Monday, March 10, 2008

Upset by Tribe, Rams sit and wait

From the Fan District Hub: As the seconds ticked off the clock -- facing a stubborn, resourceful William & Mary squad -- VCU’s junior guard Eric Maynor reached into his pocketful of miracles one more time. Having swished a three-pointer 39 seconds earlier, to knot the score at 51, it must have looked to many in the noisy crowd of 11,200 that another episode of Maynor Time was unfolding before their eyes.

Why not?


VCU head coach Anthony Grant

Remember Maynor’s spectacular clutch performances last season against Mason (in the CAA tournament finale) and Duke (in the NCAA tournament)? Remember so many games this season in which he just took over at the end to stave off defeat?

This time, instead of finding another miracle, Maynor collided with junior forward Peter Stein, both men tumbled to the Richmond Coliseum floor. The referee’s whistle sounded with 2:41 left on the game clock.

Maynor was called for charging.

It was the pivotal call of the game. The play happened directly in front of my seat on press row. Unfortunately, for VCU, I had a much better view of the collision than the referee who trailed the play did.

To me, Stein appeared to be lunging with only one foot down when the contact occurred. But Maynor, CAA Player of the Year, was being double-teamed. And, he was dribbling toward the sideline. Consequently, the trailing ref’s view was obscured, so he had to call what seemed proper. Since Maynor was in the process of driving one-on-two into trouble, perhaps a little out of control, the call went against VCU.

If all other elements are equal, a referee will frequently make such calls against the player who is making the wrong move, fundamentally. Since Maynor should not have been taking the ball that far to the side with two men on him, the Tribe benefited from what seems now to have been the most important whistle of the game.

Final score: W&M 56, VCU 54.

Later, after his ordeal with the press in the Media Room, Wm. & Mary’s head coach Tony Shaver -- CAA Coach of the Year -- came out to sit on press row to scout the Mason/UNC Wilmington tilt. By chance, he sat next to me, so I congratulated him and we spoke of that same charging foul.

Shaver agreed that was the pivotal moment of the game. He graciously conceded that like so many charging/blocking decisions, it probably could have been called either way.

Well, for whatever reason, we know it went Shaver’s way. Hey, his team has won three games in a row on last-second shots.

Now, while Wm. & Mary (17-15) prepares to face Mason (22-10) in the championship game tonight (7 p.m ESPN), VCU head coach Anthony Grant and his (24-7) Rams team are left to twiddle their thumbs ... twiddle and wait.

Update: The Patriots won the shindig, defeating the Tribe, 68-59 ... now back to the analysis.

Will the NCAA selection committee invite the waiting Rams to the Big Dance, anyway, as an at-large entry? Will it not? Meanwhile, what else did VCU’s surprising, rather sub-par performance in its two CAA tournament games reveal?

Answer No. 1: Despite all the talk of Grant being lured away from the Siegel Center by an offer he can’t refuse, despite all the talk about Maynor turning pro after this season, no coach, no player nor team can depend on miracles to always make up for fundamental mistakes and spells of mediocre effort.

VCU let Wm. & Mary stay in the game, so the Tribe could steal it at the end. The Rams clearly lacked the killer instinct, necessary for a mature team, when they came out for the second half. It happened several times during the regular season. This time they paid for it.

Answer No. 2: VCU can be too predictable in late game situations. Everybody knows about the Maynor Time thing. The Rams lost to ODU on Feb. 16 at the Siegel Center in much the same way as they did last night -- again Maynor drove toward the sideline and into trouble. That, instead of recognizing a double-team and passing to an open man. In that game it was a no-call that canceled Maynor Time.

Then again, last night, with the double-team developing, was there an open Ram moving into position to receive a pass and take a shot? Or, were Maynor’s teammates standing, and watching, and waiting for the next miracle?

Answer No. 3: First-seeded VCU was uptight in both CAA tournament games. Unlike last season, when the Rams won the CAA tournament, this year’s VCU team did not have great senior leadership on the floor. In particular, senior forward Michael Anderson, had a season-long tendency to disappear, or overreact. The winning basket by Laimis Kisielius (game-high 23 points) was scored on Anderson; his defense was soft.

Senior Wil Fameni was too hobbled by injury to be much help. Moreover, this time there was no Jesse Pellot-Rosa, to set a tone of toughness throughout the whole game.

Answer No. 4: Grant did not use his bench in the tournament as he had the entire season, especially in the game he lost. So, the advantage of fresh legs at crunch time, because he usually goes 11 or 12 deep, was not there.

No. 5: Freshmen will be freshmen. Sanders and Brandon Rozzell played well, Sanders had a great game on Saturday. But starter Joey Rodriguez, and subs Lance Kearse and Ed Nixon will be happy to forget their performances at the Coliseum.

The Rams’ RPI dropped from No. 43 to No. 56 with the loss to the Tribe. With the results of other conference’s games this week that could get a little better, or worse, but it won’t move much. History says teams rated in the 50s, from a mid-major conference, don’t get many at-large invitations.

Asked what he thought VCU’s chances are to get that at-large bid, Coach Grant declined to guess. He shrugged and said he’d just be “making stuff up,” to engage in such speculation.

Out of miracles, at least temporarily, over their spring break the Rams have been left to think about what got away ... and to wait for Selection Sunday’s verdict. However, they will play again, somewhere. Regular season conference winners are guaranteed an invitation to the NIT.

Note: Click here to read the rest of the Fan District Hub's CAA tournament coverage.

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-- Words and photo by F.T. Rea

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