Welcome everyone to college basketball’s favorite game show, Poise or Panic. I’m your host, Bilas Vitale, and in the next 30 minutes we’re going to take your temperature on how you see the prospects of your basketball team after a tough loss for a chance to win cash and prizes. One lucky winner gets an all-expense paid trip to the final four.
Today’s contestants: the VCU Rams, fresh off a heartbreaking buzzer beating loss at St. Bonaventure.
It’s an awful feeling to lose at the buzzer. It’s a gut punch, and you lose your lunch money.
It’s also a different feeling than getting blown out, in fact a polar opposite. In a blowout you can point to concepts such as not good enough but generally that’s rooted in how well the opponent played. You can chalk up a large portion of a blowout loss to garbage time. It also haunts you for an extended period because it connotes a terrible feeling that you are not close to being the success you want.
In a buzzer beater you carve up every play as if that one play made the difference in the game. It’s never really like that but it’s a natural feeling. I prefer the buzzer beater. Yes there are reasons you lost and there are things to work on, but they seem all part of a season. It doesn’t take away that awful feeling, but it makes it easier to bounce back because you focus on what’s next.
I’ll spare you the patronizing “VCU didn’t have Graham and Weber and still took a well-coached team to the wire on their court.” While a fact, and it matters, that’s not what stands out to me.
There were significant lapses in the defense–especially in the first five minutes of each half–and Bona’s Dion Wright caused all kinds of problems for the VCU offense. It was Jarred Guest, Melvin Johnson, and a bunch of underclassmen. And it showed in many moments.
But here’s what I’m leading up to. VCU should’ve lost this game by double digits. Bona played well, some due to VCU not playing well, and led by double digits in the second half. By all rights, Bona should’ve stretched out the lead. They didn’t. It took a leaning hip-shot at the horn to push back this Rams team.
This VCU team has a chippy nature, a certain sonofabitchness, that I like. They may not be playing well but they will keep coming at you.
The fact of the matter is that every team in college basketball will play well and play poorly. Players will have good games and bad games. VCU has the talent and skills such that when they play well, there’s a darn good chance they will win. But that doesn’t happen every night. You need something else on those not-so-good nights. VCU wasn’t great at Rhody. Not great (and without Graham) at Duquesne. I submit there was a chemistry and connectedness, and a sonofabitchness, that carried the day.
It may not always carry the day, but it is a valuable asset for a team.
There were steps forward. I was happy to see Jordan Burgess knock down some shots. JeQuan Lewis was outstanding, and Mo Alie Cox once again made his presence felt in the paint.
From the minutiae department, but important: Terry Larrier is beginning to do things, things that don’t appear in the boxscore. Things that call the boxscore a liar.
On one sequence, two Rams got confused switching on a ball screen. It was a half-hearted screen so the switch was an iffy call, and the communication wasn’t fully there. So both VCU defenders were in no man’s land, and Youssou Ndoye was left standing wide open, six feet from the basket. Larrier was guarding baseline and saw this unfold and immediately shot the gap to the center and got in front of Ndoye. Now, 10 seconds later Larrier–in a physical mismatch but fighting his skinny butt off–was called for a foul on Ndoye. The box score will say a foul on Larrier, but he prevented a dunk by being alert on defense.
Funny thing. The gut punch (and need for someone to buy me lunch) is passing as I write those last three paragraphs.
If you’re obsessing about conference records and NCAA tournament seeds, stop it. You are trying to write a future that isn’t written. Don’t fall into a myopia that denies you the ability to see what’s going on with this team, what they are building. Five years ago, when VCU was begging for 11 seeds and nervous about the conference tournament finals, it was a popular refrain that there was no real difference in seeds 3-6.
So apply that now that VCU is on the other side of the seed line.
Watch them build. Treveon Graham will be back. And this adversity and the expanded roles and fight and scrap of each player is an essential part of it all. The young guys are getting experience, valuable experience. The old guys, both of them, are rounding into shape. Remember, the Freight Train is resting more than his ankle.
Side note–don’t underestimate The Melvin’s contributions that have nothing to do with shooting.
It stinks that we lost. It stinks that we lost at the buzzer. But let’s deal with March in March. Be poised. Don’t panic.