Meet the Atlantic 10: VCU

Posted In The Reading List - By Alan Kelly On Thursday, January 9th, 2014 With 0 Comments


The Patriots open their inaugural season in Atlantic 10 Conference play with a game at VCU tonight (CBS Sports Network, 7pm). Here is a (re)introduction to VCU, the first in a series for each member of Mason’s new conference.

To get us started, earlier this week I asked Mat Shelton-Eide (@MatShelton) of VCURamNation.com to answer a few questions about the Rams, and then at the bottom of the page is a table of facts about VCU.

masonhoops.com: Unlike our other new conference mates, Mason fans already know a lot about VCU. But I’m still going to ask you essentially the same questions that I’ll be asking for every team. First, who’s in the likely starting lineup, and can you give us a brief description of each starter?

Mat: VCU’s starting lineup will most likely include Treveon Graham, Juvonte Reddic, Jordan Burgess, Rob Brandenberg and Briante Weber, as it’s been for the last few games.

Treveon Graham – People call him the “Freight Train” because of how physical he plays and how he gets to the basket, but my preferred nickname for the junior is “Direct Deposit,” a name Michael Litos gave him in an article from last season. What he meant with Graham was you don’t always see the check, but you know the money’s in the bank. He isn’t flashy, but has been our most consistent scorer by far over the past two seasons (averaging 15.7 ppg this year). Ram fans will be amazing by the flash of guys like Reddic, Weber, Johnson and Brandenberg but will look up at the scoreboard and see 18 or 20 next to Graham’s number. For 6’6″ 220 lbs. and not particularly long (unlike Mo Alie-Cox) he’s an incredible rebounder as well. He played Mason twice as a freshmen but combined for just 10 points in 21 minutes (not a bad line actually). I think a good comparison for Mason fans to understand what kind of player he is would be Ryan Pearson. Basically not super athletic but just a real tough player who can get it done from anywhere on the court.

Juvonte Reddic – Expectations were really high for Reddic coming into this season, and up to this point, I think it would be fair to suggest that he’s underperformed a bit. He’s currently projected as a mid-second round pick by NBADraft.net but after a strong showing at the Lebron James Skills Academy this summer was in the first round range prior to this season. Reddic’s minutes, points and rebounds are all down this season but his field goal percentage is actually up. Without watching a ton of tape, my observation is that teams are basically packing the paint, focusing on shutting him down because so far VCU’s guards haven’t shown a consistent ability to punish teams from deep. I think with Melvin Johnson heating up (not to mention Graham from deep) that could change a bit, but right now even with Graham putting up the big numbers Reddic seems to be the focus of opposing defenses thus far. The reality is Reddic can be dominant when he wants to be, but some games he just hasn’t looked engaged.

Jordan Burgess – Jordan came to VCU as one of two top-100 players from the 2012 class (along with Melvin Johnson) but unlike Johnson had to sit out all of last season due to eligibility issues. Being the brother of VCU legend Bradford Burgess, as well as having that top-100 tag, I think may have put some unfair expectations on him, particularly on offense where he’s struggled to hit shots. Where he seems to shine early in his career however is on defense. He doesn’t pile up the steals like a Weber, Lewis or Brandenberg but instead does a great job of being exactly where he needs to be, more of an Ed Nixon type meaning he won’t get the highlights and headlines but will make his coaches very happy in the film room. Since returning from an injury he’s also been a sneaky good three-point shooter, connecting on 53.3% of his long range attempts (he had a huge one against UVA as well prior to the injury).

Rob Brandenberg – Rob is the other senior in the starting lineup, and coincidentally some of his numbers are down as well (points, fg%, 3p% and rebounds). Brandenberg is insanely athletic and a great defender but has struggled with consistency throughout his career as a scorer. The good news is he keeps attacking so he isn’t afraid to shoot himself out of a slump (senior maturity?). He was a combined 1-13 from three against UNI, Wofford and VT then hit 5-of-10 in his next two games. There’s some insane stat where basically the Rams have won all (but maybe one? I think Georgetown this season) game when Brandenberg scores 11 points since he’s been at VCU.

Briante Weber – Briante has become the poster boy for VCU’s “havoc” brand of defense and for good reason. His 7.7 steals percentage is the best in the country, a stat he’s led the nation in since coming to VCU. Even if you’re an opposing team’s fan and you think “havoc” is a gimmick, you have to respect when someone can be the best in the land at any positive stat, and since a freshman at that. Weber’s biggest challenge this season is in adjusting to starting point guard duties for the Rams, filling the shoes of the always steady Darius Theus. So far he’s off to a solid start and is heating up. Weber’s 4.5 assists per game rank sixth in the A-10 despite the Rams ranking 11th in field goal percentage, while his 2.6 assist/turnover ratio ranks second to only SLU’s Jordair Jett. Weber has posted 15 assists to just one turnover in his last two games and is averaging 8.5 points per game on the season in under 30 minutes of play.

masonhoops.com: Who are the key bench players and what do they contribute to the team?

Mat: One of the main reasons for so much hype coming into this season was the depth of this year’s squad, and I think as players have gained more experience and comfort within this season (remember, VCU only returned six players from last year’s team), we’re really starting to see just how deep and talented this squad is. Going down the list…

Melvin Johnson – He comes off the bench but is top five in minutes at 21.9 (fun fact: no VCU player averages over 30 minutes per contest). Johnson was a top-100 player out of high school and came to VCU after decommitting from Miami. His reputation out of high school was one of a big-time scorer, and we’ve really seen flashes of that in his first two seasons with the Rams. He has eight double-digit scoring games this season including in all of our last three contests, averaging 17 points per game over that span. He had a HUGE game against Virginia Tech this season, posting 27 points in just 19 minutes by hitting eight of his 11 three-point attempts in that rout. His 41.7% three-point mark is the best at VCU (for players with double-digit attempts) since Bradford Burgess hit 43.4% of his during the Rams Final 4 season. He really has the ability to become a Troy Daniels type of player, which we’re seeing more of, but he also likes to attack the basket and has a really nice floater.

JeQuan Lewis – Lewis comes off the bench and gives VCU some serious scoring ability at the point guard position. He had a 50-point game in a major high school tournament and is proving that he can score at this level as well. His 108.6 offensive rating is the fourth best on the team and he has five double-digit scoring games so far as a freshmen, four of which came in under 20 minutes of play (the fifth coming in 20 minutes). Lewis, like Weber, is super quick and has the ability to turn teams over, averaging 1.5 steals in just 15.2 minutes per game. Like Theus last season, he’s starting to play a lot alongside Weber in speedy two point guard sets.

Mo Alie-Cox – The most physically imposing Ram in a long time (6’6″ 260 lbs. with a 7’1″ wingspan and a first basemen’s gloves for hands), Alie-Cox actually had an NFL scout at VCU’s last game there to watch him in shootaround. Imagine a shorter but stronger version of Larry Sanders. Alie-Cox is a rock in the paint, and is used mostly as a rim protector when teams are trying to pound it down low. His minutes have really decreased for some reason (single digits these last two outings) but he’s a reliable defender for the Rams and can throw it down for easy putback dunks.

Terrance Shannon – Shannon is a fifth-year transfer out of FSU who’s taken a while to get acclimated to his new surroundings but is clearly a talented player. He averaged 7.9 points and 5.6 rebounds for FSU last year but is only averaging 12.8 minutes this season. Shannon has had a lot on his plate with recently becoming a father, taking on a grad school workload and having to learn everything from scratch under Coach Smart. You can see him starting to settle in some however, and I think this last holiday break will work wonders for him. At 6’8″ 240 lbs. he gives VCU a steady/experienced body off the bench.

masonhoops.com: What are the strengths of this year’s team?

Mat: Not surprisingly, VCU’s strength this season is their ability to turn teams over, ranking tops in the nation in turnover and steals percentage. Prior to every VCU game opposing team’s fans say, “all you have to do is break the press and you’re fine,” yet more often than not the Rams win that battle. The Rams are great at speeding teams up, so even when you aren’t turning it over, you’re playing at a pace you might not be used. That of course tends to have a cumulative effect. VCU SID Scott Day tweeted out a stat that Rams’ opponents were shooting 46.7% from the field in the first half of games against VCU versus 39.8% in second half, as well as hitting 34.6% of threes compared to 30.1% in the second half.

masonhoops.com: What are the weaknesses of this year’s team?

Mat: Early in the season the Rams REALLY struggled to defend the paint. Granted, you give up some easy baskets as a result of a broken press, which inflates the 2p%, but a lot of it was coming in the half court. VCU has been much improved as of late however and I think a lot of that comes with guys just knowing where they need to be. We looked confused earlier in the season, which is somewhat expected with eight new guys. On the other end of the court, despite having a slew of capable scorers, shots just haven’t fallen as well as we would like inside the arc. The Rams 46.9% shooting inside the line ranks 241st nationally. If VCU gets that number up they become a very scary team (our adj. offensive efficiency ranks 92nd in the country despite an inability to finish inside the arc).

masonhoops.com: What are some signs that fans could look for during the game that might indicate whether the game is going well or poorly for the Rams?

Mat: Let’s not overlook the obvious…the score will generally give you a great idea about how well you’re doing. But on the less obvious side of things, what I look for is how well VCU is defending the paint. We’ve struggled to hit shots at times, but what has really worried me during the games is when we’ve struggled to defend, giving up easy baskets down low in particular. I believe with this group that the shots will eventually fall (and we’ve seen some huge runs from the Rams over the years), so what makes me optimistic is when VCU is defending well in the first half. Sometimes you can spot a mismatch early in terms of teams bringing the ball up the court. I saw that against Virginia Tech as well as Butler. You knew in those games that neither team had a chance with their personnel against our press.

masonhoops.com: VCU went 12-3 in out of conference play. What have those games revealed about the team? Are there trends emerging?

Mat: I think in any other year Ram fans are thrilled with a 12-3 start that included thrilling wins over both UVA and Virginia Tech (I know Mason fans are supposed to hate VCU…but didn’t you enjoy watching those teams lose in the most gut-wrenching fashions just a little bit?). This year after cracking the top-10 however I think we’re all confused about just how exactly we should feel. I think what that start has revealed really is what all teams know, and that is nothing is given to you, you have to come out each and every night and work for it. You can tell when your team is motivated and are all there for each other and really will do whatever it takes to win. I think we’ve certainly seen nights where that hasn’t been the case with some key pieces in our roster. I truly believe VCU has the talent to beat anyone but has certainly underachieved at times. It does however look as though they are starting to figure that out, and you’ve seen it over these last four games where the Rams are winning by an average margin of victory of 22 points.

masonhoops.com: VCU was picked first in the A-10 preseason poll, and has been ranked as high as #10 in the AP poll, but is currently unranked. Given what you’ve seen so far, what are your current expectations for VCU this season?

Mat: I honestly believe the sky is the limit for VCU, not just because I’m a Ram fan but because I watch college hoops. I watch Michigan State struggle against Colombia, see Drexel up 20 on Arizona, watch Duke escape Vermont in Cameron Indoor. I think the Rams could certainly win the A-10 but don’t know if our schedule sets up to win the regular season title. I think UMass might have the best combo of talent and favorable schedule for that, but certainly think we have as good of a shot as anyone in the top third of the A-10 to win out in Brooklyn. Once any of us get to the NCAA tournament, I think anything is possible.

VCU RAMS FACTS
Institution
Founded: 1838
Type: Public
Endowment: $736M
Location: Richmond, Virginia
Campus: Urban
Students: 23,951 undergraduates
Men’s Basketball Program
Athletics Budget: $22.2M (2012)
Men’s Basketball Budget: $3.8M (2012)
Began Play: 1968
Joined A-10: 2012
A-10 Championships: None
NCAA Appearances: 12 (Most recent: 2013)
NCAA Record: 12-12 (.500)
NIT Appearances: 5 (Most recent: 2008)
Head Coach: Shaka Smart
Coaching Tenure: 5th season
Coaching Record: 123-40 (.755)
Arena: Stuart C. Siegel Center
Arena Nickname: “The Stu”
Arena Opened: 1999
Arena Capacity: 7,693
Colors: Black and Gold
Student Section: The Rowdy Rams
2013-14 Season
Preseason A-10: Picked 1st
Current Record: 12-3 (0-0)
RPI: 50
Pomeroy: 31
Top wins: at Virginia, at Belmont
Bad losses: None
George Mason Series History
Meetings: 49
Record: VCU leads, 31-18
Current Streak: 2 wins, VCU
Most Recently: 3/4/2012, VCU won 74-64

Meet the Atlantic 10: An introduction to each team in George Mason’s new conference
VCU – St. Joe’s – UMass – URI – Fordham – GW – SLU – Dayton – Duq. – St. Bona – Rich. – La Salle

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About - Alan Kelly is a 2010 and 2013 graduate of George Mason University and a former member of the Patriot Platoon. He had the memorable experience of being in the middle of the college decision process as George Mason's Final Four run unfolded. He currently resides in Northern Virginia.

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