Coaches like to talk about three seasons: nonconference, conference, and tournament. It seems like yesterday we were jacked up about the Virginia State exhibition, but here we are, <insert your March pun or witticism here>.
For VCU, the first two seasons can be characterized as the “shoulda woulda coulda” period. So many close opportunities and a dental floss-thick line between success and failure.
I think I look at it differently. Many folks will point to the missed opportunities. Baylor and UConn is Atlantis. Davidson at home. SLU on Saturday. All opportunities, yes, but all glass half empty. Lament is such a wasted emotion.
To me, the coulda/woulda/shoulda is the other side of the discussion. The view of what this team is made of. What they coulda done could be negative.
They coulda felt sorry when Ace Baldwin hurt his Achilles. Coulda kicked rocks when Jamir Watkins and Jarren McAllister hurt their knees. Shoulda splintered when they fell to 3-4 on the year or pitied themselves when they trailed ODU by six at the half in Norfolk. Agonized when Vince Williams was injured. Folded after the Dayton game.
Nope. None of that lament.
Every single time they've faced adversity this team has responded and come back for more, and better. Wagner loss? Vandy. Chattanooga loss? Syracuse. UConn? Seven straight wins. Bonnies/Davidson double dip? Three wins, including roadies at Davidson and at Richmond. The Dayton disaster? Eight straight wins.
And yet again, here we are. A longshot perhaps, but in the at large bid conversation. The loss at SLU? I can’t wait to see the response Friday, because this team personifies resilience. In his Monday AM presser, Mike Rhoades noted this is a strength.
“I like how these guys just want to play games. They’ve competed and played hard and that’s our greatest strength,” he said in response to a question from CBS6 sports anchor Sean Robertson. “We play hard. That edge. We have a very competitive group (and that) helps you to be ready for the next game. It’s huge this time of year because if you lose you’re done. It’s a three-game season.”
This is not a team a destiny. There’s no feel-good story or trumped up fable of super seniors or a legendary coach or an iron five. These are VCU dudes getting things done. No, it isn’t perfect and yes, games are lost. But those happen every season. Here’s where “who we are” matters more than “what happened Saturday” right now. During tournament season, players have to play.
When it’s Saturday afternoon in the conference semis and you’re down by three at the under four media timeout, who you are and what grit you can summon matters greatly. You want a scrapper, a fighter. Someone unafraid of the moment. Someone who knows their identity and imposes that will upon you even more so in high pressure situations.
Three games in three days is hard. In this scenario I’ll take the bourbon drinkers over the milk drinkers every time.
That’s who these guys are.
See you in DC.