The slow starts have been a problem all season. I will not rehash it here, I've beaten that dead horse enough. I expected the team to come out with a lot of energy, a sense of "we have to win this one for Coach" type of attitude. Not to take anything away from VCU, they played outstanding man to man defense and we could not get anything going. It took us over TEN MINUTES to finally score a FG. At that point, I still felt okay about things, because our defense was playing outstanding to that point to keep it still within a single digit game.
VCU was able to maintain their high level of play defensively throughout, knock down some big 3's, and feed off their home crowd to blow us out. As I said, we kept it respectable early on defensive effort, but they have a similar style of play to us and they wore us down with frequent substitutions. We had to use Releford at point almost the entire game because it became evident very quickly that Retin could not handle the press.
The last key moment of the game came early in the 2nd half, when we had trimmed their 20 point lead down to 13, and Levi Randolph missed an open 3, the ball took a long bounce off the rim, and VCU got a 3 point play at the other end. If we could have cut it to 10 there, I felt like we might have been able to make a game of it. When VCU stretched it to 26, we were fortunate it did not end up being a 35-40 point loss.
For all of the talk I have seen about how this team "quit," I do not believe that to be the case. I saw a team that was clueless as to what to do on offense, and a team that got tired and wore out on defense. Our offensive strategy seemed to be to drive toward the basket and force up a shot whether it was open or not. We tried to run the pick and roll seemingly every possession of the first half and made no adjustments when it was obvious that VCU was prepared for it.
For all the talk about how great of a defensive team we are, if you want to see a truly great defensive team, look at VCU. When you stop and think about it, we are overrated in our defensive ability. Releford and Lacey are not great on ball defenders. They are very capable offensive players, but need to become more consistent at that end of the court as well. Nick Jacobs is awful defensively and while I like the guy and his effort, to say Moussa Gueye does ANYTHING adequately at this point is a stretch. So, that's half of our roster that is average at best defensively.
Yes, we are dealing with some injuries right now, but Carl Engstrom and Andrew Steele should not make this much of a difference. I know Carl was developing into a serviceable big man, and we badly miss his minutes right now given the shortcomings of Jacobs and Gueye, and Steele brings some solid defense and leadership qualities to the court, but let's not kid ourselves, neither one of those guys were going to make any all conference lists.
This game was not lost as a result of in game coaching or a lack of effort. It was lost in the off season as a result of poor roster management, and I fear it's not going to be the last game we lose for this reason. As I mentioned, we only started with 10 scholarship players, several of which have some known major limitations. We are now down to 8. For a team that's looking to play "94 feet both ways" that is a recipe for disaster.
We need to seriously re-think what we are trying to do right now. As I said, VCU runs a similar system, and when you try to do basically the same thing with a team that is not as deep/good, you probably aren't going to win, especially on the road. We don't have the horses to press most of the game right now. Of course, it's easy to point out what we shouldn't be doing. I don't have any answers either. Our inside game isn't good enough to run a half court game and pound it into the post. We aren't going to beat anybody with our perimeter shooting either. It's hard to come up with a game plan that will allow us to compete with good teams right now.
I hate to pile on Coach Grant, because I still think he's done a good job overall and I still support him 100%, and I know he's starting to catch a fair amount of criticism now, but there was one thing that I saw Saturday that particularly bothered me. Before the game, after the starting lineup introductions, VCU had one of those promotions where a fan tries to make a free throw, 3 pointer, and half court shot within 45 seconds or so to win free pizza or something. Except, they allow a former player to come back and make the shots the fan missed, I don't recall who the player was, but he was one of Coach Grant's former players at VCU, and he made the half court shot to get the fans excited. Anyway, during the 2-3 minutes all this is going on, Shaka Smart has his players in the huddle coaching them up. Our players were watching the fan/former player shoot, then Coach Grant and staff comes out to hug the former VCU player as he's leaving the court. I'm probably nitpicking, but 1) spend that time coaching your team, and 2) exchange pleasantries after the game, seconds before tip is not the time or place for that, just my opinion.
Speaking of the Coach Grant-VCU connection, we had a few fans tell us they wished Coach Grant well, appreciated what he did for them, and were pulling for him to be successful at Alabama. While there was never one big moment for everyone to applaud or boo him, there were several more who were constantly yelling "don't cry Tony" or "Get off our court Tony" throughout the game, which is to be expected. It was a great atmosphere for college basketball. The arena only seats about 7,500 and it was packed with everyone very close to the court. It was a loud and difficult place to play as expected. It was a nice arena for it's size, but definitely not up to par with what you would find at most major conference schools. The video screens are in bad need of an upgrade. Their fans were very passionate, but strangely obsessed with officiating. Kentucky fans would blush at the way these guys treated the refs, and we all know the Big Blue has never committed a foul. There were at least 4 or 5 different people in every section who stood and cursed at the officials nearly the entire game, and they were not very knowledgeable of the rules. EVERY time we pivoted, it was a "travel," every high dribble was a "double dribble," and the few good screens we managed to set were "moving picks." If you walked into the arena when they had a 26 point lead in the second half and just listened to the fans, you would have thought they were losing the game. If my team were beating the shit out of my former coach, I think I would try to at least enjoy it a little bit. In fairness, they did not really taunt us, although I wasn't a huge fan of the "show no mercy" and "run up the score" chants. There were about 150 Alabama fans scattered throughout, although we seemed to be the only ones in our section.
I thought this was interesting. I found this at the hotel bar. Yes, we got our asses blown out by an outfit that takes its recruits to freakin' Chilli's on official visits.
On another note, as I mentioned above we saw DMB play at UVA's arena Friday night. The Cavalier's John Paul Jones arena would be one of the top 3 nicest venues in the SEC. It seats about 15,000 with an upper level and sort of a mini NBA feel to it. It reminded me of a larger version of Xavier's Cintas center. Anyway, the fact that one of the lower tier teams in the ACC has an arena that would be one of the best in the SEC, says something about where our conference is in regards to basketball.
Up next, we go to Lubbock, TX looking for our first true road win against a horrible Texas Tech team Wednesday night. Tipoff is set for 7pm, and you will need broadband internet to watch it on ESPN3. Let's end this losing streak.