Finally, basketball is back. VCU will take on VCU in today’s Black & Gold game, our first shot to see what these nine new faces, 10 if you include Issac Vann, are capable of. Here are ten things I personally will be paying close attention to.
1. Shot selection – What better way to start off my list than a style change statistic? Will Wade’s Rams were built for “paint ball” and relentlessly attacked the basket. Mike Rhoades’ teams have been just the opposite, taking a high number of threes. This team also happens to be clearly built for Rhoades’ style, even in the pieces he inherited (Jenkins, Vann, Crowfield, Mobley), so I look forward to the final box score to see today’s shot selection numbers.
2. Xavier Jackson – You probably haven’t heard much about the JUCO transfer outside of some recent tweets from us about sources who’ve raved about him, so let me remind you of what we’ve heard. To summarize, two folks I know who have watched him play this summer LOVED him. Didn’t like him…loved him. One described him as his “favorite player”, the other (a very high level baller himself), wide eyed asked me if he was available to play this year. Both described Jackson as a hard-playing, explosive guard, one that can quickly become a fan favorite.
3. Bigs playing big – Justin Tillman will sit today as a precautionary measure on an injury, but we all know exactly what he’s capable of. I think that’s kind of a good thing today however, as it gives us more opportunity to take in the skills of Lewis Djonkam, Khris Lane, Marcus Santos-Silva and Sean Mobley. I’ve heard good things about all four so want to see for myself just how effective this group can be as bigs (talking rebounding, shot-blocking and post game). Mobley and Lane can stretch defenses, so I like that versatility, but I’m mostly looking for who has the potential to be an enforcer/presence under the basket.
4. Coaching energy/connection – I really enjoyed the coaches on our last staff, getting to know a few better than others, but if I had to make one negative critique of that staff it would be a bit of a missing bond between the staff and players. I think a lot of that comes from the very top (if you follow) and have heard from former players, parents of former players and even current players that there’s just a different bond with “Papa Rhoades”. I wanna see that coaching energy and connection to the team in person today while observing the overall “vibe” on today’s sidelines. That’s something that in my opinion, felt a little off the past two seasons.
5. Lighting! – Random note and see if you notice it today: VCU changed the lighting in the Stu. I’ve heard good things from VCU graphic designer/photog friend Eddie Johnson so looking forward to seeing what’s been described to me as an “upgrade” in person. Let us know on social media if you notice a difference and if you think it’s an improvement as well.
6. Sean Mobley – Not trying to single out a bunch of players but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have an extra level of excitement with Mobley. Why? Because I’ve watched a TON of full-game footage on the freshman and he’s a player the likes of which I don’t think we’ve seen in a while at VCU. My scout is that this is a guy who has the potential to be an all-time great at VCU. He comes from arguably the best high school program in the country (Montverde), has legit guard skills and is huge (6’8 240) for someone with those handles/court vision/shooting ability. As annoying of a comparison it may be for VCU fans, think of him as a bit of a TJ Cline, but with better ball handling skills/quickness. Good to have a guy like that on our team.
7. Leadership – With just two seniors on this team it seems pretty obvious who VCU’s leaders will be this year (Williams and Tillman), but I’m curious to see who else steps up. Nine new faces in total, 10 if you include Issac Vann who will hit the court for the first time at VCU this year. Will it be another point guard? Will it be experienced transfers like Lane and Jackson? Or does an unexpected voice rise to the top?
8. Recruits? – This morning I read of a similar event happening at a similar program and read that 20+ recruits were expected in the building, and some legit names at that, names that I’d want at VCU’s Black & Gold game. Will VCU use this event as an effective recruiting tool? Will talented high school ballers make their way to the Stu the same way they are doing at top programs around the country at their midnight madness events? Can’t wait to find out and if so, who made the trip.
9. Matchups – Looking at the teams real quick, we’re gonna learn a bit about these guys head-to-head and what they can do. Going down the list.
-Williams v Maye: Someone very close to the program told me Williams will be an all-conference player this season. In order for that to be true you’ll likely want this to be a total mismatch in favor of Williams’ team black.
-Crowfield/Sheehy v Jackson/Simms – A foursome with varied experience/success competing for minutes at the 2/3. Jackson and Simms will suit up for the Black team today as VCU’s JUCO transfers, both of whom averaged double-digits at that level last season. Crowfield started early for the Rams last season but saw limited minutes late. He’ll suit up for gold today, as well walk-on Sheehy. No disrespect to Sheehy, but walk-ons at VCU have a very hard time shining, so this will be more of seeing what Crowfield can do against the JUCOs.
-Jenkins v Vann – Ram fans expect big things from both wings this year and on paper this could be the best matchup of the day. Both are long guards who shot over 40% from three as freshman. Both however played limited minutes in their introductory seasons due to injury. I’d love to see each lead their team in scoring today and look impressive (and efficient!) in doing so.
-Mobley v Lane – Big boys who love the three ball. Khris Lane has a huge experience advantage but I think Mobley is the better perimeter player. Does lane throw his weight around on Mobley down low or can Mobley out-skill the Longwood transfer from deep? Could be a fun one to watch if these guys go head-to-head.
-Santos-Silva v Djonkam – This one is like watching a heavyweight boxing match. This is your high-motor slugfest to determine who’s capable of doing some serious big man dirty work this season. Can’t wait to see the final boxscore lines for both.
10. Ram Nation – Basketball season is fun in that it’s like a reunion with your second family. From April to October, we kinda go without seeing many of our readers/friends, so perhaps more than anything I just can’t wait to see the faces of all the fine folks that make up my second life, my basketball life.