We had some fun last night, all 7600 of us. Imagine that, a Friday night after a long week’s work, and That Animal had a voracious appetite to make a meal out of a division 2 team in a game that didn’t even count.
There may be a million people in China who don’t care, but VCU basketball is something special, and it’s back. As VCU SID Scott Day said, it was giant family reunion.
The best part for me last night was watching Will Wade. The head coach, who had to show ID to gain access to the locker room, was in midseason intensity form. Wade did his best to play the role of cross-armed statue, a cigar store Indian silently watching over the events in front of him.
But he couldn’t help himself. Wade barked at his team and the officials and it was glorious. I’ll be honest: Wade was toeing the line of getting a technical foul, and I would’ve loved it if he had.
Who wouldn’t want to play–and cheer–for a coach who cares so much he gets teed up in an exhibition?
Postgame, Wade dissected weak-side rebounds and square ups with a February fervor, not a November nonchalance. It was a clinic in cognitive clarity. You had the feeling Wade could not only remember specific plays during the game, but he could walk the entire press room out to the specific spot on the floor it occurred and point.
“Right here. Right doggone here.”
It was 6:30 when I rolled out of bed this morning, and VCU is 0-0. And that’s the real point. The easy metaphor for last night is the dress rehearsal, and I guess that’s okay, but for me last night was more like wearing a bathing suit: it shows you everything, but then again it shows you nothing.
You want your team to be challenged and punched in the teeth in an exhibition. VCU got that in the first half, but much was due to VCU, not California. It was still an 11-point game when Wade called timeout with about nine minutes to go and unleashed on his team.
Wade is an X and O savant, but this timeout was all about messaging. Finish strong and bury your opponent. VCU went on a 37-12 finishing kick.
So what does that tell us? Everything, and nothing. But we had some fun, no?
Here’s my list of Things I Did See:
Not once did the offense get into what Wade calls a “clock-down” situation. At no point did VCU set up in the customary 1-4 Flat offense and attack the rim with one high ball screen because the shot clock was under 10.
We were running offense. Yes it was clunky at times, and yes there were too many loose turnovers, but it was November 6. What’s more, both Melvin Johnson and Korey Billbury admitted they were jittery and excited because they got to play someone in a different color uniform. They needed to settle down, which they did with Wade’s “help” at halftime.
VCU also looked very organized on fast breaks and in open floor situations. Same deal–some were sloppy and I think guys got ahead of themselves and tried to do too much, but the open floor attack had a different look and feel to it.
Eight times last season VCU shot 6-22 from three or worse, so I’m not necessarily worried about the three-point shooting. And while BA Walker is not walking through that door, Doug Brooks will help. I was encouraged by a semblance of a midrange game. I specifically remember Justin Tillman, Billbury, and Ahmed Hamdy hitting 10-12 foot jumpers.
In the postgame Wade mentioned they took too many threes early. That’s worth pondering a bit. You see, if there is midrange success, Wade has noted he wants to throw the ball in the post, and 22 threes in a scrimmage is too many, you’d better get used to a different-looking VCU offense.
Tightening things up and the coaching staff continuing to emphasize details is part of growth. I’m worried if we’re having the same conversation in December, but I left last night feeling good about the VCU offense.
The defense is another story.
Rotations were late or non-existent, and it was obvious why the coaching staff spent so much time on defense in the past week. I’m betting it will be the majority of time in the coming week as well.
Wade was calm but pointed in his postgame comments, and you could see him seething under the surface. There’s late rotations in which a player tried to make up for it with hustle–again, fixable–and there’s getting after it.
I’ll give them a pass because they are learning a very complex new defense, but just like the jitters I’ll worry if we’re having the same conversation in December. And like Jeff Capel told me years ago, “I’m worried if I have to coach effort. I need to coach the game.”
Billbury and Hamdy were the two most notable players last night. Billbury is going to stuff stat sheets all season. He won’t lead the team in any single category except maybe minutes played. Billbury seems like the guy that isn’t great at any one thing, but he is very good at a lot of things. There’s ridiculous value in that.
Hamdy showed some offensive polish, and closed hard on shooters–sometimes because he was late, but he is always working and involved in plays. He’s one of those nose for the ball guys–when something is going on, he is usually in the middle of it.
Jordan Burgess looked like a different player. He spent a great deal of last season looking like he was wearing a life jacket that was three sizes too small and carrying around a 40-pound backpack. There was a noticeable lack of stress to his game, a calmness. Put a marker on that.
Jonny Williams is vvvveeeerrryyy interesting. He offered great ball pressure, which is important in the defensive schemes. Williams also hot-knife-through-buttered on offense. Like Burgess, Williams’ mind appears to be in a different place–a good thing. Put another marker there.
As Robby so smartly said last night, nobody is better at turning 1-8 into 7-17 than The Melvin. It was a tough first half for Johnson, and his first shot of the second half hit the side of the backboard. Two possessions later Johnson didn’t hesitate and fired. Swish.
And where does that leave us?
Six days from the actual opener.