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Dayton 59, VCU 55: No Calendars Were Burned In The Writing Of This Recap…

Well, here we are.

The calendar has turned to March. We are 21-8, 11-5. We’ve split eight games since Briante Weber’s devastating knee injury. There are two games on the regular season docket before we head to Brooklyn.

It hasn’t been a turbulent 29 days, really, since Weber’s jump stop. It’s been more like trying to eat Jello with chopsticks. Every time we think we get a handle on things, it wiggles free of our mental grasp. I almost feel like that simple basketball move–jump stop–encapsulates the winding road from November to this morning.

Jump. And stop.

That dynamic has made what we all want–to understand the trajectory of this basketball team–a fool’s errand. Mrs. Gump has nothing on this basketball season. It’s brought us more of everything: expectations, drama, injuries, highs, lows.

Thoughts and beliefs.

All have been fleeting as this has been the season of impermanence.

And here were are. The calendar has turned to March.

***

Yesterday’s loss to Dayton did not feel good on any level. It dropped VCU to fourth place in the A10, bringing a Thursday game in Brooklyn onto the radar. That’s within our control, which I like, so let’s set that aside.

It was the second-straight gut punch for VCU–a winnable game that eluded the good guys. It underscores the dental-floss-thin line between winning and losing, and the losing side sickens your stomach and hurts your heart.

While there were defensive breakdowns yesterday, there are breakdowns in every game. Generally speaking, I don’t have a problem with the way we are playing defense. Dayton scored 59 points while turning the ball over just nine times. Richmond scored 52 points in regulation. SLU 54 points. GW 66 points. LaSalle 54 points in regulation.

Sure, the up-and-down frolic of live ball turnovers has subsided, but basketball is a results game, and the result is not very many points for VCU opponents.

However there’s no getting around a terrible shooting slump. The Rams misfired 19 times on 25 three-point attempts yesterday (12 misses in 14 second-half attempts) and shot 34% overall for the game. It seemed to converge yesterday into one, 40-minute, Herculean labor. Get a shot. Miss a shot. In close, out far, didn’t matter.

Just as hot shooting can mask bad offense, we are seeing the awful alter-ego. This is imperfect but attacking offense that’s made to look bad by the dearth of swishes.

In the second half, three times the offense found Treveon Graham wide open from three. Twice, JeQuan Lewis had an open three. Wide. Open. All five shots were missed. There was Melvin Johnson’s dunk attempt. Three layups in the first half that didn’t go in. Mo Alie-Cox at the very end.

It was, in a word, excruciating.

But that’s not bad offense. Those are point blank misses, and open three misses. You can argue that because we missed the shots, that makes it bad offense. And I agree with that statement; however I will add that there isn’t an offensive attack that’s any good if you don’t make the shots at the back end. Princeton, flex, weave, ball-screen three-man, whatever. Doesn’t matter if the shots don’t go in.

The VCU offense is predicated on making a defense defend the pick and roll, and then attacking it so that the defense has to break down and make a choice. The guard makes a read and finds the open man. It looks slow at times but it’s producing a sufficient number of open shots.

It’s what happens after that where we are struggling.

It can’t continue like this, not if we expect to win games in March, but let’s not pretend the offense that produced more than 70 points nine times during the 12-game winning streak is suddenly a train wreck.

Since the win over Duquesne on January 17, that’s VCUs last 12 games, the Rams have turned the ball over 10 or more times in four games. And it has not once been an epidemic. VCU turned the ball over 10 times against Richmond, 11 times at SLU, 13 times in the high-possession win over UMass, and 15 times in the double overtime loss to Richmond.

For the entire season, VCU turns the ball over on 15.1% of its possessions–that’s the eighth-best mark in the country. Our average length of possessions is 16.7 seconds–33rd nationally. In A10 games only, VCU is second in turnover rate (15.2%) and second in length of possession (16.5 seconds).

However VCU has not topped 50% overall in a game since East Tennessee State on December 22. In the past five losses, the Rams are 24-109 from three (22.0%). In the eight losses, that number is 41-175 (23.4%).

That’s a lot of supporting numbers that lead up to this hammer stat: VCU is 16-0 this season in games in which it has shot 42% or better.

That isn’t a gigantic number. It’s that dental-floss-thin line between winning and losing cropping up again.

And that’s where I land. This isn’t about fatal flaws, and we aren’t far away from taking on that March Look. The important thing is that the guys don’t let a few bricks spill over into the rest of the game. Confidence will quell hesitancy, and as I wrote two days ago after the Richmond game:

My concern is another phrase we’ve heard consistently from Smart: be shot ready and be confident. On more than one possession I felt a VCU player either wasn’t ready to shoot, or passed up an open three. Hesitancy is a damning trait in a game of aggression.

The shots will fall, as long as the players remain aggressive, confident, and loose.

Oh yes. It’s March. Time for the acronyms and fun wins.

***

Jonathan Williams deserves a mention. In the last five games he is leading the team with 12 assists (against only three turnovers) despite playing just 13 minutes per game. Williams has 15 assists and four turnovers in the eight games since Weber went down. He is clearly taking steps forward.

***

It’s an easy mark, but comparing this team to the 2011 team based on a tough February is pointless and, well, ridiculous. Nothing is the same outside of February pitfalls.

The one thing I will note is that the 2011 team flipped a switch. There was something, just under the surface, that they found. They collected it in their arms, and ran with it. I see the same thing with this team. If they can tap into whatever it is that cranks them up, look out.

Forget Dayton, as this is the season of impermanence. It will change because it always does. And Davidson had better beware.

***

I wanna have friends that I can trust,
that love me for the man I’ve become not the man I was.
I wanna have friends that will let me be
all alone when being alone is all that I need.
I wanna fit in to the perfect space,
feel natural and safe in a volatile place.
And I wanna grow old without the pain,
give my body back to the earth and not complain.
Will you understand when I am too old of a man?
And will you forget when we have paid our debt
who did we borrow from? Who did we borrow from?

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