Veteran Rams seek another NCAA Tournament bid
Last season proved to be a comeback year for VCU, if you define comeback as returning to the NCAA Tournament after missing it for the first time in eight seasons. The Rams rolled through the Atlantic 10, winning the regular-season title and earning a No. 8 seed in the NCAAs. However coach Mike Rhoades knows that one season didn’t define a downturn, nor does a single season define success.
“Nobody is satisfied, not the guys nor the staff. We know where we want to go this year,” he says. “We took a great step but not the ultimate step.”
VCU Basketball At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Mike Rhoades
2018-19 RECORD (A-10): 25-8 (16-2)
2018-19 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to UCF 73-58 in the first round
F Sean Mobley (4.2 ppg, 2.5 rpg)
Rhoades has a dream frontcourt: a pair of high-motor bigs who help initiate offense at the top of the key and then roll to the hoop as scoring threats. The duo also gets the basketball off the rim at a high rate.
Junior Marcus Santos-Silva stands 6'7" and is relentless. He averaged 10.0 points and 7.4 rebounds in only 22.3 minutes, highlighted by a 26-point, 22-rebound game in the A-10 Tournament. Santos-Silva finished eighth in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage (17.2).
“He takes immense pride in working harder and playing harder than anyone else on the court. His enthusiasm for the game is infectious,” says Rhoades. “He plays like he’s still trying to make the team.”
Corey Douglas provides rim protection. The 6'8" junior erases mistakes — last season, he averaged 4.8 blocks per 40 minutes of game action.
“He is an unbelievable listener and worker,” says Rhoades. “He keeps improving by leaps and is ahead of the game because he follows the plan.”
Sophomore Vince Williams, an undersized 4 who plays with a great understanding of the game, is poised for a breakout season. Williams took 38 charges as a freshman and can use his 6'6" frame to scrap down low or step out and hit a 3.
The heart of the backcourt, and the entire team, is Marcus Evans. Though he produces at a high rate, Evans’ impact is just as significant in the locker room. The senior has fought through injuries to both Achilles tendons and his left knee. An injury-free offseason was the best tonic for the first-team All-A-10 selection.
“We improved his moves with the ball in his hands,” says Rhoades. “We put him in those scenarios and repped that out.”
De’Riante Jenkins and Issac Vann share leadership and scoring duties. The seniors provide Rhoades with slashers who double as 3-point threats. Jenkins is the team’s best marksman with range past the new line, and Vann’s ability to score at all three levels is tough to defend.
Malik Crowfield and Mike’L Simms provide depth and versatility. Crowfield is a gunner who can play minutes at point guard, and Simms is trusted defending four positions.
Rhoades is particularly excited about sophomore KeShawn Curry, who shot over 50 percent in limited duty last season. “He has firepower,” says the coach. “He fits the way we play.”
If the old coaching adage that seniors win championships holds true, then Rhoades should be licking his chops. VCU has five seniors, including its three most potent weapons. The Rams are built to achieve lofty goals. VCU must improve its shooting, and a big part of the offseason was spent shooting in fatigued situations, “huffing-and-puffing jumpers because we play hard and we play fast,” according to Rhoades. “We missed too many open shots, open 3s.”
The Rams are deep: Nine players averaged more than 14 minutes per game last season, and eight of those players return. Only eight points and five rebounds are gone from VCU’s NCAA Tournament rotation. Rhoades is ready to capitalize on his team’s talent and depth to push the opposition every minute of every game.
“We’re still VCU. We do what we do,” he says.
Postseason Prediction: Round of 32
A-10 Prediction: 1st