First Rhode Island, then #13 Dayton. VCU Men’s Basketball has been dealt a heavy pair of hands with a 1-2 punch knockdown to 2-2 in Atlantic 10 play after Game #4. With a rift in the system exposing mental toughness, discipline issues, and the will to fight like crazy regardless of performance, one might ask with 22-inch pythons: What’cha Gonna do VCU?
The Wrong Side of a Rivalry Game
Let’s be honest here: The result inside UD Arena against #13 Dayton should not shock anyone. VCU was the clear underdog in the fight and the favorite came out victorious in the Flyers. After the lukewarm performance versus Rhody at Siegel Center, my only hope was for the Black & Gold to at least put up an entertaining fight versus one of the A-10’s best on the road.
Not only did the Rams fight. They made me believe again.
Watching the Rams trade attacks with the Flyers turned my reasonable doubt into a crumble of hopeful bliss. Evans driving the lane, Santos-Silva doing his damnest against Obi Toppin, Vann letting the ball fly, and the surprise of the night in Bones Hyland with his trigger-friendly offense. Besides the thought of “Where was THIS last week?!?” I found myself thinking “Ok! There’s the VCU I know and love out on the floor!”
Unfortunately, that 22-0 second-half run of woes by Dayton flew the Flyers well beyond reach even with 10:51 remaining. During that catastrophe, VCU went 0-11 from the field including 7 consecutive misses from three. To make matters worse, this happened at UD Arena against Dayton where the home crowd feasted heavily while pleading for seconds.
“We fought like crazy. … At times, we lost our composure … (and) with the senior group we have and the older guys, we can’t do that.”
The fight arrived at Ohio, composure and discipline was stuck in Customs.
There were glimpses of Black & Gold greatness and I’m not just talking about Marcus Santos-Silva’s block on Toppin. HAVOC brought the pressure to Dayton forcing VCU’s highest opponent turnover count in January thus far with 20 turnovers. On offense, the Rams outscored the Flyers in the paint (38-34), second-chance points (14-12), fast break (23-22) and off the bench (17-13). One could argue that on any other given night with this stat line, VCU would have walked off the court victorious.
The other game on the floor was were VCU fell flat in the mental warfare of college hoops. Evans, Jenkins, and Vann mouthing off to officials resulting in 3 of the Rams’ 4 technical fouls are never acceptable. Players yet again not taking care of the rock and forcing the ball where it shouldn’t be. Creating good shots but once again the rim didn’t cooperate resulting in a 15% from three (3-of-20); VCU’s worse since the Purdue game back in late November (3-of-17).
Reality smacked the Rams firmly in the face with a similar message De’Riante Jenkins said post-Rhode Island: “VCU is not as good as they think they are.” That doesn’t mean that they can’t become good again over time.
The Drive Towards Great
“We gotta get better. We gotta get more discipline. Over the next 3 days, that’s what we’re going to do.”
Even with a .500 record after 4 conference games, the season is not over for the Rams; again, VCU is 2-2 and sitting directly in the middle of the pack. Frustration looms over lost opportunities, players’ struggles, and coaching dilemmas regarding preparation and in-game decision making.
Distraction building off the court amongst fans questioning this team’s work ethic in a war of words between the true bloods and fair-weathers. As much as the Rams attempt to ignore the elephant in the room, the noise has gotten unbearably louder due to the recent results. This squad knows that expectations are set high for a special season in the works; and that’s what VCU is doing: the work necessary to becoming a great team.
One thing about VCU is the unwillingness to quit. Regardless of the difficulty at the task at hand, there are glimpses of a breakthrough amongst the ranks. Evans, Jenkins, and Santos-Silva are keeping that ball hot on offense. The diamond press has a few screws loose and yet rattling opponents while collecting steals and turnovers. Currently, HAVOC is the 4th best defense in the A-10 (62 PPG) and only 2 points behind Fordham at the top spot (60.5 PPG).
Nobody on this team likes losing. This senior class knows they got to step their individual games another level. Coach Rhoades learns in the art of preparation what he has at his disposal upon game-time. The season is far from over 17 games in but the need for a win is becoming critical.
Walk the Walk, Silence The Talk
Enough chit-chat. The pain of “what if that run didn’t happen” or “maybe if a few threes dropped here” has run its course at Dayton. Saturday at the Siegel Center features another opportunity in unbeaten Saint Bonaventure and their stifling defense.
VCU is a good team capable of greatness. In order for that to happen, the players must put all their chips on the table. The craving for victory remains alongside that blue-collar workhorse from the herd that’s going to give their all for 40 minutes on the hardwood.
Currently, at the practice facility, this team is hard at work. Hoisting up extra jumpers on the floor and a few more reps in the weight room. For those that remember the Franklin Street Gym days of VCU basketball practices, some relate that vibe to this week’s prep for the Bonnies. College basketball is not a sprint, it’s a marathon full of highs and lows.
Last week was a lack of performance versus Rhody. Against Dayton, the performance arrived but the discipline remained sidelined. On Saturday, we will witness which version of the Rams laces up upon tip-off.
So what’cha gonna do VCU? Work. Like Always.
A Couple More Tweets
VCU Men’s Basketball takes on Saint Bonaventure at the Siegel Center on Saturday, January 18th. Tip-off begins at 2:00 PM on CBS Sports Network.