RICHMOND, Va. – It’s not enough to just be talented or skilled or, in the simplest sense, good. The key to being good is replicating that performance. It’s consistency.
I mean, Bruce Willis isn’t Bruce Willis because he makes one Die Hard movie where he levels entire office buildings, airports and the East Coast in 120 minutes of one-liner-muttering splendor. Bruce Willis is Bruce Willis because he can do that five times.
Forgive my affection for bloated, Willisian action cinema. The point is, consistency is a skill in and of itself. High-end potential is great, but it can be a maddening pursuit when you’re only teased the best on occasion. There are plenty of basketball teams out there that haven’t mastered the skill of consistency. Speaking strictly on a macro level, Kentucky is a good example. There are probably 7-8 future NBA players on that team. Sometimes, they look like a terrific, cohesive unit, others a storm of wasted motion and discombobulation. Consistency is a skill as valuable as any other.
VCU’s essentially-never-in-doubt 68-52 win over Rhode Island featured a pretty forgettable second half, but that still didn’t rob us of an opportunity to see the evidence of a team, both on a macro and micro level, that is finding a sense of consistency. VCU was playing a .500 team that doesn’t have a point guard, and Shaka Smart’s team did what they were supposed to do. They did what good teams do. They did what consistent teams do. They removed all doubt early and won a game they’re supposed to win. Not all good teams and not all talented teams do that every night.
But there’s consistency here within the consistency. If we did a little deeper, there were a number of things that stood out to me Thursday in that respect.
JUVONTE REDDIC: This is perhaps the most notable. Reddic scored 14 points and grabbed 11 rebounds last night, his fourth consecutive double-double and his fifth straight game scoring in double figures. He’s the only player averaging a double-double in Atlantic 10 play and over the last five games, Reddic is averaging 16.0 points and 10.6 rebounds.
Prior to this stretch, Reddic had scored in consecutive games just twice and in three straight once this season. He’s registered four straight double-doubles just one other time in his career (Jan. 24-Feb. 2 last season), so this is pretty significant.
He’s also beginning to find his way at the free throw line. Don’t overlook this. Reddic goes to the line more than any VCU player not named Treveon Graham. A 71-percent shooter from the line last season, Reddic was sub 50-percent at one point this season. In his last five games, Reddic is shooting .714 (20-of-28) at the charity stripe.
For Reddic, the pursuit of consistency has always been more about a level of engagement and the ability to manage frustration more than about talent.
“It’s just having a good mindset coming into the game, preparing myself and getting into the right frame of mind,” Reddic said.
“I think he’s made a lot of progress as a player,” Smart said. “We’ve all seen it, and I’ve gotten a thousand comments about it. The more he smiles, the more he’s happy, the better he plays. He needs to do that more, but it’s not always that simple. We’re going to keep making progress. I think the good thing is, he hasn’t shut down. He’s played well even in games where he’s been frustrated and still given us double figure rebounds, and on a night like tonight it really helped us.”
But Reddic’s engagement is also a product of how involved VCU’s guards get him in the offensive plan. The Rams have so many talented guards and play at an often frenetic pace. Sometimes, that means Reddic doesn’t get as many touches as he probably needs. But Smart says keeping Reddic involved has been of greater importance of late. Reddic has taken 10 shots or more in four of the last five games. He had taken that many in just two of the previous 10 games. When Reddic is involved, good things tend to happen.
“He’s definitely more engaged. Most players are when they’re touching the ball,” Smart added. “We’ve always been more guard-oriented, so our guards typically have the ball in their hands a lot, but it’s been a point of emphasis lately to get him the basketball. And again, we talk about, there’s a pecking order on offense and it worked out pretty well tonight. Juvonte and Tre [Graham] got the most shots. That’s the way it’s supposed to work and I think on most nights they’re going to reward their teammates for giving them the ball.”
MO KNOWS ROLE: While the Rams play “small” the majority of the time, they still need to be able to play with two bigs on the floor sometimes, and even when they don’t, VCU has to rest Reddic sometimes. That’s why it’s important to have another reliable post player to rebound, defend, block shot and get stickbacks. All of VCU’s bigs have that ability, but none had established themselves at THAT guy on a nightly basis. But that might be changing.
Mo Alie- Cox, a 6-foot-6, 250-pound mass of shot-blocking ability, may be a freshman, but he’s starting to look like a vet out there.
Alie-Cox turned in an 8-point, 4-rebound, 1-block effort, his third straight notable performance off the bench. In his last three games, Alie-Cox, VCU’s most hashtagable player, is averaging 6.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.7 blocks and is 10-of-10 at the free throw line. In other words, he’s been precisely the type of consistent post player the Rams need off the bench moving forward.
DEFENSE: This is not a recent development. VCU has been mostly dynamite defensively since returning from Puerto Rico in November.
After last night’s effort, in which they held Rhode Island to 52 points and forced 20 turnovers, VCU is ranked 10th nationally in Ken Pomeroy’s defensive efficiency rating. That’s better than Smart’s 2011-12 team, which ranked 19th, and Anthony Grant’s 2007-08 squad that was 15th. It’s currently VCU’s best defensive efficiency ranking since Pomeroy began keeping the stat in 2002-03.
Consider this. VCU began the second half 1-of-17 from the field Thursday night, and during one stretch, went 9:37 without a field goal. Given that golden opportunity, Rhode Island managed to trim a grand total of eight points off VCU’s 20-point halftime lead.
Sometimes, shots don’t fall, but you can almost always defend with effort and activity. This group appears to understand that very well.
“It says a lot,” Reddic said of Thursday’s performance. “It shows how good we can be defensively as a team if everybody’s bought in. A lot of guys, we try not to focus on whether or not the shot goes in or not. We basically focus on things we can control and that’s defense.”
All these consistencies are going to be critical down the stretch. VCU’s final eight regular season games include seven against RPI top 100 teams, including road contests at UMass, Saint Louis, Saint Joseph’s and Richmond. We’re quickly moving from the growth stage of the season and into the stage where championships are won, and it’s often the team that’s most consistent that wins them.