VCU will look a lot different next season. Starting at the top, VCU will replace Will Wade’s “paintball” style and lineup with a Mike Rhoades system and roster perhaps more suited to a little more fun-n-gun than we’ve become accustomed to the last two years, a system that may look a lot more similar to the up-and-down fast-paced havoc we saw from 2010-2015. But saving the style talk for another day and blog post, let’s look at the personnel losses and what each player brought to last season’s team.
The good news is we may get to watch passes to Mo Alie-Cox next November. They won’t be coming from JeQuan Lewis however, but from Indianapolis Colts QB, Andrew Luck. Alie-Cox to me represents the biggest offseason loss for the Rams. While he didn’t post the points of a JeQuan Lewis, he was the glue that held last year’s team together. An A-10 All-Defensive team selection, Mo led VCU in blocks and blocks percentage last season while finishing 54.3% of his attempts on offense. He ranked No.1 on the team in box plus/minus, finishing just ahead of JeQuan Lewis in last season’s lineup. In short, VCU ran at it’s peek efficiency when lineups included him last season. But what makes this the biggest offseason loss in my opinion is just how hard he is to replace. The Rams always seem to have a guard step up from year to year. Rodriguez took the reigns from Maynor, leading VCU to a Final 4 despite the Rams graduating arguably their best player ever two seasons prior. Theus then took over for Rodriguez and helped lead VCU to their most wins in a single season. Then Weber stepped in and fought his way into the NBA just before Lewis become VCU’s next guard point guard. But bigs haven’t been so easy to replace and rarely has VCU had two legit ones standing side-by-side like they got this past season with Alie-Cox and Tillman. While VCU brings in promising freshman 4/5 Marcus Santos-Silva and impressive grad transfer Khris Lane to next season’s front court, neither should be able to match Alie-Cox’s defensive presence as well as his offensive leadership, at least next season.
Huge departing loss 1B, it should really sink in soon enough just how good of a player JeQuan Lewis was at VCU and thus, just how big of a hole he leaves to be filled on next season’s roster. In writing my “top-5” games blog post the other day I was reminded just how huge Lewis came up for the Rams last season, saving multiple games for the Rams within the last minute of play (Bona, GW, Richmond A-10 tourney), each win proving to be absolutely vital to the Rams’ NCAA tournament resume. With his graduation sees the departure of VCU’s top scorer and assist man and the captain of last year’s ship. The Dickson, TN native was a dangerous combination of speed, scoring, defense and passing ability and when you combine both his winning history and statistical success, should see his name right near the top of VCU’s all-time point guards list. Expect VCU to replace his production by committee, with Johnny Williams taking over as the team’s top assist man and a combination of VCU’s returning backcourt and wings filling in as the Rams’ three-point threats (watch out for De’Riante Jenkins…huge season on deck). But there is no player on next year’s team that does the combination of things Lewis did this past season.
Let’s be honest, the “Experience” had his fans and detractors during his time at VCU. Ram fans loved the excitement and fun he brought to VCU, but at the same time craved more offensive consistency while groaning at Dougie B’s inability to stay out of foul trouble. Brooks ranked second on last year’s team in defensive box plus/minus behind only Mo Alie-Cox and perhaps surprisingly ranked third on the offensive side of that stat behind JeQuan Lewis and De’Riante Jenkins. Doug once again led the team in steals percentage but also checked in behind only Ahmed Hamdy and Marquell Fraser as the most foul prone players on last season’s team. He was a high risk, high reward type that could at times bring as much frustration as excitement, but a player who ultimately was a big part of a lot of wins at VCU. Brooks’ graduation opens up 20.3 available minutes. Expect those to be filled by the likes of De’Riante Jenkins and Issac Vann, two players who won’t be able to match Brooks’ defensive havoc but should help make up for that by being much more efficient offensively.
Glue guy. Burgess had the tall task of following brother Bradford, a huge piece in VCU’s Final 4 run and one of just five men’s players to have his jersey retired at VCU. He also came in as an ESPN top-100 recruit and with that, had perhaps unfair expectations placed upon him by scouts who determined his value out of high school. Burgess’ shooting numbers never matched expectations, but that didn’t stop two former Ram coaches for always going with the Midlothian native, averaging over 21 minutes per game all four seasons at VCU. While his shooting percentages didn’t thrill fans, Burgess knew his strengths and weaknesses and played to them, ranking third on last year’s team in defensive box plus/minus while taking just 14.5% of available shots while on the floor, ninth on last season’s team. Burgess played much larger than his 6’5 225-pound frame, playing the power forward position at ton at VCU and even spending some minutes as VCU’s center. He always seemed to be chasing down a opposing fast break for a huge block and could guard almost five positions on the court. Coaches love that. His versatility and toughness, particularly on defensive, will be his toughest qualities to replace next season but offensively, like with Brooks, the Rams should be able to upgrade in terms of shooting percentage.
Perhaps somewhat of a surprising loss, backup center Ahmedy Hamdy opted to transfer for the third time in his career, opting to return to Texas for a senior season at TCU. I don’t get that move. Hamdy struggled to earn minutes at VCU this past season (13.2) but will take his game to the Big 12 and attempt to do the same. Whoever was giving him advice this offseason was drunk, especially with VCU starting center Mo Alie-Cox graduating. Hamdy both thrilled and frustrated fans this past season, checking in behind only leading JeQuan Lewis in percentage of shots taken while on the floor. In short, when the ball went in to Hamdy, it wasn’t coming out. But what made that particularly frustrating this season was that Hamdy failed to finish over 48% of his attempts. Editors note: bigs gotta finish 50% or better because their shots are a high percentage of dunks and layups. Hamdy was also insanely foul prone, picking up 7.4 fouls per 40 minutes (hint: you are allowed just five per 40 in college hoops), but he did bring a high level of hustle and rebounding, checking in behind only Justin Tillman in both offensive and defensive rebound percentages. I am of the opinion Marcus Santos-Silva, while young, is a perfect replacement for Ahmed, bring an elite level rebounder but one who will be more selective with his shot.
Everyone loves Torey Burston. Everyone. We were proud to see him earn a scholarship his final season at VCU but in doing so played mostly garbage time for the Rams. Burston averaged 5.3 minutes his senior season (but only played in 10 of the Rams 35 games) and 0.7 points per game. His leadership and positive attitude will be missed but in terms of production he was a non-factor on last season’s team.
Like Burston, freshman Fraser saw extremely limited minutes last year and with the writing on the wall, opted to transfer. A smart move. I’ll quote a friend of mine heavily involved in high school basketball/college recruiting when it comes to Fraser: “I don’t know what VCU’s staff is thinking with him.” And that was before the Canadian played a single game at VCU. I was told Fraser was not a VCU-level player and that’s basically how things worked out.