
You can hear Smart doing his best to alert everyone to this. It's in his words when he talks about negative things in a positive light. Examine his words about focus. Adjusting to how games are called. To how incredible Kendall Anthony played yesterday but 31 points from anybody against VCU is unacceptable.
Heck, we even saw a couple possessions of zone yesterday. That in itself should show you the coaching staff does not believe we are as good as we think we are. Oh, we are good enough to beat Dayton and LaSalle on the road and Fordham and Richmond at home, but those victories are only part of the journey.
The wins we are building towards come in March, and we have a ways to go to get there both in games to be played and improvements to be made. Or, as we've heard since you started dreaming in October: "we have a lot to work on, but a lot to work with."
VCU hit 19-24 from the foul line yesterday and is 42-51 (82.4%) in the past two games, and 78-101 (77.2%) in the past four games. Weber has made 41 of his last 44 free throws (93.2%). He is 20-40 from the field in the past five games.
Weber has also scored in double figures six of the last eight games. VCU is 18-1 when Weber scores in double-figures in his career. After making his first three of the season and then missing 14 straight, Weber has made 3-6 from deep in the past two games and 7-17 since the GW game.
He's doing everything with confidence now. A friend of mine who doesn't watch VCU regularly but is intelligent in the ways of basketball commented to me yesterday that Weber isn't close to the same player.
My friend said that Weber looks like he knows what he's doing out there, that he is a wholly different player since last year. Richmond head coach Chris Mooney agreed, with an important comment that for all his defensive whizzing, Weber knows when to slow it down on offense. That's more significant than it appears on the surface.
Give yourself a pat on the back, RamNation. You were challenged with bringing an atmosphere and you delivered. My goodness that was fun. There was tailgating and a full house early. It's fun when, because the action is so fast and furious, that the crowd had to wait a possession before getting the opportunity to break out the "Mo Says No" chant after an Alie-Cox block.
Now bring it again.
Speaking of Alie-Cox, his six-points, six-rebounds effort has him contributing a 5.0ppg/6.0rpg over the past two games in 29 total minutes.
I'm keeping an eye on this trend: Both Alie-Cox and Lewis saw early success this season, hit a freshman wall where they did not play well, but now seem to be maturing into college basketball and contributing again. That's on a sticky note.
I'm willing to say this: the officiating was terrible in that it was brutally inconsistent. And spare me the "VCU got hosed" routine. That crew called 16 first half fouls and 31 second half fouls. I feel for both coaches in that situation. As if we expected anything else from Sean Casady.
Treveon Graham injury update: he still has 10 toes.