This 2018-19 season of VCU Men’s Basketball followed one word: Hunt. And what a hunt it was over the last 5 months.
Are You Serious?
With experts underlining the Black & Gold with a 7th place finish in the Atlantic 10 Pre-Season Poll, that was just extra motivation for the Rams. Khris Lane, Justin Tillman, and Jonathan Williams graduating and taking VCU’s majority of offense with them…rebuild mode. Statements and thoughts aplenty of second-guessing VCU could possibly keep moving that needle forward this season lacking what was lost.
Needless to say, the Rams had a massive chip on their shoulders besides those three bold letters embroidered on their uniform. Yet VCU didn’t mouth their displeasure nor point to previous accomplishments as a reminder. Coach Rhoades and company prepped in the summer for the hunt come November.
Time To Hunt
November 6th had arrived at the Siegel Center and the world was re-introduced to VCU Men’s Basketball. That Ram basketball of old with a talented squad that hated losing more than they loved winning. A team that was a band of brothers that pushed each other and their opponent to the edge. One win down versus Gardner-Webb, plenty more on the horizon.
Depth was back in the ranks known as the Ram Army. Marcus Evans blessing VCU with his presence, leadership, and reckless abandon before his time lined debut somewhere in conference play. This gift rose VCU to a new level with Evans gelling alongside De’Riante Jenkins and Issac Vann to create one of the Rams’ deadliest backcourts in recent memory.
An Army Was Upon VCU
That three-headed Ram was not alone. Marcus Santos-Silva had a breakout season locking down the glass and improving his free throw stroke. Sean Mobley, Michael Gilmore, and Corey Douglas clocking in, doing their job, clocking out, and repeat. Mike’l Simms lighting teams up from well outside three-point range to roaring applause.
Vince Williams sprinting rapidly and slamming the thunder down. P.J. Byrd learning the game from the point and doing fine as a true freshman. The multiple roles of Malik Crowfield who can still hit a three when called upon. And don’t forget about KeShawn Curry, Xavier Jackson, and Dylan Sheehy-Guiseppi contributing to the cause on and off the court.
Wins, Losses, & Lessons
Four consecutive wins to start the hunt for this Ram Army. Winning didn’t come easily without headaches in the form of turnovers, rushing shots, and not gelling cohesively but that didn’t matter since VCU was winning. Then the Saint John’s game took place as possibly a blessing somewhere tucked in between the rage.
Evans being fouled or not, that result led to the Rams taking a look in the mirror and saying “this CANNOT happen again.” So the proclaimed hunters went back to working on their craft. Coach Rhoades’ message began to take clarity in his players’ minds: Take care of that basketball and the game will take care of you.
20 minutes of spurting basketball production transitioned into 40 minutes. Defense evolving game by game to HAVOC. Quality wins earned at Texas and versus Wichita State. Taking #4 UVA and College of Charleston to the final buzzer in gut check performances. VCU finished their non-conference at a respectful 9-4 with their body and mind gunning for the Atlantic 10.
What Up Champ?
The A-10 was not ready for VCU. After going 4-2 to start the campaign, the Rams would win their final 12 games on the way to the Atlantic 10 Regular Season crown outright at 16-2. VCU’s two defeats where the Rams only road defeats at Davidson and Rhode Island. Outside of that, the hunters went through memorable wars to grasp the prize they envisioned since Day 1.
Alas, the hunt reached the final stages not how VCU wanted. Rhode Island upset VCU in the A-10 Quarterfinal which killed the Rams’ postseason hunt towards another A-10 Tournament Championship. There was another dance awaiting the Rams after receiving a #8 seed in the NCAA Tournament with #9 UCF ready to tango in Columbia, South Carolina.
On their 17th appearance in the Dance, VCU had a shooting malfunction with a vast majority not gracing the nylon. UCF used Tacko Fall to their advantage at 7’6” however VCU was not backing down. On that night the Rams couldn’t get their offense on that run to the races unlike the Knights with UCF advancing to face #1 Duke.
Sour Ending, Lovely Beginning
As I sit on my porch outside feeling the sun hit my face on a Wednesday afternoon, their rises a devilish grin similar to De’Riante Jenkins. This 2018-19 season exceeded my expectations, gave me heart attacks along the sidelines, and has a bright future ahead.
25-8 overall record, 16-2 in A-10 Play with the school’s second A-10 regular season title and first won outright. Those 25 wins tying VCU’s highest season mark since 2011-12. That 16-2 conference record-tying the 16-2 performance in the CAA back in 2006-07. All of this coming off of a proclaimed “rebuild” season that should have been filled with disappointment and a lack of winning somewhere near the bottom of the table.
I’m proud of this brotherhood that I was fortunate enough to witness for 33 games. Watching how these kids handled themselves on and off the court was pure bliss. The evolution of the players getting knocked down then victory after victory after victory while not being blinded by the outside noise. Enraged with the hate of a lost and appreciative of the work necessary to claim victory together.
One of the Top 5 three-point defenses in the nation and led the Atlantic 10 in scoring offense and defense. An army of hunters accomplishing what some thought would a foolish expedition. What A Hunt.
This 7th place team brings back their top eight scorers from this season. There’s more talent arriving into the ranks with Gilmore and Jackson exiting valiantly after serving their time as Rams. Think VCU will be picked 7th yet again? Time will tell; for now, the next hunt awaits with much anticipation.