Saturday’s highly anticipated rematch with UVA reminds me so much of one of my favorite holiday movie scenes that I feel the need to share it with you now. Watch, enjoy, then we’ll discuss.
Odd comparison? To me it makes sense.
Ram fans have waited sooooo long for a UVA matchup in Richmond, 16 years is what I’ve been told. Sure, VCU got to open a present early when they beat the Wahoos in Charlottesville last season, but after two tough losses earlier this season, VCU v UVA was our “bonus check”. Ram fans waited in the excitement, some camping out outside of the Siegel Center in frigid temperatures starting this past Wednesday. We packed the Stu to the brim with tickets fetching upwards of $300 a pop, some listed as high as a $1,000+ on Stub Hub.
Then the game happened.
Instead of getting our holiday bonus, we got a subscription to the “Jelly of the Month Club” in the form of a 22-game home winning streak snapping 17-point loss, to an in-state rival.
Disappointment set in, anger followed shortly thereafter.
I took to the Ram Nation forums to vent my own personal frustration — all-be-it in what I’d consider a calm statistics-laced slew of posts — placed mostly on the shoulders of what I thought was a poor halfcourt defensive gameplan. Easy to understand why, the Rams gave up 84.6% shooting (11-13) inside the arc in the second half of Saturday’s loss. I paired that with VCU’s 51% 2p% defense on the season and a defensive effective field goal percentage of 54.8%, currently ranked 316th nationally. No way should that happen to a team with a National Defensive Player of the Year candidate I thought, has to be the fault of poor coaching (hey, I’m being honest, ok).
But after some internal kicking and screaming I finally got around to watching the tape.
My view during games is at one end of the court through a screen that measures roughly 2″x3″ so it’s incredibly helpful to take a closer look using the numerous camera angles provided via WatchESPN.com replay.
I took some notes — roughly 79 lines — but will share my main takeaways with you right now:
*note – I am not a coach, just a humble basketball blogger. The views and opinions expressed in these notes are technically for entertainment purposes only.
For starters, UVA is one of the best defensive teams in the country. Hell, they are probably THE best defensive team in the country. Their pack line D ranks third nationally by kenpom in adjusted defensive efficiency (behind two upstart programs from the Commonwealth of Kentucky). But with that said, I feel like we got solid shots. I hear/read a lot of Ram fans questioning the offense, folks railing against “the weave”. But from the footage I watched (all of it), I thought we got some pretty nice looks. Unfortunately getting nice looks is half the battle. VCU shot 44.4% inside the arc and 29.2% beyond it. Jordan Burgess had a chance to cut the UVA lead to three late in the game, just after JeQuan’s palming call that was followed by a tough shot made by UVA’s Perrantes. He missed. On the following possession UVA’s Evan Nolte found himself open deep after Perrantes drew VCU’s defenders in. Nolte did not miss. Both players got good looks. Both are good shooters. One made it, one missed. The difference? Instead of trailing three and maintaining momentum the Rams found themselves down nine just like that. After the Nolte make Graham had an opportunity to cut that lead back down to seve but had a floater rim out. That’s a shot Graham almost always makes, particularly late in the game. Those shots just weren’t falling, even if the looks were good.
This has been my biggest beef with the Rams this season. Unfortunately I have “studied” just one game to disprove what I believed to be true. I probably need a larger sample size to satisfy my own beefs but based off the VCU v UVA tape, I thought our gameplan was solid. The problem with the D wasn’t the D itself, but the execution. The biggest offender? Arguably our best defender: Briante Weber. We love Briante. He will go down as a VCU legend, a fan favorite and most likely the NCAA’s all-time leading steals leader. He’ll also go down as one of my all-time favorite Rams to ever wear the uniform. I may shed a tear when he graduates. But if Bri wants to take his team as far as his steals total, he’ll need to find a better balance of being the havoc-wreaking Bri we know and an Ed Nixon-style lockdown defender who simply stays in front of his man. I counted multiple occasions when Weber left his man to try and pick the pocket of an unsuspecting Wahoo, only to find himself out of position leaving his man either open for a three or a with a clear lane to the basket. He wasn’t the only player to do so, but the most frequent offender. VCU guards MUST do a better job of locking down in the halfcourt.
THE OTHER GUYS
Let’s be honest, we all hate to see UVA have any success (minus Tony Bennett, who is a great guy…and also Mike London, who we like because he follows us on Twitter). UVA has enough money, so the last thing I need to see is something else going the way of a Wahoo grad or student, or anyone who lives in Charlottesville for that matter. But the reality is the Hoos played a GREAT game. They shot a ridiculous 68.3% from the field including 54.5% from distance (6-11). Am I concerned that other teams seem to be having those nights against us as well (ODU, Villanova, etc)? You bet. But I can tell you after really digging my heels into this one, VCU v UVA, that these guys just made shots. Did they get some open looks? Yes. But they also made some TOUGH shots. Lots of tough shots. What’s more is they hit shots exactly when they needed them, and exactly when VCU couldn’t throw a beach ball into the ocean. For example, here’s just one sequence like that I noted:
-Rams pull it to six at 15:14 mark…officials stop clock after UVA player slips on turnover, kills a VCU fast break (VCU 6-0 run, play stoppage erases a Briante 3 that would have cut the lead to 3).
-Bri misses a layup that should have been made.
-UVA answers with an easy layup (2-0 run) (goes past Jordan and Mo)
-Lewis bad shot
-UVA nice jumper from decent range (not terrible D), extends lead back to 10.
So some bad luck in their with the refs stopping a VCU fast break (which we’ll get to shortly), but VCU still misses what should have been an easy bucket, catches a sleeping VCU on the other end, VCU responds with a bad shot then UVA responds with a tough shot that goes in. That’s basically the night in a nutshell.
It’s weak sauce to blame the officials, but here are some officiating issues I noted that came at rough times for the Rams:
-Rams pull it to six at 15:14 mark…officials stop clock after UVA player slips on turnover, kills a VCU fast break (VCU 6-0 run, erases a Briante 3 that would have cut the lead to 3)
-VCU steal, JeQuan called for palming (6:21) (VCU had cut the lead to 4 at that point)
I’ve never seen a ref stop a fastbreak because someone on the other team fell down. The JeQuan palming call was interesting as well, and arguably a major momentum killer because VCU had cut the lead to four. Both calls halted VCU runs.
BALL BOYS OFFICIALLY EFFECTING GAMEPLAY
We all love when the youth is involved, but not when it can effect the outcome of a game. Officials stopped the action three times Saturday because of wet spots on the floor, a problem noted by the crew calling the game live on ESPNU. And truth be told, it’s been an issue for a while now. I sit right next to the kids every game, and while I love kids (I have two of my own), VCU needs to seriously revaluate having eight-year olds involved in such a position. For starters, there’s the aforementioned stoppage of play. That has an effect on the game and in this particular instance cost VCU at least three crucial points. I also question just how safe their position on the court is. As a cameraman sitting on the baseline directly beside the basket I’ve taken my fair share of charges from players barreling out of control, including the likes of SLU’s 6’6 230-lb bruiser, Dwayne Evans. That one wasn’t fun, but I’m 6’1 170 pounds of pure muscle. You get a guy like Evans, or god forbid… Mo Alie-Cox, barreling into an eight-year old, and you have one banged up third-grader. Like I said, I LOVE kids, love love love, but half the time I sit next to them I’m having to tell them their presence is being requested by the officials to go out and clean the floor. Time to increase the age limit required to do that job.
A few other random notes I jotted down from rewatching the game:
–The Peppas “Turn Down for What” sounds horrible on TV (and in person).
Even the best bands make questionable decisions from time to time (like the Beatles’ ‘Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand’, their German recording of ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’). This is perhaps the Peppas most questionable. In person it sounds like your neighbor’s high school son started a Rage Against the Machine cover band and they are practicing ‘Killing In The Name Of’ for the first time. Dear Peppas, you are the best band in the land…and you are much much better than this. Strike this one from the set list, I beg of you.
–Random note: Tillman looking good
I am a HUGE Justin Tillman fan and was really impressed with his showing in limited minutes Saturday. In 13 minutes of action Tillman posted an offensive rating of 95, his second best rating of the year and against a VERY experienced UVA front court that is loaded with size and talent. Sure, he picked up three fouls, but I didn’t see any dumb ones from Mr. Glass (or at least didn’t note any). Tillman was 2-4 from the field and added three rebounds, one block and an assist. Tillman’s 10.1 blocks percentage actually leads VCU so Mo ain’t the only one sayin’ “No” these days. I love how hard he attacks on offense, defense, rebounding, shot-blocking, you name it. He is all motor from the Motor City. Tillman seems to be carving out a larger role for himself as well so it should be fun watching him grow this season. Rams could have another dangerous piece by the time we get to Brooklyn.
–The whiteout looked great
One man’s opinion, but I thought VCU’s first REAL whiteout (meaning free shirts for all) looked very nice both in person and on TV. So far the only miss I’ve seen when free t-shirts has been involved was the “Check the Stu” event tried last year. Goldout, Blackout, Whiteout, Stripe the Stu, all success in my book.
–Crowd great, great job by VCU marketing
Thanks to the crowd for being amazing against UVA and thanks to VCU Athletics marketing for stringing together a great show outside of the game. I’ve thought the PA sound level had been too low in previous games so was happy to hear things officially get cranked (as it should be every game) against UVA. Folks will survive if the intros, etc are too loud at the start of the game. I will however be extremely depressed if they aren’t loud enough. I thought both videos looked and sounded great before the game on Saturday and the crowd added to the effect by singing along for the most part with the intro. I still believe that intro’s (the “It’s Havoc You Fear” intro) sound however could use some tweaking (needs to be remastered for the venue) but that’s a bit nitpicky.