It wasn’t all that long ago that VCU was on a 12-game win streak. It looked like a team that was no doubt going to make yet another run through the NCAA Tournament. But in a span of just 15 days, the Rams went from a team that was the top dog in the A-10 to a team that is in a four-way tie with Dayton, Rhode Island and UMass.
There is no question that injuries and poor shooting have hurt the Rams during this stretch. The Rams were projected as a 4-seed in the NCAA Tournament at the end of January, but how far will they fall if they continue to falter?
On January 27, the Rams were flying high with a win over George Washington that sent them to 17-3 and 7-0 in A-10 play. But now all that momentum has seemed to fall to the wayside as the Rams have lost three of their last four putting them at 18-6 (8-3 A-10). On January 31, the Rams lost senior point guard Briante Weber, who was just 12 steals off of the all time Division I record, to a season-ending knee injury.
Then a week ago, the injury bug bit them one more time, this time to leading scorer and rebounder Treveon Graham. Graham, who is in the running for A-10 player of the year, aggravated a high ankle sprain, an injury that would usually sideline a player for about six weeks. But the senior small forward is trying to push through the pain and lead his team through this last stretch of the season. The coaching staff is trying to play him in selective minutes and not make it worse before tournament time. Graham did not play in the last game for VCU when the Rams took the loss in double overtime to La Salle. The team will need him to come back and help its poor shooting, which has been only 37 percent in the last three losses.
The Rams will visit George Washington today and try to be the first team to come into Charles E. Smith Center and come away victorious this season. It would be a tough task for a healthy lineup, but with the injuries the team faces, it will take every player’s best effort. The Colonials will look to get a bad taste out of their mouths after suffering a loss to Duquesne on Tuesday. A win over VCU today could spring them back in the right direction. Teams need to be building momentum at
this point of the season, not losing it.
The Rams, meanwhile, will turn to Briante Weber’s replacement JeQuan Lewis who is coming off of a career best 26-point game.
The team may not look like the team the team that took the nation by storm with five upsets in the NCAA Tournament, but give it time. Once this team is able to take a breath and get its leading scorer in a state where he can contribute again, this team may come out tougher than they were before. It will take a couple of games to get some chemistry without the leading scorer on the floor. VCU doesn’t need every player to try to become the hero to take the team by the reigns, it just needs each player to step up his own play and collectively play better as a unit.
Every good team faces adversity at some time or another in a season. If the Rams are able to find other players that can step up and make big plays in Graham’s absence, then the team will have that much more balance when Graham is able to play. The rest of the season will not be easy for them as every team in the A-10 is aiming to shoot down the Rams, but I don’t see these guys going out without a fight.
Shaka Smart has had no less than 26 wins in a season in his time at VCU. I don’t think that this season will be any different when it is all said and done.