The thud of a full plane carrying roughly 30 members of the VCU basketball traveling party, 15 administrators, and more than 100 fans hitting the runway at RIC was the second-largest thump Saturday.
Five hours earlier, in a freezing cold American Airlines Arena in Miami, the VCU basketball team barely moved the thermometer in a 64-46 loss to Illinois. The ultimate arbiter, a loss, is not close to as surprising as how we got there. This was not the team we are used to seeing take the floor.
Sure, the shooting was cold: 30% overall and a 2-18 mark from three. You’re not going to tickle the twine every night. It didn’t have to be that bricktastic.
“We were terrible. We were soft. We were weak with the ball,” Wade told me in a brief but very clear postgame interview. “We were weak on offense…we got exactly what we deserved….we settled for jump shots. When you do that, that’s what happens. You shoot a low percentage and you get killed.”
And VCU got killed. Sure, Illinois had a frustrating zone that flummoxed the Rams for most of the afternoon. But much of that was because of the way VCU attacked–or did not attack–that zone. The Rams ended up not making a field goal in the final 7:37 of the contest.
I like to pick out a sequence that helps tell the story of “what happened,” to lend color to the stats, to support everyone’s personal eye test. Yesterday afternoon, that “small” sequence consisted of the first 15 minutes of the second half.
VCU trailed by 10 at the half, 31-21. Such is life. You head to the locker room, make adjustments, reset, and come out firing. And that’s exactly what occurred.
The Rams began the second half flying around on defense, and moving the ball on offense. It was a familiar sight. An 11-0 run got the game to 35-34, and momentum was clearly in the favor of the white-clad good guys.
Here’s the issue: they stopped being aggressive. How do I know? Illinois was whistled for its sixth foul of the second half at the 16:02 mark, meaning the Rams would head to the foul line on every foul after that point. That’s ridiculously early, ridiculously beneficial, and indicative of an aggressive mindset. They weren’t cheap fouls either. VCU was forcing Illinois to foul.
The seventh foul was not drawn until the 12:35 mark, the eighth foul at the 10:34 mark, and the ninth foul came at the 5:45 mark. VCU forced Illinois to commit six fouls in less than four minutes; and then three fouls over the next 10:19.
What’s more–and I cannot remember the exact spot–on one play Hamdy hit the floor to grab a loose ball. Four Illini went the ground, two piling on the scrum. In that sequence, the other four VCU players watched the events unfold, motionless.
That’s not this team’s identity.
But not all is lost. Just as we say one great game does not make us a great team, laying one egg does not make us a terrible team. I will go to my grave saying you lay one egg every year, and you have one banana peel game.
Last year the egg was Georgia Tech (who ironically visits That Animal on Wednesday). Two seasons ago it was Villanova who whomped VCU. It happened twice three seasons ago–first Florida State in the tropics, and then the awful trip to Northern Iowa.
In fact, that Northern Iowa crater is the game that most resembles what we saw yesterday. However it’s worth noting that VCU won 11 of 12 games after the Northern Iowa thud.
The secret to success is limiting that kind of food consumption and I’ll bet my Christmas purchases Will Wade gets it straight. It isn’t like he will ask the team to do anything they cannot do–we’ve all seen this team play with fire. For some reason, it wasn’t present yesterday. Still, there are no excuses; only improvements.
That’s the takeaway, really. Yesterday sucked rotten eggs. But these are the same players and same coaches as two days before. You have to have confidence that the staff will figure it out, because we’ve never had it not figured out.