I’ve been trying to find the right words to convey my feelings after VCUs latest warm-weather catastrophe. Florida, a three-point loss to Purdue, and then Tennessee. I found them earlier today.
Calm the hell down.
It isn’t as if these are uncharted waters. In fact, it’s EVERY DAMNED SEASON:
- 2010-11: that team lost to Tennessee and South Florida to start 4-2; did pretty well in the NCAA tournament if memory serves.
- 2011-12: lost to Georgia Tech, Seton Hall, and Alabama to go 3-3. Won a game in the NCAA tournament.
- 2012-13: lost to Wichita State, Duke and Missouri to go 3-3. Won a game in the NCAA tournament.
- 2013-14: lost to Florida State and Georgetown to go 4-2. Went to the NCAA tournament.
- 2014-15: lost to Villanova (by about 600), ODU, and Virginia to go 5-3. Went to the NCAA tournament.
- 2015-16: lost to Duke and Wisconsin to go 2-2, then Florida State, Georgia Tech, and Cincinnati to go 5-5. Won a game in the NCAA tournament.
- 2016-17: lost to Baylor, Illinois, and Georgia Tech to go 6-3. Went to the NCAA tournament.
- 2017-18: lost to Virginia, Marquette, and Michigan to go 5-5. We’ll stop here.
- 2018-19: lost to St. John’s (#Boroski), ODU, Virginia, and Charleston to go 7-4. Went to the NCAA tournament.
So yes, I’m cursing about the two losses this past weekend. Just like you I was looking for that next step, the move past merely competing with teams from football conferences. Didn’t happen. Missed opportunities, yes, but more distasteful retch than anything. VCU didn’t play well, which was unexpected, and when playing football-conference teams the Rams got what was coming: a tormented outcome that showed enough, but not nearly enough.
It took a double-overtime thriller with a now-deceased bottle of Angel’s Envy, but I figured it out. “We have seniors” and “this is our year” guarantees nothing. It’s helpful, to be sure, but it isn’t some magician’s trick where you’re playing below average and PRESTO!, you’re up four with the ball in the final 30 seconds. Life, and basketball, doesn’t work that way.
The law of impermanence governs us all, winners and losers. It means this year isn’t a new version of last year; rather, it’s its own season.
I’m coming around to the reality that drawn-out conclusions are for idiots, especially in matters of competition. VCU is 6-2 with one good win and no bad losses. That’s the sum of it. Everything else is party conversation. What we talked about and hoped for in October is over. And it’s going to change again; that’s the nexus of impermanence. That’s why holding on to October beliefs and judging today by that standard is idiotic. It isn’t reality.
The best part is the dichotomy. I continue to crinkle up my face about the weekend’s result, but remain very hopeful of a march in March. Both can be true. Stats will be stats but they are merely indicators. My cholesterol is up but it isn’t about the number. It’s that I need to stop eating cheeseburgers! So yes, there’s a million numbers we can point to, and we will as I again pledge to write more, but it’s not the numbers. It’s the habits. Marcus Evans has to play better. Multiple players have to stop forcing things. Box out on opposition free throws. Finish 3-on-2 fast breaks. These are the things that create success.
This is where impermanence takes over. Even with a senior-led team, it’s there. On one level we have Mike’l Simms playing a brand new position. Bones Hyland provides a backup to Evans at point and continues to earn minutes. Marcus Santos-Silva playing the role of juggernaut. He wasn’t that last season and it matters, big time. All the slashing guards—and the approach of the coaches—have adjust to this reality. It’s fun and rewarding to see such a great kid have this level of success, but that puts a monkey into the wrench.
VCUs five-man is no longer the roll man on screen-and-rolls, or posting to clear space as opposed to being fed the basketball as a primary option to score. This is a new facet that was not present last year. A significant new weapon, but it has to be dealt with—by both teams. Here’s what I mean. In the Tennessee game, VCU had a Sahara-like last 12 minutes of the first half. Guards were driving the lane, forcing something into traffic against tall and athletic Vols. They kept trying. In the second half, you saw VCU play some one-in/four-out sets, with Santos-Silva in the post alone, receiving entry passes and going to work. Things loosened up. It worked, and a necessary adjustment.
Teams are scouting VCU and approaching defense to take away the first option. We have to adjust to that adjustment, and work it out in relation to Santos-Silva, the new weapon in the post. But that doesn’t happen on the fly, and figuring things out against Jacksonville State and figuring things out against Purdue are two different animals.
One other thing, and this may be legit or a bunch of bunk. I’ll call it Intensity Intervals and I’m looking for it moving forward.
We saw 150mph defense eat Purdue alive. Took the Boilers out of anything resembling comfort. Problem: 150mph on offense turned into what felt like four billion turnovers. Issac Vann is the poster. Vann had an ugly boxscore—four points and four turnovers before fouling out—but he was an absolute monster on the defensive end. If you don’t think Vann played well in the Purdue game go play your fantasy sports because offensive stats are all that will matter to you.
Now let’s flip to Tennessee: the offense played to a 75mph speed and only had five total turnovers. Adjusted to having Santos-Silva in the blocks and fed the big man. But the 75mph defense did not serve VCU well. Tennessee shot 54% and scored 1.09 points per possession, both season highs.
The goal, the Intensity Interval: play 150mph defense, and 75mph offense. Very easy for me to write.
I’m not here to preach and I’m not, uh, pumping sunshine. This past weekend set VCU up for one, and possibly two, important wins for when those guys get into that room in early March. However let me be clear that I’m saying settle the hell down. It’s rooted in the fact that success this season, or any season, won’t be a straight line.
Yeah this past weekend stunk. But here’s what I’d say—this is where the seniors pay off. You have to learn from your mistakes; understand impermanence; adjust to what you see today, not what life told you three weeks ago. Seniors are more equipped to handle that load. And here’s the other thing. VCU played exactly one half where offense and defense were both above average. Looked awful at times. And were still a made-three and missed-three from two overtime games. Imagine when they put it together.
So you can now tell me to calm the hell down and I’ll accept it. However my calm the hell down is better than yours. Enjoy this ride.