THE PRESS BOX: Men’s hoops brings much needed heat

Just more than a month ago, the hopes and aspirations surrounding the VCU basketball team were in loom. The team, struggling but not defeated, suffered through a difficult out-of-conference schedule that left RamNation speculating if Will Wade was steering a sinking ship.

Well, one month later, those questions have subsided, the team is thriving and Wade has garnished a comparable approval rating to the Dave Matthews Band in the city of Richmond.

VCU is known for it’s upset wins and strong play during the nonconference portion of its schedule year-after-year. This season however, after losing to Duke and Wisconsin in the 2K Classic, the team was left to look forward to three equivalent ball clubs the Rams could easily sneak wins against — three games we normally find ways to win.

The Florida State matchup on Dec. 6 was simply defined as, “they were huge.” FSU bolsters one of the tallest frontcourts in the country, having three players on the roster over 7-feet tall and an average height of 6-foot-7, giving Mo Alie-Cox a losing battle even on his best day.

The Georgia Tech game was no different. The Yellow Jackets, much improved from last season under Head Coach Brian Gregory, were able to match up athletically with the Rams, forcing the team into contested shots for the entirety of the contest. VCU only shot 32 percent from the floor, unusual at best for such a high powered offense.

But no loss hurt more than Cincinnati. It was the last shot for Wade to reel in his first big-time win at the Stu, a safe haven where VCU DOES NOT LOSE. Despite a great overall performance from Melvin Johnson, the Rams came up short in OT, putting a cap on the top-tier schools they matched up with in the non-conference.

After a bizarre 5-5 start to a season, most expected this to be a rebuilding year — a season Wade would use to get his feet wet before totally acclimating himself to the program, before he could call it his instead of Shaka’s.

Five and five seemed synonymous with nothing more than mediocrity. How the team was able to regroup is beyond me — but boy did they ever.

Since their shaky start, VCU is on a nine game winning streak, six of which having been conference games. The Rams sit at the top of the standings in the Atlantic 10 for first place. The season went from being one to forget to one to remember.

The Rams still have an ample amount of work to do to completely salvage this season, as the selection committee will harp on the OOC losses, but little has to change from what is already taking place.

To guarantee another trip to the NCAA Tournament, VCU will have to do what most of its teams have been reluctant to in the past — win on the road. So far, the Rams are 3-0 in conference road games, including the OT win against the other school in our city.

In the past two seasons, the Rams have gone 11-9 overall in away contests. A record this team can’t afford to resemble if they have any shot to advance come March. A tough task, but one the team can easily accomplish the way the guys have come together in these past nine games.

VCU is 4-1 away from the Stu so far this season. Thanks to Wade’s quick response to adversity, the team looks primed and ready to compete in its final 12 conference games of the regular season. Winter storm Jonas has the entire East Coast in a frozen Tundra, so it’s a good thing the Rams have decided to heat up at the right time.

Sports Editor, Bryant Drayton

Bryant Drayton, photo by Brooke MarshBryant is a sports advocate who’s always smiling. He is a senior print and online journalism major aspiring for a career as a professional or college football columnist. Bryant currently covers high school football games for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. // Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn

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