Five wins, Five losses. VCU is currently swimming in unknown waters after Saturday’s defeat at the hands of #23 Cincinnati at the Siegel Center. The Bearcats left the Animal with a 69-63 victory after a 40 minute street fight with the Rams that went the distance. Now on a three game losing skid, VCU must mend out the details in order to turn these losing results to future victories.
Melvin Johnson and cold streak are two things you don’t usually group together but that’s how things were on Saturday. Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin executed a terrific game plan to force Johnson to shoot high difficult shots with increasing defensive pressure surrounding him. Shooting 0-11 from the field, Johnson’s only two points in the game came from the free throw line. In order for VCU to have a chance to win, Cincinnati simply said to the Rams: “You gotta find someone other than Melvin to beat us.”
VCU had an answer to that; well technically four. Korey Billbury and his headband were on fire racking up a team high 22 points in a surreal offensive performance against the Bearcats. JeQuan Lewis silenced some of his critics with 13 points, 4 assists and only one turnover. Mo Alie-Cox and Michael Gilmore knew that they were in for a brawl under the basket as Alie-Cox collected 10 points and five rebounds while Gilmore had nine points and six rebounds. For moments during this contest, VCU looked not only to hang with a tough opposition but could possibly win with their main scoring target on a cold streak.
At the final buzzer, #23 Cincinnati was able to hold off the VCU onslaught. When it looked all but over with 5:23 left and a 10 point deficit to overcome, two consecutive Bearcat turnovers and six point swing thanks to Lewis had VCU only down four. Followed by Alie-Cox scoring two at the line and hope returned at the Stu thinking the Rams could pull this off. Cincinnati was able to muster up some last second buckets and put the game out of reach to what Cronin thinks is a quality win on the Bearcats’ resumé.
“Obviously it was a hard fought game. I think every time VCU plays, it’s a hard fought game. We were both in desperate need of a win today. This game felt like a conference game.” -Cincinnati Head Coach Mick Cronin
Belief in the Black & Gold is going out of the door just as fast as some of the VCU fans sprinting for the exit at Siegel Center on Saturday during the 2nd half. That belief that VCU head coach Will Wade is the guy for the job and that the Rams are in a good spot is starting to turn into doubt, ridicule and anger at high levels. The fact that during a few sequences at the game there was absolute silence from the rambunctious crowd was mind-boggling. Is Ram Nation starting to lose faith in this team?
Maybe Coach Wade can enlighten the fans of the Rams with this:
“We’re not far off guys. The sky is not falling, we’re not far off. We’ve taken on a brutal schedule with a team that is still growing and it’s gonna help us in conference. We’re gonna be good in conference…we need to get better as we move forward. We gotta get better with the details.” -VCU Head Coach Will Wade
The reality is this: VCU is not as talented this season. Coach Wade doesn’t have a Treveon Graham or a Briante Weber on his team. He does have a group of players that can play good basketball. In that pool of players, Wade does have Melvin Johnson as the main man. Other than that, VCU has players capable of being great but they must step up their game to higher levels if they want to beat some of the best that college basketball has to offer.
“To be the man, you gotta beat the man.” VCU had five opportunities to beat five really great teams and couldn’t finish the job. Some chances were closer than others but at the end of the day, the Rams have five losses on their record. The fifth one is at the hands of the 11th nationally ranked defense in Cincinnati and the Rams were able to score 63 points without a productive Melvin Johnson three ball. That alone should make some VCU fans feel hopeful. Coach Wade realizes that there is still a lot of work to be done but he truly believes that what he’s doing is working.
“I know what we are doing now is gonna work. We got the right formula now. We tinkered with it a little bit with some of the earlier games but we have the right formula now…now we just gotta do it better.” -Coach Wade
Riding on a roller coaster of emotions only to have it end up in defeat is not what VCU fans want to go through on the regular basis. Remember that three game losing streak VCU suffered through last February before heading to the Barclays Center? That ended with VCU hoisting up their first A-10 tournament championship. Losing is an awful feeling to have especially consecutively in situations where 1 or 2 plays could have won the game. Yet this losing skid is at the hands of elite teams in the sport which serves as lessons when VCU is scheduled to play teams near their level of play in the future.
VCU’s future is still filled with plenty of opportunities. With three home out-of-conference games remaining, VCU has an opportunity to turn things around before the beast known as Atlantic 10 conference play kicks-off. A boost in confidence and team morale can help the Rams with the lighter side of their out-of-conference schedule coming into play. In the Atlantic 10, there lies possibly 5 bids to go dancing in the NCAA Tournament up for grabs. A deep pool filled with a variety of talented teams that can beat anyone on any given night. VCU being able to hold their own against the cream of the crop should give them confidence when it comes to competing in the Atlantic 10 in a few weeks.
With wild shots being limited, better ball movement and HAVOC looking more robust, VCU is in a good position that can improve on both sides of the ball to become an even better team. The bench of VCU has hit the wall hypothetically with less production offensively the last few games but that will soon change along with the competition. Lewis is starting to play smarter basketball to the delight of many and Billbury slashing inside and his three point shot is becoming consistent from game to game. Wade wanted his players to step up their game and it seems as if they heard the message loud and clear.
Even with all this adversity, this team is still together on this journey. Coach Wade still believes in his team and his team still believes in him as their coach. Fans may be on the fence about it with a 5-5 record on VCU’s resumé at the moment especially with three straight defeats. The team mindset is clear: VCU plays to win, anything else is a disappointment. Moral victories and stat boosters aside, nothing is more important to the Rams than getting that W every time they step on the court. Even with Billbury having his best offensive display of the season thus far he wasn’t satisfied with it due to the Cincinnati loss. Wearing that VCU Men’s Basketball jersey is a tough job that these players are more than capable of handling with that strong mindset and a head coach that will do nearly anything in preparation for gameday.
Coach Cronin believes that Coach Wade is doing a tremendous job with what he lost and what he has going up against an extremely tough schedule. Wade understands that with Jordan Burgess sidelined with a concussion and Jonathan Williams still lingering with an ankle injury that his VCU team is limited. There are plenty of questions and concerns surrounding VCU at this point but Coach Wade remains hopeful in a time of uncertainty.
“Hoping that some of the stuff that was tough finishes now will be much easier finishes as the competition evens out a little bit.” -Coach Wade
Comparing #23 Cincinnati to Buffalo is night and day. With a decrease in difficulty competition-wise, can VCU still be productive at a high level or do they still need time to tweak the details?
Either way, time is running out for the details to be mended. It’s time for VCU to show what they got.
Ram Reminder: VCU is back in action at the Siegel Center on Tuesday, December 22nd as they host Buffalo. Tip-Off set for 7 PM on Comcast Sports Network.