After eight months of build up, finally, we’re back. VCU will welcome Queens University to the Siegel Center in what will be our first glimpse of 2016-17 Rams basketball against an opposing team. VCU has already played one open intrasquad scrimmage as well as a closed-to-the-public matchup against UVA, but for the first time this season Ram fans will get to see what this new group of players is all about.
A QUICK LOOK AT QUEENS
The Royals were one tough DII team this past season, finishing the year at 25-7 in a second round loss of the DII Southeast Region Tournament. Queens earned that record with a potent offense that averaged 86.9 points per contest, 0.5 more points than this past year’s DI leader Oakland and 16th nationally in Division II. Gone from that team however is top scorer Rob Lewis (18.1 ppg), Sean Morgan (17.3 ppg) and Marquis Rankin (12.9 ppg), leaving senior Daniel Camps (11.6 ppg) and 6’8 junior Todd Withers as the school’s only returning double-digit scorers. The Royals offense was deadly and completely vital to their success, seeing a defense that was almost as bad as their offense was good. The Royals gave up 80 points per contest, about a point more than any Atlantic 10 team allowed last season against far superior competition.
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU
The Rams return the bulk of last season’s NCAA tournament team including preseason All-Atlantic 10 selection Mo Alie-Cox and JeQuan Lewis. VCU head coach Will Wade has raved about this year’s team’s toughness, comparing them to a “$2 steak” and suggesting this year’s Rams may depend more on their defense to win games than last year’s unit that averaged 77.2 points per contest and an A-10 best +9.5 scoring margin. VCU’s biggest question mark heading into this season will be three-point shooting thanks to the graduations of seniors Melvin Johnson and Korey Billbury, two of the teams top-three three-point shooters this past season. Freshman sharpshooter Malik Crowfield however has drawn rave reviews this offseason and reportedly played well in VCU’s scrimmage against preseason top-10 team, UVA. It’s reasonable to expect VCU to play bigger with the aforementioned graduations as well as the development of junior bigs Justin Tillman and Ahmed Hamdy. Wade has said Hamdy is lightyears better than he was this past season and commented Tillman could be a top-20 rebounder nationally, suggesting an increased roll for the efficient forward out of Detroit.
VCU WINS IF
A packed Siegel Center and a major size advantage should allow the Rams to roll relatively easily Friday night. While the Royals have some height, their biggest center, 6’7 225-lb Jon Curtis, gives up 25 lbs to Mo Alie-Cox in the paint and will have to deal with 240-lb Ahmed Hamdy and rebounding machine Justin Tillman as well, assuming he gets the green light for major minutes from head coach Bart Lundy. It’s not about how badly VCU beats Queens but how good they look doing it (coaches and old-timers will hate reading that, but it’s true). The keys I recommend knowledgable Ram fans look for in this matchup is just how badly VCU’s bigs dominate the paint and which of VCU’s guards/wings answers the three-point call and embraces the opportunity presented with the graduations of Johnson and Billbury. Can Burgess repeat his big Black & Gold game performance (6-7 shooting)? Will Crowfield be as polished as he’s been described and as good as I think he’s going to be? Will top-60 recruit Jenkins make a big impression? Will Doug “Crazy Train” Brooks return to his 40% three-point shooting form of his sophomore season? This is basically my checklist for a game in which the outcome should not be in question.
Watch: Non-televised matchup, so watch live at the Siegel Center for stay tuned for the highlights.
Listen: Fox Sports Radio, AM910
Live Tweets: @VCURamNation