Lindy’s Sports has recently come out with their preseason rankings, placing Mike Rhoades’ first VCU team at a predicted fifth place finish in the A-10 standings. With so many new faces — 10 in total, only nine of which can play due to NCAA transfer rules sidelining Marcus Evans for the season — some uncertainty is to be expected. But I’m here to educate the fine folks at Lindy’s and offer up some reasons for why VCU could/should be better than fifth and why I think it may be unwise to sleep on what has been the A-10’s most consistent since the Rams joined the conference in 2013.
58.8 – That number represents the true shooting percentage (a field goal percentage that takes into account the value of threes and free throws) of graduate transfer, Khris Lane. That is 0.1% better than outgoing center, Mo Alie-Cox, who’s now catching passes for the Indianapolis Colts. Was it against equal competition? Definitely not (VCU’s schedule ranked 93rd nationally by kenpom compared to 299th for Lane’s former Longwood Lancers). But it’s still a nice number for a potential starting five man that is clearly flying under the radar in the preseason. Lane is a stretch 4/5 who hit 33.7% of his threes last season but will need to shoot even less of those on this year’s talented three-point shooting Rams, meaning his 58.9% two-point shooting percentage last season (62.7% in conference play) should worry his new A-10 foes. Lane averaged 17.1 ppg last season as a Lancer, is an incredibly experienced player and was a Second Team All-Conference selection in the Big South this past season.
3 – As in three-point field goals. VCU was once again an NCAA tournament team this past season, but struggled in one key statistic: three point shooting. The Rams’ 33.1% team rate ranked 260th nationally and the worst on Broad St. since the ’99-’00 season. That’s a number that appears to be in position of a serious improvement this year, as the Rams will no doubt lean heavily upon the likes of De’Riante Jenkins (45.5% from three as a freshman), Issac Vann (41.2% at Maine) and Malik Crowfield (35.6%), not to mention sharpshooting freshman big Sean Mobley and the aforementioned grad transfer Lane who can occasionally step out and stroke it. In short, VCU on paper looks built to play a completely different style than last season’s offense and at least statistically looks ready capable of succeeding in that three-ball heavy offense. Last year’s Rams took just 29.4% of their shots behind the three-point line. 41% of Mike Rhoades’ Rice Owls’ attempts were behind the three-point line. Prepare for a serious style change and an offense than when hitting has the potential to be a lot of fun.
I’m predicting a starting lineup of Johnny Williams (PG), De’Riante Jenkins (G), Issac Vann (G/F), Justin Tillman (PF) and Khris Lane (F/C). The average offensive rating of that group from their last seasons of college hoops (last season for all but Vann who had to sit due to NCAA transfer rules) is 109.3. That’s slightly better than last year’s typical starting five of Williams, Lewis, Burgess, Alie-Cox and Tillman (108.1). My biggest concern however will be on the defensive end, as I think Alie-Cox’s paint presence/blocking ability will be the most noticeable difference from last season’s team. VCU may have to win a lot more shootouts than last year’s strong defensive group.