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Preview: VCU v VCU (The Black & Gold Game)

Welcome back basketball, we’ve missed you.

Rams fans will get their first look at Havoc 5.0 this Sunday in an open to the public free scrimmage pitting Ram against Ram as a warm up to regular season action. The game tips at 6PM with gates opening at 5PM, all seating is general admission (so get there early for your chance at courtside seats).

Sunday will display what is being called Coach Smart’s most talented team since landing at VCU, a team that returns the majority of it’s production from a 27-win team, including leading scorers(/rebounders) Treveon Graham (15.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and Juvonte Reddic (14.6 ppg, 8.1 rpg).

Ram fans will no doubt be most interested however in seeing some of the new flavors that VCU has to offer, players that include redshirt freshmen Jordan Burgess and Mo Alie-Cox — both of whom were forced to sit due to eligibility issues last season — FSU transfer Terrance Shannon, and the four freshman who make up the Rams 2013 recruiting class.

A few things we’ll be looking forward to seeing on Sunday:

Briante Weber will look to elevate his game as VCU's projected starting point guard this season.

Briante Weber will look to elevate his game as VCU’s projected starting point guard this season.

GETTING TO THE POINT

The biggest question mark heading into this season comes with the departure of the graduated Darius Theus. Theus ranked just sixth on the team in scoring last season (6.8 ppg) but was the Rams floor leader and one of the A-10’s top assist men at 4.8 per contest (4th in the league). Theus captained the team the past two seasons and was a key part of the Rams combined 56 wins over that span, and was one of the best defensive guards in the country as a starter ranking 51st nationally in steals percentage as a junior before finishing 4th this past season. What’s more, Theus’ offensive rating (109.2) was actually higher than the senior version of Joey Rodriguez (103.2) who’s position he took over following the Rams magical Final 4 run. He will be missed. The good news is the Rams have a Theus clone of sorts in rising junior Briante Weber. Weber’s 7.6 steals percentage not only led the team but also the country last season and the sophomore was surprisingly efficient on offense with a 109.9 offensive rating. Weber has always been vocal, the question will be whether or not he has the ability to lead as well. We’ll get a small taste of that Sunday, as well as a glimpse of other potential PGs in freshmen JeQuan Lewis and Jairus Lyles, as well as senior Rob Brandenberg who may see some action at the 1 this year as well.

NOT NEW TO THE GAME, JUST NEW TO US

Three of the most intriguing players coming into Sunday’s scrimmage are all at least one year removed from high school but have games that are relatively unknown to VCU fans. Fifth-year FSU transfer, Terrance Shannon, will add muscle to a team that was often thin in the front court last season. The injury prone Shannon missed 14 games last season, but when healthy, proved to be a capable scorer for the ‘Noles, posting double-digit scoring eight times including a 15-point, 10-rebound double-double against the Atlantic 10’s St. Joseph’s Hawks, one of three double-doubles for the Georgia native on the season. But as helpful as a capable fifth-year ACC transfer may prove to be, it’s VCU legacy, Jordan Burgess, who Ram fans are most curious to see. Burgess was ruled ineligible in what would have been his freshman season last year, so will debut with a year of practice and D1 weight training under his belt. Coach Smart mentioned on a number of occasions that the younger Burgess would have been among his top seven this past season, with Theus and Daniels graduated, you’re welcome to do the math as to where that might put him this season. The other familiar face with an unfamiliar game comes in the form of a 6’6 260lb physical machine, Mo Alie-Cox. Cox’s size alone (including a 7’1 wingspan) make him an intriguing front court option for the Rams. Take it for what it’s worth, but one VCU insider I spoke with said Cox isn’t just size, but can really play as well (drooling yet?).

OLD FACES, NEW GAMES

Juvonte Reddic was literally matched up against Lebron James this summer, Treveon Graham took Chris Paul on one-on-one. That kind of competition usually helps to elevate one’s level of play. A lot is made of returning talent, but in many cases (see last year’s St. Joseph’s team), those players don’t necessarily take the next step with the added year of experience. Juvonte Reddic increased his field goal percentage while adding 4.3 points to his scoring average last season in only 0.6 more minutes per game. Treveon Graham did the same while adding 8.1 ppg to his average in his additional 10.8 minutes per contest. Will either take the next step, and who might surprise with them? We’ll get a small taste of what to expect from returning players this Sunday, with my personal focus being on the backcourt trio of Brandenberg, Weber and Johnson, all of whom should expect an increased workload this season.

About Mat Shelton-Eide

VCU School of the Arts (BFA '07) and Center for Sport Leadership (M.Ed. '10) alumnus, Mat has followed VCU basketball since the Sunbelt days when he'd attend games with his father. Worked as a graduate assistant in the VCU Sports Information Department for the '09-'10 season, but has covered VCU basketball for VCURamNation.com since 2007. mshelton@vcuramnation.com @MatShelton