On February 8th, 2000, VCU Men’s Basketball lost to Richmond 57-69 at the Robins Center dropping to 10-11 overall and 3-7 in CAA conference play. This was the second time that season that the Rams had a 4 game losing streak. During the second streak, VCU lost four consecutive road contests against Old Dominion, JMU, William & Mary, and Richmond.
For the first time in 20 years, the Black & Gold face adversity in defeat during a 4 game losing skid. After Saint Louis devoured VCU 80-62 at Chaifetz Arena, the Rams sit at 17-10 overall and in 8th place at 7-7 during A-10 play. With frustration building amongst teammates, coaches, and Ram Nation, the only thing VCU can do at this point is work because that’s the only way the Rams can find possible solutions to their growing docket of problems.
When recapping the rematch versus #5 Dayton at the Siegel Center it appeared that VCU figured something out in the losing effort. That dog was unleashed against the Flyers and somehow HAVOC limited Obi Toppin on the glass and created an honest chance at capturing the victory. Unfortunately, the offense was subpar with upperclassmen struggles and the freshmen core did not have enough firepower to push VCU to the finish. Even in defeat, optimism loomed after only losing by 5 against the #5 nationally ranked team in the country.
Then the Blue Out occurred at Saint Louis. The first 10 minutes of the contest was all Black & Gold. They crashed the paint with numbers, hit threes, and moved the basketball well. Saint Louis made adjustments to unlock the paint, causing the Rams to struggle for the last 30 minutes. SLU bullied VCU inside with a 41-26 rebounding advantage and a 48-22 scoring advantage at the rim.
Bones Hyland has a hip flexor issue. Marcus Evans continues fighting on one leg with a sprained MCL. Corey Douglas developed a minor ankle injury. Vince Williams is still building after recently returning from injury. Yes, multiple Rams are banged up however as Coach Rhoades states game after game: No Excuses. The other team wants to win just as bad as VCU does.
So What’s Wrong?
That’s the million-dollar question isn’t it? Let’s start with a glance at HAVOC currently. Defensively, VCU has the 3rd best scoring defense in the A-10 (65 PPG), 3rd in blocked shots (4.44) and 1st in steals (9.41 SPG) and turnover margin (+5).
Defense wins games and championships but where the issues reside is consistent pressure and sticking to the game plan. When the game flow is good so is HAVOC usually but when the script is flipped there’s a sudden panic takeover on defense. Players not communicating and running into another, opponents breaking through lackluster traps, and not defending their half of the court.
Offensively VCU is running in spurts, similar to an old motor before the final kick of petrol. When the ball is hot, VCU can score with reckless abandon. Lately, it’s been a single Ram leading the charge on offense. With the player who is leading the charge changing every game. Then there are those 3-5 minute scoreless runs that hurt the soul with near-perfect plays resulting in the ball dinging off the rim.
Inside the paint is where the Black & Gold demons reside. This was the 4th game this month that VCU was outrebounded and SLU made it look easy. At first, the numbers were there for VCU. After the 17-0 SLU run, the paint was a near ghost town. Several things are going wrong at the most crucial of times for VCU and with 4 A-10 games remaining time is dreadfully thin.
Release The Hounds
An observation that’s been a common conversational topic this season is VCU’s competitiveness. When the wins are rolling in, everything is fine. Their victory was a result of a job well done. Now that drive has molded into frustration as defeats have started to build, players are calling each other out, and turmoil infects the “Ram Army.”
There’s no magical potion as Coach Rhoades would say to fix this. It’s been a nagging issue all season long. VCU lacks the drive to step on the opponent’s throat and leave them gasping until the final buzzer. There have been glimpses of that throughout the season but that competitive spirit is at rock bottom during this 4 game losing streak.
The term “Next Ram Up” should be replaced with “All Rams Step Up” for the remainder of this season. All these players want to win and know that they’re underperforming. VCU is making strides but it’s not enough to claim victory. The unfortunate truth is that there is another level the Rams need to hit.
Business at UMass
Massachusetts awaits VCU at the Mullins Center on Wednesday. There’s nothing else to be said. VCU needs to silence the noise, put in the work and revive that competitiveness that gets VCU to the dance. Time’s a virtue and only limited opportunities remain.
VCU travels to Massachusetts on Wednesday, February 26th for an A-10 battle at the Mullins Center. Tip-off begins at 7 PM on MASN and ESPN+.