VCU Men’s Basketball currently sits at 5-4 overall with 4 more non-conference games remaining until their Atlantic 10 conference opener versus Fordham. After the Rams came up short in a war at the Siegel Center against Texas, there is a mixture of emotion and energy building while some noise begins to surface around VCU.
An Emotional Night at the Animal
Former VCU head coach Shaka Smart made his awaited return to the Siegel Center along with his Texas Longhorns. After the pre-game chatter. conversations, hugs, and pics took place, anticipation was quenched with a memorable 40 minutes of college basketball.
The Animal was in a rare Beast form that night with deafening volume from the fans being showered upon the hardwood. Even when behind 19 points, the crowd got a second wind and unleashed hell on Earth after Khris Lane knocked down a three to put VCU ahead.
“There should never be a day if you’re a VCU basketball player that you don’t appreciate this…it was unbelievable; it was like a playoff game.” –VCU Head Coach Mike Rhoades
As the game drew near a close, VCU once again came up short in the final moments. Texas secured a 71-67 victory over the Rams although VCU dished out nearly everything including the kitchen sink at the Longhorns. Beside the result not being what the home team wanted, the overall vibe in the arena was fairly positive while VCU continued working on landing the final blow in-game.
“We’re good players. You gotta play hard the whole game; continue to execute. Doesn’t matter how much time is left on the clock, you just gotta finish teams off.” –Senior Forward, Khris Lane
Energy Builds Towards An Answer
After the doors of the Siegel Center locked-down on a Tuesday night, VCU and Coach Rhoades went back to work in the morning towards getting to that next level. The Rams’ bench stepped to the plate and got some quality production from numerous players.
One of the main contributors came from that “VCU type of dude” according to Coach Smart in Marcus Santos-Silva. Santos-Silva put in 18 minutes of work against the 6’11” Space Jam extraterrestrial known as Mohamed Bamba and stayed tough. The freshman finished with 8 points and 6 rebounds and looked comfortable in the paint while also showing improvements on defense.
Overall VCU’s bench leveled up in a big-time game. During the comeback, Khris Lane, Justin Tillman, and Jonathan Williams were taking a much-needed breather yet the energy was still on the floor. Mike’l Simms and Sean Mobley were not phased by the Longhorns and kept doing what they did best especially without the ball.
Even though there was not enough resistance to secure the win, HAVOC has come a long way since the season began. It’s not great yet but the miscues are diminishing and there’s better decision making by players when things go in disarray. The press caused a ten-second violation on Texas and forced 12 turnovers overall.
Almost There…But When?
“We can play with anybody in the country. Like I said before, doesn’t matter how much we’re down as long we got some time on the clock we can come back.” –Khris Lane
VCU is more than capable of getting the victory on game night. Noise is starting to run amok as to when that big win will be accomplished by the Rams. Out of the 9 games played thus far, there is arguably no significant win on VCU’s March Madness resume.
California (3-6) may be a big win over the Pac-12 however the next day in Maui the Golden Bears got washed by Chaminade. North Florida (3-7) tested VCU early with an igniting three-pointer that the Rams doused yet, in reality, the Rams were the favorite. For argument sake, the win over Old Dominion (6-3) at the Stu may be VCU’s best win so far.
Now looking at the defeats against Virginia, Marquette, Michigan, and Texas, those missed opportunities will be brought up before Selection Sunday when VCU’s resume makes way to the committee’s table. The noise increases a couple notches when turning towards the entire Atlantic 10 conference struggle as a whole against the competition.
Questions ranging from HAVOC improving perimeter defending, the rebounding game being more hungry, the Senior Triple Threat needing assistance, Crowfield and Vann’s injuries and so on linger in the background. Coach Rhoades is aware of the noise and has a message to his VCU team about the racket.
“Stay Tight… Avoid listening to the noise, continue to get better so we can win this close games. Close will never be good enough.” –Coach Rhoades
Opportunity Upon the Jersey Shore
Awaiting VCU in the Never Forget Tribute Classic is #19 Seton Hall (7-1). The Pirates are cruising once again in the bay with impressive back to back wins against #22 Texas Tech and at #17 Louisville. As an extra bonus, Seton Hall’s lone lost was at the hands of Atlantic 10 comrade Rhode Island by a single point in Brooklyn, New York (74-75).
Seton Hall has won 20 consecutive non-conference games inside the Prudential Center. Looking deeper into the roster, the Pirates have returned an experienced NCAA Tournament ready team led by the senior duo of Desi Rodriguez (20.0 PPG) and Angel Delgado (13.3 PPG).
This is the Rams’ final opportunity to capture a true road game win during their non-conference stretch and this would be a BIG resume builder if VCU is victorious. In order for that to be possible, VCU will need to close down shop inside and close the game out strong against the Pirates.
After the Texas defeat, VCU is zoning in on higher attention to detail in preparation for Saturday. Lane and Tillman continuing flourishing inside the painted square and are spreading out to the three-point spot. They also have Santos-Silva for assistance inside which could push the Rams further ahead of the curve. Guard play may have nagging injuries however there is still production from Johnny Williams and De’Riante Jenkins leading the charge.
With Crowfield still on the sidelines and Vann’s return cut short after landing wrong on his feet, VCU is managing without those two on the floor. When these two return, it could launch VCU to a new height but the Rams are holding steady currently and continue to fight on the court.
Emotion Leads To Energy Silencing Noise
Tuesday night was one of the most emotional nights that I witnessed before, during and after a game of college basketball. Seeing and talking with former VCU players like T.J. Gwynn, Darius Theus, Doug Brooks and Coach Shaka Smart himself was a good time. Even after the final buzzer, watching Coach Smart chat with his former players in the back and Tillman and Williams at center court in a conversation before he departed tugged a heart string or two.
Coach Smart will always have the love for the 6 years he spent as VCU Men’s Basketball head coach and he’s excited for the future of the Rams under Coach Rhoades.
“I want to give Coach Rhoades and his team a ton of credit for the way they battled and fought. (Rhoades) is doing a phenomenal job with this program and the future is extremely bright here. I said when Will (Wade) got the job that I feel like VCU hasn’t even reached the heights that it will in the future and I feel that way now even more so than I did then.” –Shaka Smart
Energy builds during adversity as VCU prepares for their next big exam in Newark, New Jersey. Seton Hall is no joke but the Pirates are not invincible either; VCU was able to outrebound a rather lengthy Texas squad and aims to get back to work under the rim. If VCU can keep that same energy versus Texas on the road then the Rams just might pull off the upset worthy of a resume builder.
Talks are getting loud as the noise and worries begin to loom around the Rams. At the end of the non-conference slate, VCU’s worse nightmare of maybe needing to win the Atlantic 10 tournament may become reality. With a weak record against non-conference in a weaker conference strength wise this could be a flashback to the CAA days of winning the tournament to claim your spot in March Madness.
The keyword is “could”. This noise is well off after future events; VCU’s main focus is at the present moment. Handle the ball in your court and close out the noise. Moral victories mean nothing and the Rams must fight back in New Jersey. The odds may not be in favor of the Rams, just how VCU likes it.