I want to apologize to all of Ram Nation for being so late to post this.
The 2012-13 college basketball season officially ended this past Monday when the Louisville Cardinals downed the Michigan Wolverines (the squad who ended VCU’s season), 82-76, to earn the title of last team standing. Just hours later the national media released their way-too-early 2013-14 college hoops preseason rankings. I didn’t get the memo. It’s Thursday, lunchtime, and I’m just now getting my VCU preview up, so you’ll have to excuse my tardiness.
For starters, the national media is about as high as they’ve ever been on VCU’s potential. Our friends at ESPN have projected the Rams as the 12th-best team entering next season, CBS has them two spots down at No.14, and USA Today a full six spots down at No.18. You read that right. The three major outlets to release their mega early rankings all have VCU as a top-20 team to start the season, and some as a borderline top-10. Things have changed around here.
Much of the early excitement has to do with returning production, most notably, the extension of head coach Shaka Smart. Smart is now 7-3 in NCAA tournament games as a head coach, having taken the Rams to three consecutive tournament appearance while winning at least one game in each.
On the court, the Rams return four of their top five scorers next season, and six of their top eight (about 76% of their total point production).
Troy Daniels – 12.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 40.3% 3P% (2013 College 3-point Shootout Champion)
Darius Theus – 6.8 ppg, 4.8 apg, 2.4 spg (Lefty Driesell Defensive All-American)
DJ Haley – 1.9 ppg, 1.9 rpg
David Hinton – 0.7 ppg, 1 rpg
KEY RETURNING PLAYERS
Treveon Graham – 15.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg (2nd Team A-10 All-Conference)
Juvonte Reddic – 14.6 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 1.4 spg (2nd Team A-10 All-Conference)
Rob Brandenberg – 10.4 ppg, 1.4 apg, 1.3 spg
Melvin Johnson – 6.9 ppg in just 17.3 min (A-10 All-Rookie Team)
Briante Weber – 5.4 ppg, 2.7 apg, 2.7 spg (led the nation in steals %, A-10 Defensive Player of the Year)
Jordan Burgess (2012 ESPN Top-100)
Mo Alie-Cox (2012 Rivals 2-star)
Jairus Lyles (2013 Rivals Top-150, 3-star)
Antravious Simmons (2013 Rivals 3-star)
Jequan Lewis (2013 Rivals 3-star)
Douglas Brooks (2013 Rivals 3-star)
VCU will return the bulk of their talent, but lose key seniors in starters Troy Daniels and Darius Theus. Daniels was a zone-busting 3-point shooter and a guy teams had to always respect from deep, but a player some would say was a bit one-dimensional. Daniels broke a VCU single-season record by hitting 124 deep balls but hit just 25 shots inside the arc. Theus took a step back in scoring this past season, but in doing so made his team that much better. His 2.6 assist to turnover ratio led the Atlantic 10, and VCU’s 78 ppg ranked 11th in the nation. He was also a force on defense, ranking No.2 (behind No.1 Briante Weber) in steals % nationally.
Look for Weber to shoulder the majority of the point guard duties this season. In his only game without Theus, Weber guided VCU past a tough Belmont team, scoring seven points to go along with three assists and two steals in the 75-65 win. Melvin Johnson is the obvious beneficiary from Daniels’ graduation. Johnson came to VCU with the reputation of a knock-down 3-point shooter but struggled as a freshman from deep, hitting just 28.4% of his threes this season. He’ll hope to bounce back in extended minutes as a sophomore while giving VCU an added dimension as a threat to attack the basket (hit 48.4% of his 2-point attempts as a freshman).
DJ Haley and David Hinton played limited minutes this season (with Haley eventually quitting the team before the start of the A-10 tournament), but the two provided some bulk inside that the Rams could go to when needed. Expect freshman Antravious Simmons (6’9 240) and the 6’6 260 Mo Alie-Cox (who was forced to sit this season after being ruled ineligible by the NCAA) to bring some muscle to the frontcourt for 2013-14.
G – Briante Weber
G – Rob Brandenberg
F – Treveon Graham
F – Juvonte Reddic
F – Jordan Burgess
Call that a hunch, and one I may be completely wrong on. Johnson could very well get the start over Brandenberg but I expect the senior to get the nod early. Regardless, both should play equal minutes. Earlier this season, Smart told the Richmond Times Dispatch Burgess would have been in his top seven had he been eligible this season. Jordan may not be the deep ball shooter Daniels was, but more than matches his size and gives VCU another solid scoring option, which leads me to believe he has a great chance at stepping into the starting role vacated by Daniels. Smart told the RTD’s Tim Pearrell earlier this year, “If Tre is like an SUV, then Jordan is a monster truck.” With those two monsters attacking the hoop next season, opposing teams may want to get out of the road or risk being run over.
PROJECTED A-10 PRESEASON RANKINGS
2. Saint Louis
3. La Salle
4. St. Joseph’s
8. George Mason
9. George Washington
10. Rhode Island
11. St. Bonaventure
The Atlantic 10 will look at lot different than the league from VCU’s introductory season. The conference loses three major programs in Temple (to the newly named American Athletic Conference portion of the former Big East), Butler and Xavier (to the new “Big East”), as well as 2013 8th-placed finisher Charlotte (CUSA). To this point, the only addition is former CAA foe George Mason. Don’t sleep on the Patriots. The Paul Hewitt led squad finished fourth in a down CAA this past season, but return an experienced squad for their first season of A-10 play and have the pieces to compete. 2013 Atlantic 10 champ, Saint Louis, loses 37% of their point production from this season, with key losses in Kwamain Mitchell, blue-haired Cody Ellis and 6’8 Cory Remekun, but return some serious talent in Dwayne Evans, Mike McCall Jr., Jordair Jett and Rob Loe. They’ve upgraded former interim coach, Jim Crews, to full time head coach, and he’ll have the challenge of filling in the holes in his first year with that title. I expect La Salle to be very dangerous as well. The Sweet 16 squad loses their top scorer, Ramone Galloway (17.2 ppg), but return everyone else and were deep at the position to begin with. Saint Joseph’s was picked to finish first this season but fell well short of the expectations. Like La Salle, they lose their leading scorer, Carl Jones (14.7 ppg), but return a number of very talented pieces. All-in-all, I expect a very competitive league race once again, but the Rams and Billikens should most certainly be favored to finish 1-2 (flip a coin on the order).
Out of conference, VCU fans can look forward to another exciting schedule. Old Dominion makes their return to the Siegel Center, the Rams take on Virginia Tech at the Coliseum in the Governors Classic, and there is a rumored game against UVA (also receiving some preseason top-25 love) in the works. Fans of tropical hoops also have the 2013 Puerto Rico Tip-Off to look forward to. Included in the field with the Rams are Auburn, Charlotte, Florida State, Georgetown, Kansas State, Long Beach State and Michigan. Expect Smart and Co. to fill the OOC schedule with a plethora of exciting games for Ram fans.
VCU finished one of the best regular seasons in their history this year, but were left to savor the bitter taste of a 25-point third round NCAA tournament loss to Michigan. I expect that to provide even more offseason fire to a 2013-14 VCU squad that was going to be dangerous to being with.