This past October I wrote an article about why I believed in VCU and the direction of this program under new Rams head coach Will Wade, mostly as a response to all the crap our program was catching nationally thanks to last year’s offseason departure of Shaka Smart and the transfers and decommitments that came with that.
NBC in particular wrote a piece about “Programs on the decline”, highlighting VCU and Florida due to the losses of head coaches Shaka Smart and Billy Donovan. That sparked my article and a brief Twitter exchange between myself and click-bait master, Rob Dauster. Below is the start and the gist of that conversation.
Not only did VCU not decline, not only did Will Wade and the Rams survive unscathed, but in many ways they improved.
Exhibit A: Rams share A-10 regular season crown for the first time since joining the A-10
Will Wade’s Rams did something Shaka Smart’s never did: win a share of the Atlantic 10 regular season title. That’s not to dismiss any of VCU’s previous seasons in the conference, we’ve had some great ones. The black and gold finished second in a stacked Atlantic 10 in 2013 — then featuring the likes of Xavier, Butler and Temple — the Rams’ first season joining the league (the most impressive regular season finish still, IMO). They repeated that the following season before taking a dip last year thanks to an unexpected Briante Weber injury as well as missed games by Treveon Graham. But at the end of the day this VCU team became the very first Rams team to ever win a share of the A-10 regular season title and that in my mind is something the suggests just the opposite off a declining program, because well, that’s an inarguable and measurable improvement.
Exhibit B: VCU wins in NCAA tournament for the first time since 2013
Will Wade left his position as VCU assistant to take the head honcho gig at UT Chattanooga after the Rams’ 2012-13 season that ended with a loss to national runn-erup Michigan after routing Akron in the first round in Auburn Hills. The Rams went 0-2 in their following two NCAA tournaments without Wade on the sidelines, dropping consecutive opening round games as the higher seed in each of VCU’s two tournaments without Wade. In his first year back on Broad Street, Wade led the Rams to yet another NCAA tournament, VCU’s sixth consecutive appearance and once again got them back in the win column (meaning VCU has won a tournament game every time they’ve had Wade on the sidelines in an appearance), knocking off Oregon State before coming up just four points shy of shocking Oklahoma 20 minutes from their Norman campus. Ironically, VCU opened the OKC regional with a win over a power conference team while former Rams coach, Shaka Smart, ended that day’s session with a loss to a so-called “mid-major” in Northern Iowa. We were in the building for both (ok, I lied…we left the Texas game just after halftime and thanks to a hot bar tip missed one of the most epic finishes in NCAA tournament history. Doh!)
Exhibit C: The numbers
VCU lost their second leading scorer in the history of the program with the graduation of Treveon Graham and arguably one of the best defensive players in the history of college basketball with the graduation of Briante Weber. Out as well went VCU’s second highest rated recruit ever with the transfer of Terry Larrier (high school top-50 recruit) and the entirety of VCU’s Shaka Smart-recruited 2015 class, two of which were top-100 recruits. Despite those losses, VCU improved their offensive efficiency on the season, up to 109.7 from 108 the previous season, seeing an increase in effective field goal percentage to above 50% for the first time in three seasons (coincidentally the season before Wade left). Defensively VCU took just a minor dip, going from the 24th most efficient defense in the country (94.3) to the 25th (95.5). Not bad considering the losses and the limited time in which Will Wade had to plug those holes.
As validated as my offseason opinions feel after a successful weekend in Oklahoma City (underrated town, by the way), there’s obviously still work to do. The Rams will lose Melvin Johnson and Korey Billbury from this year’s team and will have to plug the holes left from their 2015-16 production — about 28 points plus a whole bunch of leadership. But like I wrote before this season and like we’ve all seen time and time again, someone always steps up. VCU was far from on the decline before Will Wade won a game as head coach of the Rams and will be far from declining when losing this year’s seniors. And now the world knows it.