Last night I watched Wisconsin hand my Rams a loss on a game-winner for the Badgers then had to jump into a car and drive six hours home. Those nights are rough.
But before I get into my video work for the morning and have to watch that all over again, I want to give my quick thoughts on the weekend.
How high are expectations at VCU? Pretty damn high. That’s a good thing if you ask me, but also consider just how quickly things have changed.
Nov 22 and 25, 2008: VCU is in year-three of the Anthony Grant era, led by a senior guard named Eric Maynor and has a roster full of talented sophomores like future NBA Draft pick Larry Sanders as well as eventual Final 4 players Joey Rodriguez, Brandon Rozzell and Ed Nixon, not to mention a freshman version of Bradford Burgess. After two nice wins over The Citadel and South Dakota State, VCU drops their next two games, losing on the road to kenpom’s 63rd ranked team that season, Rhode Island, followed by an OT loss at the 218th-ranked team that year, ECU. That same team would go on to lose two more games to teams ranked 200th or lower (Delaware at 205 and UNCW at 298) before eventually falling to UCLA by one point in the NCAA tournament.
Nov 18, 2009: Coming off a season-opening win over Bethune Cookman under new head coach Shaka Smart, the Rams head to Western Michigan where they fall 83-67, one of their five losses that season to sub-100 teams before going on to win the CBI Championship in their first season under their new head coach. It would be their final season with junior Larry Sanders before being selected 15th overall in the NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks. VCU’s group of juniors would go on to advance to the Final 4 the following season.
Jan 3, 2011: VCU’s eventual Final 4 team loses to kenpom No.220 team, Georgia State, falling by 10 to the Panthers.
Nov 17 & 18, 2011: VCU competes in the Charleston Classic after opening the season with a six-point home win over St. Francis PA. The Rams drop their first Classic game to No.59 Seton Hall Pirates by 15 points, then follow that up with a 13-point loss to No.177 Georgia Tech.
Nov 21, 2013: 85-67, Florida State runs VCU out of the gym, and if you remember watching that game the score oddly enough makes the game look even closer than it actually was.
Nov 24…last year: 77-53, Villanova routs a Treveon Graham and Briante Weber-led VCU squad.
Sorry to have to take you all down that painful bit of memory lane but my point being Ram fans are waking up HOT this morning due to losses to the two teams that made up last year’s National Championship game, two teams VCU led for a good bit of this year’s 2K Classic. Sure, Wisconsin ain’t the same team they were last year, dropping a game already to Western Illinois (who, oh-by-the-way is undefeated and is literally the best three-point shooting in the country right now, having connected on an INSANE 63.6% of their threes this season…repeat: not one game…63.6% THIS SEASON. They are also the No.2 defense in guarding two-point shots, so watch out for Western Illinois!), but they remain one of the top programs in the country and a team that is consistently toward the top of the national standings.
The same could be said for Duke. The Blue Devils lost a ton of talent but opened the season with this year’s No.1 recruiting class and beat VCU with a lineup that for the most part used their most experienced players.
Both of those teams we just faced also happen to be led by two Hall of Fame coaches in Coach K and Bo Ryan. Our 32-year old head coach just went toe-to-toe with those guys despite the fact we just lost one of our best offensive players in the history of our program in Treveon Graham (second in career points at VCU behind Eric Maynor) as well as one of the best defensive players in the history of college basketball: Briante Weber.
Allow all of that to sink in.
VCU is at a place, for better or for worse, where we as fans are yelling at our coaches and players on social media and message boards for losing games we should have won to Duke and Wisconsin. DUKE AND WISCONSIN!
I guess we’ve officially arrived.
Ahmed Hamdy – VCU’s JUCO transfer averaged 11.5 points in 18.5 minuters per contest this weekend against two legit blue blood programs in Duke and Wisconsin. He was 11-18 from the field and has hit 62.5% of his attempts this season. Offensively he’s easily one of the most polished bigs I’ve seen at VCU and can’t be ignored as a legit option for this year’s VCU teams.
Melvin Johnson – The Melvin averaged 20.5 points in his two games this weekend and had the Rams pulled out those games Johnson’s name is in the national conversation. He’s connected on a ludicrous 53.6% of his three-point attempts this season including a blistering 60% against Duke and Wisconsin. He also has just three turnovers this entire season.
VCU fans – VCU fans represented well at Madison Square Garden, buying up all the tickets they could get and being a very vocal presence that competed well against three programs who have been three of the top programs in the country for a long time.
Defense – VCU’s defense, particularly in defending twos, was pretty terrible. The black and gold allowed Duke to connect on 60% of their two-point attempts followed by a 53.8% night from Wisconsin. Heading into this season I wrote how our interior defense would be a strength due to the shot-blocking prowess of Mo Alie-Cox and Justin Tillman but this weekend that just wasn’t the case (both played limited minutes against Wisconsin though, particularly Tillman). And our guards frankly could not contain Duke’s Grayson Allen and Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig who combined for 52 points against the Rams including a then career-high for Allen (before breaking it the next game against Georgetown) and a second best career game for Koenig. I will now forever have a fear of 6’4 white combo guards.
FREE THROWS! – It’s simple, if VCU is just decent at hitting free throws versus Wisconsin, they win. But 17-29 (58.6%) doomed the Rams last night.
VCU will get set to host American in a bounce-back game this Wednesday night at the Siegel Center. After that the Rams will welcome Old Dominion back to the Siegel Center, the Monarchs coming off a two-game losing streak of their own including a blowout loss to Purdue and a two-point neutral court loss to Saint Joseph’s.