We left New York, after the Duke and Wisconsin losses, with a bee sting.
I felt like we should’ve gotten that win over the Badgers, and I hit the New Jersey Turnpike with my head pointed to the sky, both arms extended over my shoulders, palms open and fingers clenched like I was holding a softball.
It was the missed opportunity bee sting. It hurt, but in a couple days, with the salve inevitably provided by a victory over a lesser opponent, all would be well except for the lingering itch.
Sunday’s loss to Florida State was altogether different. Oh, it was a missed opportunity, for certain, but this is a bad-taste-in-your-mouth loss. It’s that wallpaper paste you get on the inside of your cheeks when Stellas outnumbered waters the night before.
It requires a thorough brushing.
As for the game itself, let’s go bullet points:
- The Melvin. There really are no words. I don’t remember Nick George’s 36 points against William & Mary. I do remember Willie Taylor’s afternoon against Evansville. We are going to remember Sunday’s performance for years. Great granny.
- The game was probably a little too fast for Hamdy, and possibly Justin Tillman. There will be games both of those guys dominate, and others where its characteristics don’t play well into their ability to contribute. I’m not worried there.
- If you are concerned about Jordan Burgess’ minutes and lack of production, you have lost your mind. Next game watch him for every moment he does not have the ball in his hands.
- Xavier Rathan-Mayes was 4-26 from three going into the game, and 4-5 from three on Sunday. I mean, come on.
- Boris Bojanovsky is everything Blaine Taylor wanted Sam Harris to be but never was. Big goofy guy that blocks shots and impacts everything at the rim.
- Hello, Mike Gilmore. Keep moving forward big guy.
- Mo Alie-Cox played his butt off. I love everything he gave us on Sunday. Forget numbers, he showed up to battle.
In all, we cannot rely on The Melvin to shoot like he did. There will be nights where step-back NBA-range threes will not swish–and I laughed writing those words–so we need to get contributions from elsewhere.
As Will Wade said postgame, we’ve got to get more consistency and help from other guys.
Korey Billbury does a pretty good job, and Hamdy will help here and there, and Mike Gilmore shows potential, but I’m looking straight at two guys.
Doug Brooks and JeQuan Lewis.
Let me be clear. I frigging love Doug Brooks. The kid gets after it every minute he’s on the floor. As we said last year, it’s like he’s on roller skates, and one skate has three wheels and you never really know what’s going to happen, but something is darned well is going to happen when he is on the floor. I guess I’m after some offensive consistency from Doug.
Lewis, on the other hand, can REALLY help us become a multi-dimensional offensive team. It’s quite simple and there’s no getting around it: JeQuan Lewis has got to play better at point guard.
I don’t mean that as a gigantic dig, nor is it something that he cannot overcome. I’m also not trying to be some sort of basketball savant. I’m not in practices, and I don’t watch tape outside of replaying all of our games on the DVR.
This is plain to the naked, untrained eye. There is not one team in the country–from Kentucky to Cal-Santa Barabara–that can survive seven turnovers in one half from its point guard.
It’s like what Robby and I talk about all the time as it relates to three-point shooting. After VCU knocks down a couple, the guys need to take good threes instead of falling in love with the three-pointer and jacking up bad shots.
It’s the same deal: driving to the rim against American will be successful. But you can’t fall in love with that attack, because driving to the rim against Florida State, or Dayton, or some Big Ten team in March, is a wholly different affair.
I’m not going to pretend to know what the adjustment needs to be–VCU runs an actual offense this year that features much more ball movement. But I know it isn’t turnovers and ill-fated drives to the rim.
Here’s where the angst turns into a positive, and why I continue to be VERY positive about what this team can become. I mean that, too.
Every bit of that is “clean up on aisle four” activity. In fairness to Lewis, everyone can clean things up a little. Re-routing JeQuan, understanding defensive rotations, and putting Mike Gilmore and Justin Tillman in positions to succeed–and those two having the confidence to take advantage–are all very straightforward measures. A healthy Jonny Williams is important, and inevitable.
Remember last year: if Mo Alie-Cox was in foul trouble, VCU was sunk. There was no beef to contest anything. This year’s team has all the parts, including an actual scrappiness you need to play at this level in March.
One more comparison: two years ago Florida State jumped out to a quick 14-point lead against VCU, and five minutes later the lead was 24. This year, it took about five minutes to get the lead back into single digits.
This team is better than either of the last two years’ teams in early December. This team has a toughness those last two teams could not approach. This team has size.
It simply needs to grow, much like those past two years teams. Those teams grew like they hit puberty in their Decembers. That’s what made them very successful late in the year, and Atlantic 10 champions.
And I have no problem with The Melvin shooting a bunch. If he needs to score 20 points every night, so be it. A dominant scorer is not a bad thing. It worked with Phil Stinnie. It worked with Chris Cheeks. It worked with Eric Maynor.
If you are hell bent on finding an issue with this team, having a dominant scorer ain’t on the list. Period. In fact, that’s the point: this team has no “issue” that’s different from any team, any season. It’s called getting better.
Here’s the summary: if it takes a foul-tasting loss to Florida State in December to recalibrate and spur growth, I’m very, very happy.
You see, I like this team. A lot. It’s built for March success. We just have to grow our way there.