The place where I come from is a small town
They think so small, they use small words
But not me, I'm smarter than that,
I worked it out
I'll be stretching my mouth to let those big words come right out
I've had enough, I'm getting out
to the city, the big big city
I'll be a big noise with all the big boys, so much stuff I will own
And I will pray to a big god, as I kneel in the big church
--Peter Gabriel, Big Time
That was fun, now wasn't it? And if last night is any indication, the entire RamNation had better resolve itself this morning to the inevitability of additional gray hair, elevated heart rate, and some darn fine college basketball. Last night--from 90 minutes prior to tip, straight through the game and the final buzzer, and for 90 minutes afterward--is exactly why we do what we do.
It's only the first game, but is anybody not on the A10 bandwagon now? I include Dayton in that as well. The Flyers, remember, are preseason #8 in the conference, and they clearly brought a different, higher level of talent. They are the kind of team we want to see every night. And we will.
I keep going back to the same, simple word: fun.
As customary, VCU zipped out to a quick lead, but the Flyers had every answer. Each time the Rams pushed the lead to five points and threatened to blow the game open, a Dayton player knocked down a three to reel back in the Rams. VCU would never lead by more than five in the first half, but Dayton never led. VCU took a 36-32 lead into the break behind 15 first half points from Treveon Graham. The Rams shot 48.1% in the stanza.
After the break, Dayton twice cut the lead to two before Troy Daniels bombed home back-to-back three-pointers to spark a 7-0 run to help VCU grab a 47-38 advantage with 17:31 to play. Just as the first half, Dayton answered. Kevin Dillard and Dyshawn Pierre hit threes of their own and the VCU lead was once again a single point.
That's when havoc began to take its toll, and the Rams used a 17-4 run to lead 66-52 lead with 5:40 left on the clock. The final was 74-62.
VCU forced 26 Dayton turnovers and had 15 steals. The Rams have now forced 22 or more turnovers and 14 or more steals in each of the past six games.
Where Things Changed
After Dillard and Pierre hit those back-to-back threes, havoc fueled a nine-turnovers-in-14-possessions span that fueled the 17-4 run. The sequence was representative of the cumulative effects of havoc. The Flyers were a step slower, passes a tad softer, and mentally more easily frustrated.
The problem for VCU opponents is that the players can see those physical and emotional distress signals, and it fires them up even more. So while the Dayton tank was edging towards E, the VCU RPM was redlining.What It Means: The Skinny
Channeling my very best Shaka Smart: it means we're 1-0. That's all.
Otherwise, last night was what I'll call validation number one. Dayton is annually one of the A10s challengers, and one of its best programs. Nobody needs to hide behind the realistic question of how the Rams would fare in this step up. You can talk all you want about havoc and nonconference success and blahblahblah. However it's never legitimate until you stare the other guy in the eye for 40 minutes.
The first half was a wonderful half of basketball. Fun, entertaining, and players made plays. For every punch there was a counterpunch--we saw two teams playing basketball at a high level. The second half showed why VCU belongs and is worthy of its praise. The long term effects of havoc--namely fatigue and frustration--were obvious to a team that walked into our house claiming they liked to run.
Dayton came into the the game figuring it had seen full court pressure. After all, the Flyers carved up Alabama's pressure and saw early success last night. But there's no comparison between the Alabama pressure and the relentlessness and ferocity of the VCU full court pressure.
I've used this analogy before, but it bears repeating. Reggie Jackson was one of the alltime best fastball hitters in baseball history. He loved fastballs and feasted on them. When Jackson was asked about facing noted fastball pitcher Nolan Ryan, he replied simply: "I like fastballs. I like ice cream, too. But not when you feed it to me by the gallon."
Statistic(s) That Jump Out at Me
9. Briante Weber had a sublime nine steals. Insane. And Treveon Graham has now scored in double-figures in nine consecutive games and 14 games overall, including three 20-plus point performances. He leads the squad with 15.4 points per game.
22, 14 (6). The Rams have now forced 22 or more turnovers and 14 or more steals in each of the past six games.
19-21 (91%). VCUs free throw shooting.
8/12, 4/14. That's the turnover differential in the first half versus the second half. The defense gets credit for forcing 14 turnovers, but don't lose sight of the fact that the offense became very efficient.
The Curmudgeon's View
In back-to-back home games, VCU is now 10-47 (21.3%) from the arc. Long term that isn't going to pass muster. I'm thinking we may not be too far from Shaka Smart sequestering the team at the downtown Marriott and having them shoot in the Richmond Coliseum to help them think they are playing a road game.
I am of course kidding, but in all seriousness poor three-point shooting could help lead to the team's undoing.
Stars of the Game
***Treveon Graham. How good was Graham in the first half? He was unstoppable--that's how good. And just when you had forgotten about him in the second half, Graham hit two free throws and then a three-point play to buoy the VCU lead. You cannot, this close to the final buzzer, accurately call this game a coming out party. However by February--given the proper evaluation timeline--that could be the ideal descriptor.
**Briante Weber. Yes there are the nine steals. However with Darius Theus in serious and significant foul trouble, Weber ran the offense with precision--four points, five assists, and just one turnover. Side note: there's the nonconference season paying off. Weber's familiarity in game situations was obvious.
*Juvonte Reddic. Almost quietly, Reddic was one rebound from a double-double. Plus, his second half was outstanding. Reddic saw early success on dump down passes but Dayton cut that off. Reddic responded and played through it, especially on the defensive end. Dayton's three big men were all held under their averages.
Courtesy of Jeff Horne: