The morning after: Coming to grips with .500 and the great player difference [INSIDER]
Let’s waste no time getting to the hard fact: VCU is 5-5, the Rams worst start since the 2005 season.
That season the black and gold were coming off their first NCAA tournament bid in eight years before stumbling out of the gates to a 4-6 non-conference finish that season, with three close losses to kenpom sub-100 teams and two road blowouts to the two OOC top-100s they played that year.
The losses have been more forgivable this season — all to top-100 teams, four to top-50s and all basically close games — but they are losses just the same. To many Ram fans 5-5 has never happened before thanks to a fan base that exploded following VCU’s historic 2011 Final 4 season.
Well, it’s here, and we’re about to find out who’s down to roll with the Rams even when times are tough.
VCU will get a chance to add three quick wins during the remainder of non-conference play, hosting their final three opponents, all of which currently reside outside of kenpom’s top-100.
We’ll get a Tuesday night matchup against a Buffalo Bulls program that lost their coach and their two best players coming into this season (sound familiar?), followed by a Sunday matchup with Liberty (kenpom No.344 out of 351 teams), then wrap things up with a tricky home game against a dangerous but relatively unknown North Florida team.
In other words we’ve got three games over the holidays against three teams that aren’t exactly household names.
Is the sellout streak in danger? We’ll find out just how strong our fanbase is and just how rowdy the Rams are over the next two weeks.
RAMS ADJUSTING TO LOSS OF TWO GREAT PLAYERS (SURPRISE!)
Here’s a fact that will blow your mind: Last year VCU went 0-2 without Treveon Graham and Briante Weber in the lineup. Weird, right?
Those two losses were a 73-71 VCU loss at St. Bonaventure (kenpom No.108) and a 74-69 2OT home loss at La Salle (kenpom No.104).
Stats in VCU’s two games without both Graham/Weber last season versus 2015-16 season averages:
offensive 2p% = 39.8% (this season = 42.3%)
defensive 2p% = 47.8% (this season = 35.2%)
offensive 3p% = 26.6% (this season = 36.8%)
defensive 3p% = 34.3% (this season = 35.2%)
turnover margin = +5/game
rebound margin = -3.5/game
The Rams went 5-5 during the regular season after losing Weber and 9-6 overall. VCU lost two games to sub-100 teams and had a 4-4 overall record against kenpom top-100 teams sans Weber, all of those wins coming against conference opponents.
We obviously no longer have Weber but to boot lost VCU’s second all-time leading scorer as well in Treveon Graham (not to mention Terry Larrier, who I was admittedly bearish on late in the season).
I’m not making excuses for Will Wade. I definitely had higher expectations for this team and for the non-conference schedule based on apparently having too high of expectations for a jump I thought Tillman and Gilmore were going to make. While I definitely see progress there, it’s just not the “take over the game” type of breakout stuff my crystal ball tricked me into believing we’d get from a new style of frontcourt domination.
I’m not at all happy about our record but I guess I’m just gullible enough to believe smart people — in particular coaches — when they tell me we are going to be fine. I had more than one tell me that last night and I believe those guys.
Here was one of those coaches, VCU head coach Will Wade in what was one of the most epic post-game press conference answers I’ve had the privilege of filming.
“I know what we’re doing now is gonna work. We’ve got the right formula now. We tinkered with it a little bit in some of the earlier games but we’ve got the right formula now. Just like when I knew we had hit on it at Chattanooga, we’ve hit on it here. We’ve got the right formula, now we just gotta do it better.”
I guess if I had to make an excuse for this team it would be that apparently losing our two best players, one being one of our best offensive players of all time (2nd in scoring to just Eric Maynor), the other arguably our best defender of all time, apparently does has an impact on the team.
Who knew? Guess I didn’t. Lesson learned.
We’ve had two coaches in less than a year basically tell us that all involved parties need to “respect the process” and that players gotta make plays in order for a team to be successful. How many of us believe those guys?
Losing good players is a killer. We want to see other folks make jumps but we also have to admit there ain’t always an Eric Maynor or Treveon Graham waiting to take that jump.
I think these next three games will test just how strong of a fanbase we really have. VCU has been able to sellout 70-plus consecutive games because the going has been good. Now we’re 5-5 with three games against relatively unknown squads (to the casual fan that is) during holiday break. Does the streak survive?
Time to see what both the team and the fanbase are made of.