Raise your hand if you thought the VCU men’s basketball team was doomed, gloomed and headed for the NIT after last week’s two game losing streak.
I didn’t think so.
It’s not often that Shaka Smart’s squad suffers a loss, let alone two in a row, but it happened. Last I checked, the sky is still blue, parts of my puny, rain-soaked front yard are still green and the Rams are still 17 wins deep on the season.
Contrary to what was starting to seem like popular belief, they weren’t going to win them all.
A loss on the road in conference play and yes, even one at home was expected. It might not have happened the way VCU fans would’ve liked – a heartbreaking overtime letdown at crosstown rival Richmond and any loss at home, it just happened to be La Salle – but it did.
The Rams are no longer in the Colonial Athletic Association.
As has probably been drilled into your ears over the past couple of weeks, this is the Atlantic 10 and just about anybody can beat anybody. Through three weeks of conference play, every team has suffered at least two league losses.
So Rams fans can look at last week as the inevitable part of the season where you rip the bandage off and see that the wound has quickly healed.
And it did in the form of a revitalizing 70-64 win at Rhode Island Wednesday night. For that, VCU should tip the schedule-maker for the way this has turned out.
If it had to happen, the two game losing streak could not have come at a better time with Rhode Island and a home game against Fordham following. A pair of A-10 basement-dwellers that are a combined 12-26 on the season to a follow a losing streak? Sounds like the perfect remedy to me.
Of course, you can always go back and argue that the consecutive pair of losses never should have happened. With all due credit to Richmond and La Salle, there are multiple reasons why VCU just simply wasn’t VCU in either of those games.
It starts with their leading scorer, sophomore workhorse Treveon Graham, who shot just 8-for-28 and 11-for-18 from the free throw line. Before the losing streak, Graham shot 50 percent, but seemed flat out exhausted in the loss to La Salle and lacked his rugged finish when driving to the basket.
It wasn’t just the Rams offense that was sluggish, the defense had its setbacks as well. Their perimeter defense was a step behind and allowed Richmond and La Salle to shoot a combined 16-for-40 from behind the three-point line, while VCU could muster just 7-of-33 from three.
Havoc seemed to have packed its bags and left Richmond for vacation as VCU failed to turn over either opponent more than 14 times. When the Rams force 15 or more turnovers in a game they are 16-0 this season and 40-3 going back to the start of last season. Fifteen is the magic number and it was the key suspect in both losses.
But looking back, those two losses will likely be seen as a key turning point in the season. It’ll be looked at as a springboard for the start of another winning streak.
VCU’s five games following the miniature losing streak are all games it should win, setting up the timely momentum for the grueling final stretch of the regular season that includes road games at St. Louis, Xavier and Temple peppered in with two home games against Butler and Richmond.
Obviously losing two games in a row is never fun, especially when they include your second home loss of the season.
The last time VCU lost two or more games in a season at home was in 2011.
Didn’t something special happen that year?