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Season Preview: VCU Rams

October 12, 2011

Bradford Burgess

2010-11 Record: 28-12 (12-6, 4th in CAA)

What happened last season: The Rams went 3-5 in February to muddy their NCAA Tournament hopes, upset George Mason in the CAA Tournament semifinals, earned a controverisal bid to the ball, and proceeded to make this this happen, before losing to Butler in the Final Four. In short, they made the letters V-C-U recognizable, nationwide.

What’s Changed: Bright young coach Shaka Smart earned a nice little raise, but lost four of the most important five players – Jamie Skeen, Joey Rodriguez, Ed Nixon and Brandon Rozzell – in the team’s tournament run. He brought in a highly-rated recruiting class that might help soften those blows.

Key Team Stat: (12.4) Percentage of defensive possessions in which the Rams made a steal last year, tops in the CAA and 17th best nationally. The Rams will gear up for Havoc 3.0 (unlike Windows and AOL, they skip Havoc 2.1, 2.2, etc.) with a typical cast of athletic wings.

Key Player Stat: (5) In games that Darius Theus had five or more assists last year, the Rams went 5-0. That number becomes particularly important this season, with the 6-foot-3 Theus taking Rodriguez’s old job as the starting point guard. Some guy named Eric Maynor preceded Rodriguez in that role, which means the letters PG are particularly important at VCU.

Who’s Vince: You know that underground band you followed when it was small and off the radar, and then the band started to catch on, played during a late-night show or two, and before you knew it the band was considered hip,  making platinum albums and selling out arenas? That band, for me is Bradford Burgess. I fell for his game during his sophomore year, loved what he did last year (couldn’t believe he didn’t make any of the three All-CAA teams), and then watched him gain national recognition for his NCAA tournament performances, which included a 23-point outing against Purdue and a 26-point, game-winning bucket-making masterpiece against Florida State in the Sweet 16. Burgess – a 6-foot-6 225-pounder who can play shooting guard to power forward – is the most talented all-around player in the CAA, and as the Rams’ lone remaining star, he’ll get to prove it.

Who’s E: Let the Rob Brandenburg era begin in earnest. As a freshman last year he teased us with some 20-plus point performances, but ultimately earned inconsistent playing time because of inconsistent play (and more importantly, a deep core of veterans in front of him). The off-guard will have ample opportunities to blossom as a sophomore, and will llikely be a double-digit scorer for this year’s Rams.

Entourage: Theus won’t be an all-conference player like the previous Rams point guards, but he can be an above-average floor general in the CAA if he can shoot more efficiently (last year he made just 34.9 percent from the field and a don’t-even-bother-heaving 14.8 percent from 3-point range). Sophomore forward Juvonte Reddic has star potential. He’s a long 6-9, and can score if asked – last year no one asked; now they will. D.J. Haley was technically a starter as a freshman, in the same way that a kickoff specialist is a starter on a football team. Still, he’s 7 feet and can defend. The Rams have a half-dozen freshmen – many of whom received high ratings from scouting services. One of those freshmen, Reco McCarter, redshirted last year after choosing VCU over BCS-level schools.

Realistic Goal: The Final Four run invogorates the program to new levels, and the Rams don’t stop rolling – all the way to a CAA title.

Tournament Chances: Certainly a possibility, although this team, on paper, probably isn’t as strong as the one last year, which made it by the hair on Smart’s always-shaved head. (Then again, that team made the Final Four, so, by which standard would you like to make comparisons?)

DN-R Prediction: 3rd in the CAA.

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