Last night’s win wasn’t for a championship, it wasn’t against a ranked team and likely won’t go down as any bit of a memorable result in VCU hoops history. But that 23rd win to just five losses makes this the first VCU team to start 23-5 since the talented 1984-85 team that entered the 1985 NCAA tournament as a No.2 seed.
Sure, things are a bit different in the college hoops world these days. The 23rd win on March 1, 1985 was VCU’s first win of that season’s Sunbelt tournament, a tournament they’d eventually win with an 87-82 W over Old Dominion. This day and age 23 wins isn’t as spectacular, with preseason exempt tournaments and 18-game conference seasons, especially considering VCU has won at least 24 games every season since 2007.
But pair it with just five losses and this moment in time is worth taking a quick mental snapshot.
Lock it in.
We’ve become a bit spoiled at VCU. Six consecutive NCAA tournaments and a Final 4 appearance will do that to a fan base. But matching a record we have yet to match in three decades is special. Remember it. And just as we need to remember what we’re in the middle of, now is a great time to also reflect on that 1985 group, a special team full of hall-of-famers, which many Ram fans aren’t familiar with and some may have even forgotten.
Four Rams averaged double-digit scoring that season and VCU legend Calvin Duncan didn’t even lead that group with his 15.2 points per game. That honor would belong to Rolando Lamb, a favorite among the old-timers but somewhat of a lesser-known player among the newer VCU faithful.
Lamb led VCU with 17.3 points per game, 4.7 assists and 2.8 steals and a season prior dropped the original dagger — he hit a game-winning shot over a Jim Calhoun-led Northerns team in the pervious season’s NCAA tournament first round. His senior numbers were basically like combining Melvin Johnson’s scoring with JeQuan Lewis’ assists and throwing in a Briante Weber defensive effort (sophomore year).
The guy could play.
Then there was Mike Schlegel, a 6’8 senior big who led the team with a 57.4% field goal percentage (that’s Mo Alie-Cox accurate) and 8.1 rebounds (Tillman-esque) and scored 12.9 a night for the black and gold. He was joined in the paint by Hopewell product, Michael Brown, who scored 10.8 points per contest for the Rams while hitting over 54% of his shots.
The ’84-’85 group was so experienced and talented that future VCU legend, Phil Stinnie, averaged just five minutes per contest that season and scored a total of 29 points. He’d finish his career top-10 all-time in scoring with 1,645 points.
Is there a Stinnie type on this year’s team? Time will tell.
The 85ers dropped Richmond twice, ODU three times and beat Virginia Tech, UAB and Dayton (featuring the player version of Anthony Grant), three eventual NCAA tournament teams.
Ultimately teams are judged by how they do in March, which is why it will be hard for any team to top what the 2010-11 Rams did, but occasionally we need to take a step back to be reminded of just how important and how tough it is to do things like start 23-5, so tough that it’s been over three decades since we last accomplished that.
Last night’s opponent, Saint Louis, should also serve as a reminder of just how quickly things can go from good (the Billikens won back-to-back regular season titles in 2013 and 2014 and a 2013 A-10 tournament title) to awful (last in the A-10 in 2015).
23-5 is something to be incredibly proud of. Few at VCU have done it. While it might not (and should not) get its own banner, taking a moment to appreciate it is always recommended.