The west coast hasn't been very friendly to VCU in recent NCAA Tournaments. Since 2012, the Rams have now lost three of their four games in the big dance in that particular geographic location, and the latest defeat wraps up a season that was quite a ride, featuring climbs and falls on many levels.
November and early December saw VCU trying to find its way. The Rams started out 5-3, falling to Villanova, Old Dominion and Virginia. Then it clicked. VCU rattled off 12 straight wins, including wins against Northern Iowa and at Cincinnati, and started its Atlantic 10 season 7-0.
Then, the moment that many feel changed the season. Briante Weber went down in a loss to Richmond on January 31st. All of a sudden there was a gaping hole once filled by arguably the best defender in the country. The Rams would respond with a win at George Mason, but a lingering ankle injury that had been hampering Treveon Graham was aggravated during that game in Fairfax, and he'd miss the next two contests, both VCU losses.
The Rams would lose six of their final eleven regular season games. There would be highs and lows during that stretch. VCU knocked down 12 three pointers in a win at George Washington, kicking of a three game winning streak, but Shaka Smart and company would also lose four games by five points or less, two in double overtime and one on a buzzer-beater. The Rams would also suffer the first three-game losing streak in Smart's tenure, capped off by a 27 point trouncing at Davidson.
The Atlantic 10 Tournament saw some uncertainty among the experts about how VCU would fare. The Rams' first game saw them shoot 30 percent from the floor, but sneak by with a win. Then, it all clicked again. VCU came from behind to beat Richmond, returned the favor in a 20 point victory over Davidson, and held off Dayton to claim its first A-10 title. The showing propelled them to a seventh seed in the NCAA Tournament.
VCU's final game resembled its season... ups and downs. The Rams had a 12 point first half lead, saw Ohio State come back, took the lead late, but made some uncharacteristic costly mistakes in overtime, mistakes that you can't make if you want to win in March. The 75-72 overtime loss to Ohio State marks the third straight NCAA Tournament falter for VCU.
The end of the season also sees the end to two great collegiate careers: Weber, whose contributions have been highlighted many times since his injury back in January, and Graham. The Freight Train leaves 2nd on the program's all-time scoring list with 1,882 points. He became known for his late game heroics, and his toughness shined through during his senior year, playing on an injured ankle for the final two months of the season.
VCU saw some lows, but the biggest story is how the Rams persevered. The conference tournament win may go down as one of the most successful weekends in program history. Now VCU turns the page, where a Melvin Johnson-led Rams team looks to surpass the accomplishments of 2014-2015.