Straight, No Chaser...
I’ve got to tell you up front to get off my lawn. I had to walk uphill, both ways, in the snow, to get this preview written. And in the world’s weirdest transition, I want to talk about LF Lickholitov.
The big Russian came to VCU in 1998, a gangly 6-11 barely able to catch a post pass and chew gum at the same time. He left VCU a force in the CAA, averaging 11 points and 8 rebounds his senior season. He grew into his muscles and could be unstoppable in the low post. Richmond found out—LF posted a 19/16 on them.
I point that out because I've always marveled at his development over four years. Coaches loved him as a kid. There have been countless others through the years and it’s that connection, watching a guy go from a fried-egg-eye freshman to a young man playing basketball at a high level I fear we’re subjugating at the hands of rankings. Everything that occurs is growingly seen through the lens of an at large bid. That four spots in The Net, whatever the hell that is, is more important than watching these kids get better as basketball and grow from being snot-nosed, know-it-all kids into young men that make you proud.
Let’s not go crazy. The at large bid is tremendously important for all the reasons. I look at these numbers every single day and they are important to me. The NCAA tournament is the goal and being in the at large conversation means you're good enough to matter. Therefore, anything that harms that goal, that path, stinks.
What I’m saying is that this isn’t a one or the other rant. What I’m saying is to enjoy Jalen Deloach mastering a drop step post move and a smile in the postgame presser—something he probably couldn’t muster two months ago—as Deloach growing instead of that bucket being a path to Lunardi’s “Last Four In.” That connection is priceless, and no computer can tell you differently.
THE LAST GAME, IN BRIEF (THANKS, JERRY)
VCU overcame a choppy first half, outscoring the Hawks 17-6 in the game’s final seven minutes to win, 70-54. Vincent Williams led the Rams with a Treveon Graham-appropriate 21 points and Keshawn Curry had 12 points and five rebounds. VCU forced a season-high 27 turnovers, led by seven steals from Ace Baldwin. I thought Mikeal-Brown Jones played well in his nine minutes. His activity level is a barometer of how things are going. VCU was 6-13 from three, its best mark of the season.
For two years I’ve said Luka Brajkovic is the key to Davidson. His ability to score in the post, and do so mano-e-mano, opens up lanes and shooters. I was surprised last Tuesday that the Wildcats used Brajkovic more away from the basket than the clear-a-side approach we’re used to seeing. Brajkovic hit both threes he attempted, including a sack-up trey when Davidson trailed VCU 59-53.
The Wildcats won’t go deep—all five starters played 30 or more minutes Tuesday, led by point guard Foster Loyer’s 37 minutes. Hyunjung Lee was a non-factor in that game. I have a hard believing that holds tonight.
It’s never complicated with Davidson—disrupt their flow and challenge the arc. VCU did a good job last Tuesday. Keep an eye on timely threes. You know Davidson is going to make a bunch—but will they make them when they HAVE to, quelling VCU momentum or capitalizing on their own?
DO YOU REMEMBER?
VCU has lost five of six games in Belk. (The arena, not the department store.) There’s not much we want to remember.
January 29, 2016: The Rams ran out to a 29-7 lead and coasted to their only win ever in that building. JeQuan Lewis scored 22 points and Mo Alie-Cox had 18 points, 11 rebounds, five receptions, and 73 yards. Doug Brooks gave us a taste of The Experience: he had five rebounds, four steals and four fouls in 15 minutes.
THIS IS THE LAST SECTION
There’s a lot to like in the margins with this VCU team. Marcus Tsohonis is finding his shot; don’t discount the threat of a shooter. Early in the St. Joseph’s game Hason Ward played his best and most engaged segment of the year. I think he even got mad. Keshawn Curry has played his two best games of the season prior to tonight—balls ass crazy but backing off of sheer lunacy. Curry has perfectly straddled that line.
And of course Vince Williams continues to mature at a rapid rate even though he’s a senior. He’s becoming a Thelonious Monk on the hardwood, alternating aggressive disruption with sultry, melodic, transfixing insouciance. I love to watch that kid play basketball.
It's one thing to see those things come together when you're hosting LaSalle. It’s quite another to make it happen at Davidson, where VCU has lost four straight. I would be very guarded if this team took what appeared to be the next step on the arc to March at home to a bottom four team.
We see it tonight on the road against the A-10s top team? I’m probably hung over tomorrow.