The preseason is full of speculation, even from the most knowledgeable experts. So this blog post is dedicated to supreme speculation and the “what-if” scenarios that have me the most excited about this upcoming season, which, by the way, kicks off in exactly three weeks.
1) What if Troy Daniels catches fire? – Daniels was coach Smart’s second-ever recruit as a head coach, a player Smart has referred to as the best shooter he’s ever coached. Solid last season, hitting 38% (tops on the team) of his 247 attempted three pointers (also tops on the team), but imagine what getting that number into the 40s does for a Rams offense that often struggled to score last season, and were dared to do so from long range against zone looks that stifled the black and gold. The ’96-’97 season saw one of VCU’s deadliest three point shooters, Patrick Lee, hit nearly 48% of his 160 threes attempted. We’re not looking for that high of a number, but if one of VCU’s all-time practice players can become a little more dependable as a long range gamer, the Rams offense should get a nice little bump.
2) What if VCU improves as much as they did the last time they graduated a dominating G/F? – Like last season’s lone graduate Bradford Burgess, Nick George was a well-rounded senior for the Rams during the ’05-’06 campaign, averaging 16.9 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.3 steals, while hitting 46.8% of his shots and an unbelievable 46.8% from long range, all in just under 30 minutes of play. Burgess actually had one of his worst seasons as a senior, hitting career lows in field goal (36.5%) and 3-point field goal (36.7%) percentages, as well as his second-worst seasons in shots blocked (0.3) and rebounds (5) while averaging the second most minutes of any of his seasons with VCU. Unlike George however, Burgess was the leader of a CAA tournament champion squad, versus Nick’s 6th-placed CAA finisher. The year after George graduated the Rams took a huge jump, winning the most-ever amount of games up until that season in a single season at 27, lead by seniors BA Walker and Jesse Pellot Rosa, with the talent of a sophomore named Eric Maynor breaking through to shock the Duke Blue Devils in an NCAA first-round win. IF the Rams can make a similar jump in level of play as the last time they returned this much talent, the sky could be the limit for a squad that was seconds from their second consecutive Sweet 16 birth last season.
3) What if Rob Brandenberg shakes his sophomore slump? – One of the most promising players heading into last season was Ohio native Rob Brandenberg. After showing flashes of brilliance as a freshman, posting 22+ point games in his first two appearances of 20+ minutes, many fans expected Rob to take a huge jump with the graduation of three key guards following VCU’s Final 4 season. Rob’s intense defense as a sophomore kept him on the floor for an average of 12 more minutes than he saw his freshman season, but like Burgess in “what if” No. 2, Rob saw a drop in percentages, hitting a team-low 35.4% of his shots and just 29.3% of his 140 attempted three pointers. Perhaps the sophomore put more pressure on himself than was warranted, but if he settles down as a junior, look out. Brandenberg’s defense will keep him on the court as he plays with a high motor and steals more balls than Naveen Andrews’ character in “Planet Terror”. But if his offense gets close to his potential, the Rams may have one of the A-10’s biggest breakout players this season.
4) What if Treveon Graham lives up to the preseason hype? – Picked by Sports Illustrated as the No.1 impact sophomore this season (no pressure), Graham is expected to fill much of the void left by Burgess this upcoming season. Almost a physical clone of the graduating 6’6 225 G/F, Graham was second to only Burgess in free throws attempted last season at 120, but lead the team drawing 6.0 fouls per 40 minutes. As SI.com’s Luke Winn also pointed out, Graham lead the Rams last season in usage at 24.2 percent in his 16.8 minutes per game as a freshman. Graham also had a tendency to heat up, seeing higher shooting percentages when left on the floor for longer periods of time, hitting 42.8% of his buckets in 20+ minutes of play versus 34.1% when playing under 20 a game. With Bradford’s brother Jordan, an ESPN top-100 recruit, being ruled ineligible this season at the same position as Graham, the 19-year old sophomore should find himself with an even larger role in Shaka Smart’s rotation. Graham shot pretty low percentages however across the board last season, hitting 38.9% of his field goals, 31.3% of his three and a less than stellar 63.3% of his free throws. Get those numbers up, combine them with the aggression Graham plays the game with and the sophomore might be set to explode unto the national radar.
5) What if VCU’s offense improves? – The 2011 Final 4 squad was an offensive juggernaut full of guys at all positions who could step out and bury the deep ball. That squad struggled on D at times, but made up for it all the way to Houston by putting on one of the best three-point shooting runs the NCAA tournament has ever seen. Last season’s squad was just the opposite. The 2011-12 Rams struggled to score in the halfcourt, ranking 8th in the CAA in field goal percentage at 41%, a number that would have seen them 13th in last season’s Atlantic 10, but were dominant on the defensive end. VCU lead the country in turnover percentage in Coach Smart’s havoc system with six players averaging more than a steal per game, two at 2+ steals per contest. If scoring at a high percentage was tough in the CAA, it’s only getting harder in the A-10. On the half full side of that argument however, VCU was the 9th-youngest team in the country last season and with 29 wins of experience now under their belt, the Rams could start figuring things out on the flashy side of the floor. If they do, games might get ugly for opposing A-10 squads.