What A Long, Strange Trip It’s Been (So Far)…
Weird stuff, this February.
So weird, in fact, that after a long Monday and dinner with my family I chose to re-watch significant parts of the Richmond and Dayton games. Stella kept me from cursing at the invention of the DVR and it was much like The Kramer: it was “a loathesome, offensive brute. Yet I can’t look away.”
Side note: that last sequence of regulation in the Richmond game, from the Freight Train three to the ShawnDre Jones rim-rim-rim-exhale miss, was as exciting as it gets. I could watch that for hours.
However other than poor shooting, I remain stumped about what seems to be ailing this squad. It isn’t even that something is wrong; it’s more something that’s not right. Shaka Smart calls it having a clear mind, which is a concept we all think we understand but probably don’t. We will get to that in a minute.
The defense isn’t turning teams over by the shovel-full but is holding opponents to fewer points per game. VCU is not turning teams over and playing better defense? That’s weird.
We’re coping with an injury bug that’s more like a swarm of locusts. Weird.
The offense just looks weird.
And this may be weird to you, but I refuse to accept that there’s a problem with the offensive attack. It’s the same attack that obliterated Northern Iowa and made an instructional video out of UMass. It left GWs vaunted 1-3-1 zone whimpering in the corner of two venues.
Could the salve for everything be as simple as making more shots?
My biggest concern when Briante Weber went down for the season was not on defense; it was on offense. The kid had progressed to the point that, as a friend recently told me, “he was getting very good at being aggressive without being sloppy.” That is a staple of the VCU attack–aggressiveness without recklessness.
I think I was right, and I was dead wrong.
What we’re missing most is Weber’s fire, and his fearlessness. We’re missing those intangibles more than anything X and O related.
VCU is not getting the quick-strike steals as in games past, but the defense is more than good-enough. As written yesterday, I will take what we have on defense any year, all year.
But as I re-watched both Dayton and Richmond, it struck me how often the other four players on the court deferred to Treveon Graham. This was especially true in important possessions. The VCU center would come set a high ball screen, but really it was four players in more statue positions than attacking positions. When Graham was doubled (or tripled) and would be forced to pass, it led to others not being shot ready, or not in shot position.
However early in games there’s less deference, and a greater willingness by others to attack. Granted some of that involves getting outside the construction of the offense–reckless aggression–but the desire is there. The missed shots exacerbate the issue, as everyone gets a little tight. And tightness defeats the clear head. Only game experience can help soften the edges of that dynamic, and Weber was a senior.
Weber approached things completely opposite. He did what he could to get Graham involved as early as possible in games, but when things got late he was so very good at not being overly deferential to one of VCUs greatest ever players.
To wit: Graham hit the layup to beat Saint Louis, but on the possession prior, with VCU trailing by two points with 20 seconds to play, Weber found a shot ready Jordan Burgess for the big three.
And this bunch can do it, too. VCU was trailing Rhode Island by eight with seven minutes to play. JeQuan Lewis fed Mo Alie-Cox for a dunk, and then fed Terry Larrier for a layup and old school three-point play. You may remember Graham’s three that tied the game, but guys not named Weber nor Graham got us into that position.
A clear head for “it’s okay for me to take a wide open three instead of passing to Graham” will do this team wonders. And I think they have that freedom. It’s the (not so) simple act of making the shot that will cause a repeat action. Remember, we are 16-0 when shooting 42% or better.
I asked earlier could the salve for everything be as simple as making more shots? I think yes, absolutely. Everything flows from from The Big C–confidence–that comes from watching the ball go into the basket.
The one mathematical equation we haven’t written about or talked about: a clear head equals confidence. It’s ACL, true ACL: aggressive, confident, and loose. (Also friggin’ ironic acronym, no?)
Or, to use another Smartism: those guys made deposits with those plays. It’s March, and it’s time to make the withdrawals.