As we ring in the new year and new season–conference season–old acquaintances should be toasted. They are the bedrock of what makes VCU successful, and we are seeing them on an increasingly frequent basis.
It became very clear during halftime of last night’s spirited 73-64 victory at George Mason. To wit:
This team is playing harder, for longer stretches.
Will Wade has practically begged his team to play with an urgency we’ve seen in spurts from the opening tip. We saw that last night at Mason. Trailing 7-4, VCU ripped off a 13-0 run. Mason missed nine straight shots–many via poor shot selection due to the pace forced by VCUs press–and had four turnovers. You can call it havoc if you’d like, but I choose to call it playing SOB defense.
Move the defense.
Several times last night we saw the ball go into the post, come back out, and then back into the post. Or, post-entry, back out, and kick to the other side of the defense. The result was some of the best offense we’ve seen (against a quality opponent) this season.
Get to the rim.
VCU had 46 points in the paint last night, and have scored 35 or more in that area each game in its five-game winning streak. The three games in which VCU had its lowest point in the paint output, the Rams lost. What’s more, the Rams took just 13 threes, and I’d say eight of those were “you HAVE to shoot that” threes. VCU generally passed up good shots to get great shots. That’s how you shoot 52% in a half.
Maul people at the rim.
Mo Alie-Cox played his best all-around game of the season. For the first time in long stretches, Alie-Cox stopped trying to be fancy and simply steamrolled guys at the rim. Justin Tillman did his thing, eating rebounds in space. But…De’Riante Jenkins posted up a smaller player, Jordan Burgess grabbed five offensive rebounds, and JeQuan Lewis took shots at the rim instead of trying to feed a pass through three defenders.
Play with an edge.
This was not the Fighting Hewitts. Mason played H.A.R.D. VCU matched that intensity, and then some, and never let up. But VCU did it in smart manner. At the half, the Rams had nine steals but only eight fouls. Playing with a fire, but not getting burned. That’s the old Anthony Grant “defend without fouling.” That matters.
Buy in to the plan.
This is the summary, and hammer takeaway you should toast, thrice, tonight. If you look at the entire nonconference season, plus last night, things are coming together. They are coming together because the team is starting to see scouting reports come to life, and succeed.
It won’t always work this way and it’s on the coaches to help keep everyone rowing in the same direction, but this is the most important facet of any season. Wade said earlier this week that if you are prepared, there is no pressure. You just go play. But you have to play as you prepared.
It’s important that Jenkins and Samir Doughty are realizing they cannot get away with the plays they could create in high school. It’s important that Alie-Cox plays to his role–the baddest man on the court. It’s important that Jonny Williams play downhill with confidence–he needs to believe in himself as much as the coaches believe in him.
It’s important to simply play basketball. But you know what it all comes down to? VCU is beginning to play to it’s skillset and roles. It’s beginning to play to its identity.
And yes, I realize it’s not all sunshine, Stella, and single malt Scotch.
The turnover, uh, problem, is concerning. It’s a byproduct of aggression and I think we need to get comfortable with 12-15 turnovers. It’s who we are.
The aggressive turnovers, to an extent, are fine. I can live with charging calls, a turnover in transition after a steal, and a puppy-shuffle walk attacking the rim. It’s the lazy post passes, unforced walks, and moving screens that drive me nuts. Those need to be cleaned up.
Let me put it statistically: if VCU has 15 turnovers instead of 21, and those six turnovers are the bad ones, how do you feel? I feel good about that. I’m saying it would be nice to turn the ball over eight times a game, but I’m not willing to trade aggressiveness. Give me the aggressive attitude and extra handful of turnovers every single night.
And another auld acquaintance (NOT) be forgot and never (SHOULD BE) brought to mind: the margin is thin.
I very much like what I see today, but this is a point in time. Just as we cannot look back and change anything that occurred in November and December (cough, Georgia Tech, cough), what we see today is not guaranteed tomorrow.
This team needs to continue to progress on the season’s arc. It doesn’t always have to be forward, but it cannot go backwards. Not if we want to arrive in middle March somewhere on the west coast.