I didn’t see that coming, not by a country mile.
This was a big game, and VCU always shows up in big games. It’s never failed. Now, we’ve certainly lost big games, that comes with the territory, but there’s always been a VCUness to those contests. Hard-fought, spirited, and together. Sometimes you just get beat.
Even the misery of the Michigan game two NCAA tournaments ago was strangely acceptable. VCU was overmatched on that day by a team good enough to play in the NCAA championship game. You can process that outcome.
But last night was Jeff-Capel-driving-a-van-around-Richmond pain.
We’ve seen this team lose games in any number of ways, but never this way. That’s the weird part. Two things stuck out to me.
One, it looks like VCU is working at basketball. Everything the Rams did last night seemed as if it also came with a job to fold laundry or mow the lawn. Easy things did not look easy. Juxtaposed, Davidson was playing basketball. The Wildcats moved with a freedom and confidence that was strikingly different than the visitors.
And that’s the second thing that jumped out at me.
There was no edge. Davidson was the first to the floor on loose balls early in the game, and VCU made mental mistakes we don’t normally see. We were low energy from the game’s second possession and once Davidson smelled blood it pounced.
On one play, two VCU defenders waited for a ball to roll off the rim, flat-footed. Meanwhile, a Davidson player jumped at the rim, right between the VCU players, and tipped the ball in.
It was confusing and confounding, because that’s not how we’ve become accustomed to seeing this team play. Many times on defense it wasn’t even that VCU was a step slow; they just weren’t there. The game was not in doubt when this occurred, but one play stands out in my mind.
Jonny Williams had switched on a screen and was stuck guarding Davidson’s Peyton Aldridge, a 6-8 big man. Now that’s not normally a terrifying spot. VCU switches screens and is often in this position. The guard, Williams in this instance, is taught to fight for over position or even front the bigger player to make an entry pass tough. The guard has weak side help coming if the pass is thrown down low.
The bet: the entry pass is thwarted and thus the offense has to reset, or the help defense creates a double-team and advantage for VCU. Sometimes that help is late, and it’s frustrating.
However on this play help never came.
Mind you, this was not a quick catch-and-shoot spot where the other guy makes a great play and you tip your cap. Aldridge got the pass and Williams managed to rip it from his grasp. The ball hit the floor, and Aldridge collected it and then reset his feet. He then went straight up for the easy lay up on the overmatched Williams.
Williams more than did his job. But help never came, not even after Williams made the initial play.
And here is the sneaky thing about edge. One guy can’t have it.
Oh, one guy can lead it but edge is a team concept. You’ve seen it before. One guy on a team is barking his fool head off and the other four guys look at him like he is from Mars. Edge guy loses. Edge team wins.
You see, edge is the gasoline that fuels confidence, and confidence allows you to play freely. When you play freely you make things happen. When you make things happen your confidence grows. And growing confidence with the fuel of an edge?
Swagger, otherwise known as playing with a clear mind.
I’m not giving in. Not one bit. This is the very same team that bounced Tennessee–no Briante Weber. And we’ve seen the fire, we’ve seen the edge. It’s right there. They just need to remember what pocket they left it in.
I’m still charging into Brooklyn with a head of steam and a suitcase full of championship dreams. We’re headed to Barclay’s to do what we know we can do. I believe, and so should you.
Side note: I’m not overlooking George Mason. This holds true no matter what happens tomorrow. And side note, part 2: “overlooking an opponent” is a dumb concept, if you’re not actually a player or a coach.
Besides, we’ve been here before. Do you remember Humpty Hitchens? I do.
Kid played for James Madison and dropped four threes on us to close out the 2011 regular season, and there was much hand-wringing in RVA before it became #RVA. I am in no way making direct comparison from that year to this, however I do want to bring up a quote from a familiar face that sounds a lot like what Shaka Smart is talking about.
“We’ve got a lot to work on between now and next week. Simply put, we have to get better in every single area. This isn’t VCU basketball and we’ll work hard all week to show everyone what VCU basketball is exactly. It’s gut check time now. It’s up to us what we want from the rest of our college careers. Hopefully we’re able to show who we really are next week.”
That’s Joey Rodriguez after that JMU loss. Think those words, and that mindset, was given to him by the coach? You bet.
Rodriguez is showing us the way, four years later.