So I’m driving home from That Animal after VCUs blowout win over Belmont the other night, the 20 minutes of free time inside my head where my brain can slow down and process the inputs from Illinois State to Virginia to Northern Iowa to Belmont, and I smiled.
VCU overmatched Belmont, and Craig Bradshaw would not have made a difference. A late layup allowed the Bruins to have as many field goals made (17) as turnovers committed. The result didn’t make me particularly smiley, because after the first five minutes of the game you could see where it was headed. The Rams played with a certain SOBness from the opening tip, and even though early shots didn’t fall the defense was biting. It was a matter of time.
From there, I tried to pay attention to the little things, those things VCU needs to do well on nights it won’t overmatch its opponent with sheer force buoyed by the belly of the beast, That Animal. It’s probable that I annoyed Robby with my wide-eyed glee and determination to talk about weak side help rotating to aid JeQuan Lewis and force a bad pass. Lewis had switched a screen and was trying to guard Evan Bradds–6-7 and 225 pounds–by fronting him. Lewis did a great job with his positioning, leaving one weak spot, a lob entry over his head. Jordan Burgess rotated to suffocate the one point of entry, and a forced pass tipped off of Bradds’ fingertips and out of bounds. VCU ball.
That’s what made me smile.
The things VCU did better than the previous game were opponent-irrelevant. It didn’t matter if we were playing Kentucky or Kansas, Furman or Ferrum. Lewis was in position and Burgess rotated on time. In fact, the defense rotated on several reversals and in fix-it situations, got hands up in the face of shooters, and gambled less. There was a patience to the offense. VCU was able to break down Belmont at will, but the Rams usually didn’t take the first available shot. Jonny Williams and Briante Weber combined for 12 assists and 1 turnover. VCU assisted on eight of its first 10 field goals. Efficiency.
Illinois State and Northern Iowa were similar in that the opponent buried shot after shot early but we stuck with our plan. Victories are bathed in execution, and it isn’t always Xs and Os and effort and statistics to reflect success. The maturity to stick to the game plan, even in the face of adversity, is part of growth.
Those are signs of growth and steps forward in that highly-defined but totally undefinable process Shaka Smart always refers to. I have to channel Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart when I write about The Process: I may not be able to define it, but I know it when I see it. This VCU team is markedly improved in the past 10 days.
Put another way: if you’re hanging onto nervousness about the capability of this team based on what you saw against ODU, that’s on you. Enjoy complaining about a free lunch. The freshmen are starting to figure it out, JeQuan Lewis is a different player, and all of them are paying attention to details. Look, I’m no Pollyanna. VCU will lose again and it may come as early as Saturday afternoon. But if you can’t dig into your mind and think about what you’ve seen in the past four games and not be very encouraged then we aren’t watching the same game.
Oh, and to the guy in the dark-colored SUV I forced into the emergency lane when driving home from the Belmont game? My apologies. It’s hard to stay in your lane when you are remembering this and giggling like a schoolgirl: