Yesterday was Atlantic 10 Media Day, a blogger’s favorite day of the year due to the massive amount of debate it creates. Here are some nuggets and reactions from yesterday’s action.
Wade on Shaka via PilotOnline.com: “I’m not Shaka. I worked with him and I’m friends with him, but I’m not him. The system will remain similar. There will be some tweaks, but you can’t worry about what people think or try to be him. Just do the best job you can”
“Shaka and I speak – not as much since practice started, but we still talk,” Wade said. “Once the season starts we have always spoken quite a bit during the season. I expect that will continue, and he will provide some insight into some of my guys.”
Wade on Korey Billbury (senior Oral Roberts transfer): “He’s a very gifted offensive player.” Billbury averaged over 14.4 points per contest his last two seasons with Oral Roberts.
Wade on freshman Samir Doughty: “He can really score the ball…He’s going to be able to help us this year.”
Wade on VCU basketball’s importance to the city of Richmond: “We don’t have pro sports in Richmond, so VCU basketball is very, very important, and the support is there.”
Last season VCU was the unanimous No.1 in preseason voting but finished tied for fourth in conference play before heading into the conference tournament as the No.5 seed due to being on the losing end of a head-to-head tie-breaker with Richmond. The Rams then went on to win four games in four days to redeem voters by lifting the A-10 tournament trophy on Sunday afternoon.
VCU also began last season ranked No.15 in the AP Poll and No.16 in the Coaches Poll. By the end of the regular season the Rams were no longer receiving votes before rejoining the AP Poll at No.25 after winning the Atlantic 10 tournament. This year VCU will most likely find themselves unranked in the preseason polls for the first time since the beginning of the 2012-13 season (although VCU sat just outside of both polls at 27th in the AP and 28th in the Coaches). The last time VCU received no preseason votes in either poll they eventually went on to play in the Final 4, the 2010-2011 season.
This is the first time VCU has somewhat flown under-the-radar since Shaka Smart was a new and unproven coach. This year VCU will fly under the radar with another new coach, this one however does have at least one conference Coach of the Year award under his belt during his SoCon years. Smart took over a more experienced roster but perhaps not one as talented from top to bottom as the one Will Wade inherited and has built upon.
VCU at No.5
I think fifth is a fair spot for the Rams based on the turnover and all the unknown. I think one key piece however that could throw a huge wrench into these rankings is the status of Dayton’s Dyshawn Pierre, currently suspend from the University for the first semester. Pierre attempted to sew Dayton for immediate reinstatement due to what he felt was unfair treatment by the University and if he feels burnt enough very well may try and transfer in the very same way Dez Wells left Xavier for Maryland. If that happens you should expect the Rams to certainly jump the Flyers who would then have lost two very important pieces from last season’s team (Pierrer and Jordan Sibert).
Why I think VCU could exceed expectations: Anyone who’s followed me on here or on Twitter knows just how high I am on both new head coach Will Wade and what I felt were underutilized players in Justin Tillman and Mike Gilmore. In short, I think Will Wade makes VCU a more efficient team and a better halfcourt team overall, particularly on defense. The Treveon Graham loss is a tough one but I’m also a big believe in Melvin Johsnon, who’s 2-point and 3-point averages were both higher than Treveon Graham’s last season. Also remember Johnson was a highly-recruited player out of high school and a top-100 prospect. He’s now a senior and is essentially in a contract year. I love that and think a breakout year for Johnson combined with a bigger, tougher team led by Mo Alie-Cox and the Tillman/Gilmore combo means VCU could really surprise with just how good they really are. People also seem to forget that VCU (on paper at least) is loaded with talent, more so than perhaps any Atlantic 10 team with a total of four top-100 players, none of which are named Mo Alie-Cox, JeQuan Lewis, Korey Billbury etc.
Why they might not: One of the main reasons it’s difficult for VCU to win an A-10 regular season title is due to the Atlantic 10’s unbalanced schedules. VCU plays in what I call the “A-10 South”, a group of teams that play home-and-homes that consists of VCU, Richmond, Davidson and George Washington, four of the predicted top-six in the Atlantic 10. That creates a much easier path to an A-10 title for both Rhode Island and Dayton. The other reason is there are just a bunch of new pieces. A new coach (all-be-it one who’s been a part of this system before and even recruited some of our current players), six new players as well as previously under-used players in new roles. That said, Anthony Grant led VCU to one of their best seasons ever in his first season thanks to a breakout sophomore performance from a guy named Eric Maynor and Shaka Smart eventually won a CBI Title his first season at VCU, a season that should have honestly resulted in an NIT bid for the Rams.
My biggest beefs with the rankings: I don’t typically like to throw love in the Spiders’ direction but if you think VCU got screwed imagine being Richmond. The Spiders finished fourth last year and lose just one key piece from last year’s team but get jumped by both VCU with all of the turnover on Broad Street and George Washington, a team the Spiders beat the last time they played them and truth-be-told, should have beaten on the road as well before falling in overtime. Both teams lose a key player but GW somehow jumps the Spiders. I think UofR is going to once again be a VERY tough team due to the talented trio of Jones, Allen and Cline and deserved to be higher than sixth and truth-be-told, probably fourth. And speaking off George Washington, whoever voted them first needs their poll voting rights revoked. GW went 10-8 last season including 2-7 against this year’s preseason top-6, their two wins both home overtime wins, lose a key player in Kethan Savage yet somehow get a first place vote and are ranked ahead of VCU, forgetting that VCU beat them by an average margin of victory of 18.5 points per last season. I like Mike Lonergan and think GW has some pieces but get out of here with that first place madness, ESPECIALLY consider GW is a part of that A-10 South group that’s so competitive.
All-Conference snubs: Fun fact…neither VCU or Dayton, the two teams who competing in last season’s title game, had a player on the All-Conference First Team OR Second Team for that matter. I think Dayton certainly would have had one had it not been for the questions concerning Dyshawn Pierre. I think the rankings for the most part are fair based on stats but I do believe by the end of the season this list could look quite a bit different. Dayton’s Dyshawn Pierre and Scoochie Smith as well as some VCU sleepers like Korey Billbury and Justin Tillman could surprise while I think Richmond’s TJ Cline is certainly talented enough to be included on this list as well as Davidson’s Jordan Barham, who’s quite possibly the most underrated player in the Atlantic 10.
A-10 OFFICIAL “SIZZLE” VIDEO
CBS’S MATT NORLANDER PREVIEWS THE ATLANTIC 10
Norlander is a good guy, someone we’ve gotten to know the slightest bit from our time covering the past three Atlantic 10 tournaments. We love that Norlander is one of the only guys giving Melvin Johnson some love, picking him as a bit of a “sleeper” on his First Team grouping and also giving the Rams some love as a team he thinks people are undervaluing.