VCU has hit warp speed in it’s growth as a program since Coach Smart led the Rams to the 2011 Final 4. The school has sold out 50 consecutive games that actually predates the run, have expanded the Siegel Center, are one of just a handful of teams to reach the NCAA tournament each of the past four seasons and have successfully completed a step up in weight class, competing in the A-10 tournament final in their two seasons in the league, a league that has sent at least five teams to the Big Dance the past two seasons. What people often forget however, is VCU has done all of this with essentially a CAA roster.
Warning: Article contains hype and speculation that may not be suitable for some older fans.
VCU head coach, Shaka Smart, and his predecessors Anthony Grant and Jeff Capel have done masterful jobs of recruiting to VCU, bringing in players that predominantly flew under the radar their high school years before showing an ability to compete with the big boys at the D1 level. Guys like Eric Maynor, Larry Sanders and current leading scorer, Treveon Graham, received a limited number of offers before eventually committing to VCU where they would shine, and in the case of both Maynor and Sanders — not to mention recent grad, Troy Daniels — receive NBA contracts. VCU has built one of the most consistently successful programs in college hoops of late by essentially mining for diamonds.
While Coach Smart may not be able to pick and choose his players like the likes of blue bloods Duke, UNC and Kentucky, he may be able to throw away his pickaxe soon in exchange for a diamond loupe (one of those magnifying glasses jewelers use…I had to look that up) as VCU’s new and improved recruiting options have the potential to take the Rams from overachieving underdog to legit perennial threat.
VCU’s 2014 class is ranked 15th nationally by ESPN.com and features three top-100 4-star recruits and a three-star point guard in Richmond native, Jonathan Williams who would have been the highlight of previous incoming classes. That class is highlighted by 6’7 forward, Terry Larrier. Larrier comes to VCU as ESPN’s No.42 pick, Rivals No.39 and 247Sports’ No.23 nationally ranked player. He’ll be VCU’s most highly-coveted recruit since 1990 McDonald’s All-American, Kendrick Warren.
Larrier will be joined by two other towers of power: 6’8 power forward, Justin Tillman (ESPN No.97) and 6’9 power forward Mike Gilmore (ESPN No.77), nephew of NBA Hall of Famer, Artis Gilmore.
That group will join a 2012 class highlighted by two ESPN top-100s in Melvin Johnson and Jordan Burgess. Johnson has been a nice (and occasionally deadly) scorer for VCU in his two season’s with the program. Burgess has been inconsistent on offense but a lockdown defender who posted 14 points in his last game as a redshirt freshmen this season. Both have scored at least 18 points in a game for VCU.
Those two classes bracket a 2013 group led by freshmen breakout star, JeQuan Lewis, a 2013 ESPN 4-star who had nine double-digit scoring games as a freshmen and and finished the season with an impressive 50.3% effective field goal percentage.
Without a doubt expectations will be high with such a group, but after a 2011 Final 4 run they may be the recruiting class that gives VCU the manpower to reach where expectations have risen to already.
Ram fans were heartbroken when VCU lost to a relatively unknown Stephen F Austin program in the round of 64 of this season’s NCAA tournament. What we all tend to forget however, is much of our current roster out of high school was perhaps more on par with the recruits of the Stephen F Austins of the world than the blue bloods we aspire to be.
That isn’t to say ratings determine success. As VCU fans we are well aware of how underrated guys like Briante Weber and Darius Theus can be. But with that said, there is also a reason all but two of this year’s Sweet 16 teams come from so-called power conferences. One of those two schools, San Diego State, is coached by the same Steve Fischer who recruited Michigan’s “Fab 5”, arguably the best recruiting class ever to play the game. The other, Dayton, is a team VCU beat on the road by 14 points earlier this season, and is led by Ohio State transfer, class of 2010 No.39 ranked 4-star, Jordan Sibert.
Moral of the story: Recruiting matters, and more often than not, the teams who can stockpile the stars have a much greater chance of advancing than those who don’t.
Non-Power Conference teams (at the time of their tournaments) to reach Sweet 16 over last 10 seasons:
2014 – Dayton, San Diego State (TBD)
2013 – Florida Gulf Coast, Wichita State, La Salle (Wichita State advanced)
2012 – Xavier (did not advance)
2011 – San Diego State, Richmond, VCU, Butler, BYU (Butler and VCU advanced)
2010 – Northern Iowa, Butler, Xavier, Cornell, St. Mary’s (only Butler advanced)
2009 – Memphis, Xavier, Gonzaga (none advanced)
2008 – Davidson, Memphis, Western Kentucky, Xavier (Davidson, Memphis and Xavier advanced)
2007 – Butler, UNLV, Southern Illinois, Memphis (Memphis advanced)
2006 – Memphis, Bradley, Gonzaga, George Mason, Wichita State (Memphis and GMU advanced)
2005 – UW Milwaukee, Utah (none advanced)
2004 – St. Joe’s, UAB, Nevada, Xavier (St. Joe’s & Xavier advanced)
Over the past 10 seasons, non-power conference teams have accounted for just under 24% of the representation in Sweet 16s. And looking at that list, a good portion of those teams aren’t your typical “mid-majors”, while others featured future NBA stars like Jameer Nelson, Andrew Bogut and Steph Curry. Even VCU’s lone appearance on the list came from a team that featured class of 2006 top-100 player, Jamie Skeen.
The Rams ability to attract top recruits does not guarantee anything, but raises VCU’s ceiling while bettering the black and gold’s odds to make future deep NCAA tournament runs.