This preview and more on VCU and the Atlantic 10 are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.
No. 18 VCU Facts & Figures
Last season: 27-9 (12-4 Atlantic 10)
Postseason: NCAA Round of 32
Coach: Shaka Smart (111-17 at VCU)
Atlantic 10 projection: First
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 32
Shaka Smart had something to prove last season. VCU stepped up in weight class from the Colonial to the Atlantic 10, and many wondered if Smart’s Rams could validate their recent postseason success given a grueling regular season. VCU finished second in the A-10 and won an NCAA Tournament game for the third straight year. Check.
This season, Smart adds a weapon he’s not had since coming to VCU four seasons ago — depth. The Rams can legitimately go 10-to-11 players deep this season, a boon to their physically demanding havoc style that led the nation in turnover percentage and steal percentage last year.
“We’ve got about five guys, maybe six, that can potentially play minutes at point guard spot,” says Smart. “It’s not necessarily that we have point guards as much as we have point guard options. Terrance (Shannon) gives us low-post options, too. The good thing is that we have juniors and seniors that have been a part of a lot of winning.”
Shannon, a 6-8, 240-pound workhorse who transferred to VCU from Florida State for his final college season. Shannon “gets it,” according to Smart, and was FSU’s third-leading scorer (8.9 ppg) and leading rebounder (6.5 rpg) last season before injuring his neck.
Shannon will take some of the physical play away from 6-9 Juvonte Reddic, a second-team All-A-10 performer. Reddic is a silky-smooth scorer who appears on most NBA Draft boards. In fact, Reddic was invited to the prestigious Amare Stoudemire Skills Camp and the LeBron James Skills Academy. Reddic put up 16 points and 13 rebounds against Duke’s Mason Plumlee and had seven double-doubles in a 10-game stretch during the middle of the conference season.
“He can be dominating when he brings it,” says Smart, “and we’ve been working on Juvonte bringing it every night. To his credit, he’s done a phenomenal job with it over his career, but we want more.”
Treveon Graham played the 4 spot in Smart’s four-guard offense and is a threat all over the court. Graham is a 36.6 percent 3-point shooter but earned the nickname Freight Train for his ability to drive straight to the rim and absorb contact to score or get to the foul line. Graham is a pure scorer who averaged more than 15 points per game last season and also earned second-team All-A-10 honors.
Jarred Guest is a wiry 6-8, and his length is nightmarish for opponents trying to beat the press. Guest snared more offensive rebounds (45) than defensive rebounds (43).
There is no doubt that the meat of this team resides in its backcourt, and Smart has a cadre quick and athletic guards. Finding minutes for his options may be the coach’s biggest issue.
Senior Rob Brandenberg and junior Briante Weber are the incumbents. Brandenberg is a slasher of the highest magnitude and one of the best in the nation at turning the corner at the elbow. He’s also changed his shot to become a weapon from beyond the arc. Smart notes that Brandenberg had an outstanding summer.
Weber is the embodiment of havoc. He led the nation in steal percentage in both of his first two seasons and nabbed 10 thefts against NCAA Cinderella Florida Gulf Coast. The point guard spot will be Weber’s to lose.
Both will be pushed hard by newcomers Jordan Burgess and Doug Brooks. Smart makes no bones about the impact Burgess can make. “He was the toughest player on the team last year,” Smart says of the redshirt freshman.
Sharpshooting Melvin Johnson may hold the biggest key to VCU’s success because Smart has to replace Troy Daniels and his school-record 124 3-pointers. Billed as a dead-eye shooter, Johnson displayed more of a mid-range game in his freshman season. Johnson has that New York guard savvy and can score in a seemingly unlimited number of ways.
Mo Alie Cox redshirted last season but is a muscled 6’6 and carries a 7’3” wingspan. Jordan Burgess is another redshirt who would have seen plenty of minutes last season had he been playing. Doug Brooks has all the trappings of another Briante Weber on defense, and he can shoot the basketball. Point guard JeQuan Lewis will be thrown on the court to see how he fares. Antravious Simmons needs to reshape his body, but he could find his way onto the court.
Factoid: 17. VCU was 17–0 last season when senior Rob Brandenberg scored 11 or more points.
Point guard is the big question mark, although Smart is not fazed. “We have this conversation every two years,” says the coach. “Who replaces Eric (Maynor)? Who replaces Joey (Rodriguez)? The point guard position more than anything is getting into the offense and spearheading the defense.”
Toughness is a word the VCU coaches are also using. With Shannon and Burgess, VCU figures to be a much tougher team. Perhaps that’s the missing ingredient for another deep run in the NCAA Tournament. The talent is certainly there.
*Photo courtesy of VCU Athletics
2013-14 Preseason Top 25