The past decade has been a time of unprecedented success at VCU. After a somewhat slow start and two letdown seasons at the tail end of Jeff Capel’s time at VCU, the Anthony Grant-led Rams burst VCU on to the national scene with a win over Duke while also putting the pieces in place for Shaka Smart and Co. to make VCU a household name in 2011 with a magical Final 4 run, a run cemented by four more seasons of NCAA tournament appearances with two round of 64 wins along the way.
The Rams have been led by a great group of players that past decade. Below is a list of the guys who stepped up the most when the pressure was the highest during the past 10 editions of March Madness.
2005 & 2006: Nick George
George hit the scene just as things were getting interesting again but had his biggest years toward the tail end of Jeff Capel’s tenure. The Rams might not have made NCAA tournaments in the UK native’s final two seasons on Broad Street, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort from George. The 6’6 forward with one of the highest revving motors VCU has ever seen averaged 17.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists during six games of tournament play in 2005 and 2006. He was havoc before havoc and I sometimes dream of how fun he would have been to watch with VCU’s system the past four seasons.
2007 & 2008: Eric Maynor
Maynor exploded onto the scene as a sophomore with the Rams, connecting on arguably the most famous shot in VCU history, a foul line jumper with 1.8 seconds to play to give the Rams an upset win over the Duke Blue Devils in the ’07 NCAA tournament (not to mention dished eight assists in that win). The young Rams team was unable to return to the NCAA tournament the following season but Maynor still managed to average 19 points, 7 assists and 3.3 rebounds during tournament play that year.
2009: (tie) Eric Maynor & Larry Sanders
There was no doubt that Maynor would be NCAA bound his senior season and it helped that he had a new sophomore weapon to help get him there (not to mention a surrounding cast of characters who were bound for eventual greatness). Larry Sanders helped Maynor and Co. dominate the 2009 CAA tournament with the two combining for 43 points in one of the most lopsided CAA tournament finals ever, an absolute throttling of in-state rival George Mason. Maynor led the Rams with an impressive 25-point, 8-assist performance that night but it was perhaps Sanders who stole the show with a near triple double via 18 points, 20 rebounds and an insane seven blocked shots. The Landlord averaged a 12-point, 12.8-rebound double-double that season and blocked 3.8 shots during tournament play to go along with 21.8 points and 5.8 assists from Maynor. The duo helped led VCU back to the NCAA tournament that season where Maynor had a chance to sink yet another team at this buzzer, this time however his jumper wasn’t as true, allowing UCLA to escape with a 1-point win.
2010: Larry Sanders & Joey Rodriguez
This was a wild team, a squad full of juniors who would go on to a Final 4 the following year AND Larry Sanders. So how in the world did they only reach the CBI? Shaka Smart’s first team on Broad St was arguably his most talented. Two of his players would eventually go on to play in the NBA (Larry Sanders would be drafted following this season, freshman Troy Daniels would eventually work his way into the league via the D-League) and all the rest did was tear through the NCAA tourney the following year. Regardless, Sanders once again dumped a double-double average through the CAA and CBI tournaments that season, dropping 13 points, 10 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per night in eight games of tourney play. Joey Rodriguez however played the role of this season’s Eric Maynor with the junior averaging 16.4 points, 5.1 assists and 1.6 steals during those games in his first year as starting point guard for the black and gold.
2011: Jamie Skeen, Bradford Burgess, & Joey Rodriguez
Brandon Rozzell is going to kick my butt for not putting him on this list with these other three, but in terms of consistency throughout the nine-games of tournament action VCU played in this season, Skeen, Burgess and Rodriguez were dominant. Skeen posted a 18.7-point, 6.3-rebound, 1.4-assist average with Burgess posting an equally impressive 16-point, 7.2-rebound, 2.2-assist average, neither of which would have been possible without Rodriguez dishing 6.9 assists to go with his 9.3 points per contest (that’s good for AT LEAST 23.3 points of offense he was involved in but with VCU setting an NCAA tourney record for made three-pointers, easily more than that). The fact that I couldn’t separate three players in terms of who had the better performance shows you just how hot this team was and also just how good you have to play as a team to make it to a Final 4 (and remember, that includes 10ppg over that stretch from Rozzell).
2012: Bradford Burgess
Knowing how good that 2011 team was and how important that group of seniors was, you’d think VCU would have been in a major rebuild during the 2011-12 season. Nope. All they did was set a VCU record for wins in a season (29) thanks to the consistency and leadership of returning senior Bradford Burgess. Burgess’ numbers weren’t eye-popping that season during tournament play (13.4 pts, 4 rebounds, 1.6 assists) but that shows you just what makes this guy so good. Unlike a lot of players who get the reigns of the team and are assigned the role of “star player”, Burgess put team first his senior season, played smart basketball and led VCU to the round of 32 despite playing with an incredibly young roster. What he did with this team was simply incredible (Shaka, if you’re reading this you get some credit too).
2013: Juvonte Reddic
VCU had two promising young sophomores in Treveon Graham and Briante Weber, but it was Juvonte Reddic who consistently carried the load for this VCU team, averaging 15.4 points to go with 7.4 rebounds over this five-game stretch. Reddic had a team-high 16 points on 7-11 shooting in his 24 minutes of play in a NCAA tourney game against Michigan that most Ram fans would probably prefer to forget ever took place (sorry for bringing it up). The then junior posted an average offensive rating of 124.3 his final four games of that season (hint: that’s really good).
2014: Treveon Graham
Graham alongside Briante Weber really took control of the Rams this season but it was the Freight Train that provided VCU’s most consistent tournament presence that March. The junior forward averaged 17.5 points over the four-game stretch and averaged an offensive rating of 121.3. Still, VCU’s OT upset loss to Stephen F. Austin proved to be the biggest gut punch VCU fans have probably ever experienced up to this point. Graham however led the black and gold with 19 points and a team-high seven rebounds that rough night in San Diego.
2015: Treveon Graham
Graham goes back-to-back for the years 2014-15 (and had a solid 2013 as well). As a senior he helped lead VCU to the Rams’ first ever Atlantic 10 title, posting a 20-point, 13-rebound double double in the win over Dayton. Treveon averaged 16.2 points and 9.7 rebounds over the six-game stretch before falling to Ohio State in overtime of VCU’s round of 64 NCAA tournament matchup. Treveon finished his career by being a part of a team that played in the conference tournament championship all four years, winning two, the first in the CAA as a freshman then in the A-10 as a senior. The recent Utah Jazz signee posted double-digit scoring outputs in 15 of his 20 March tournament games (including two his freshman season), averaging a career tournament line of 13.6 points and 5.8 rebounds. That’s the kind of player you like on your team for four years and is why Graham will go down as one of the best ever to where the black and gold.
Time Traveler Award: Bradford Burgess
Burgess had his hands in three of the best “periods” of VCU basketball: he was a freshman during Eric Maynor’s last season at VCU, was a huge part of the 2011 Final 4 team, then helped kick off the Graham/Weber era with that upset win of Wichita State before coming up just short against Indiana. It’s no surprise that he was a key piece on every Rams team he played on en route to becoming the NCAA’s all-time starts leader, surpassing Georgetown great Patrick Ewing his senior season.
Best Individual Performance: Jamie Skeen (2011 versus Kansas)
This is a tough one because of Larry Sanders’ domination of George Mason (18 points, 20 rebounds, 7 blocks) but Skeen’s 26-point, 10-rebound double-double in the Elite 8 against a Kansas team flooded with NBA Lottery bigs is as an impressive of a performance as you’ll ever see at VCU. The level of competition combined with that amount of spotlight makes this in my opinion the best individual tournament game over the past decade. Sure, Skeen was just 6-17 from the field but he was able to turn a lot of those misses into the easy ones, converting on 10 of his 12 free throws. Combine that with a 4-7 night from long range and it was a masterful performance by the former Wake Forest transfer (how the hell did they ever let him go?).
Best Play: Joey Rodriguez to Bradford Burgess versus Florida State (2011)
I lost my mind when Eric Maynor hit that jumper against Duke. Up to that point in my life I didn’t realize anything could feel that good. But the reality of that play is that had he missed it the Rams were still headed to overtime. Rodriguez and Burgess did not have that luxury, trailing by a point with 7.9 seconds left in overtime against Florida State with a ticket to the Elite 8 on the line. Rodriguez used almost every bit of his five seconds needed to inbound the ball, finding Burgess on a gorgeous slip screen that is now legendary at VCU and now one of the most infamous moments at Florida State. Let’s not forget those boys also had to get back on defense following the play.