53 Reasons: VCU game

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Scoochie Smith against VCU in Brooklyn. David Jablonski/Staff

The 2015-16 college basketball season is just around the corner. In honor of the Flyers winning 53 games the last two seasons (and because I couldn’t come up with 2,015 reasons), I’m counting down 53 reasons (in no particular order) to look forward to the season.

Follow the blog between now and the season opener against Southeast Missouri State on Nov. 13. I will have four to five updates per week.

I’ll post links on Twitter (@DavidPJablonski) and on my Facebook page: www.facebook.com/DavidPatrickJablonski.

NOTE TO READERS: I want to salute the fans at some point in this series. Here’s my idea: Email me a photo of your favorite piece of UD memorabilia (david.jablonski@coxinc.com). It could be a ticket stub, a T-shirt, a poster, a newspaper page, a photo of you at a game, etc. And write a paragraph or two or more about the story behind it: where you got it, what it means to you, why it’s special, etc. Also tell me how long you’ve been a fan, how and why you started rooting for the Flyers. I will include the story and the text in a blog entry. The best photo and entry wins an 8×10 print of Vee Sanford’s shot against OSU or Jordan Sibert’s shot against Boise. Your choice.

No. 29: VCU game

Practice begins Friday for the Dayton Flyers. My Timehop app yesterday reminded me of some interesting tweets from a year ago at this time, tweets about the Flyers facing depth issues with Jalen Robinson and Dyshawn Pierre sidelined with injuries, tweets about the Flyers preparing to depend more on Robinson and Devon Scott. How quickly things changed.

The media will meet with Archie Miller on Thursday to talk about the start of practice and the upcoming season. I wouldn’t expect anything new to come out about Pierre. No one at UD is allowed to talk about that situation right now.

Anyway, on to the continuing analysis of UD’s A-10 opponents.

The Flyers face VCU coach Will Wade’s old and new teams this season. Wade came to VCU from Chattanooga, and the Flyers host Chattanooga on Dec. 12. VCU visits UD Arena in Dayton’s last regular-season game March 5. It’s too bad they only play once. This is one of the marquee games on the A-10 schedule.

Dayton pulled off its biggest regular-season victory at VCU last season, surviving foul trouble to win 59-55 in Richmond. Two weeks later, the Rams got revenge in the A-10 final, winning 71-65 in Brooklyn.

After years of rumors of him leaving, Shaka Smart finally left VCU after the season for Texas. VCU turned to Wade, who worked on Smart’s staff in 2011 when VCU reached the Final Four. He went 40-25 in two seasons at Chattanooga. He’s 32 years old. Wade also worked earlier in his career on former UD coach Oliver Purnell’s staff at Clemson.

At his introductory press conference, Wade assured VCU fans he will carry on Smart’s style of play. “Havoc still lives here,” he said.

My fellow OU grad Chris Kowalczyk wrote about Wade’s plans in April on his Around the Horns blog:

Wade says the Rams will still play with the same aggressive flair for which they’ve become known, and they’ll still get out in transition. You don’t have to say goodbye to the full-court press. It’ll still be there.

Like Smart, Wade is cerebral with a heavy focus on analytics. Both men are big believers in the data of Ken Pomeroy, with Wade noting that he subscribes to additional Ken Pomeroy scouting reports on opponents and that he “had an analytics guy” at Chattanooga who will join him in Richmond in some capacity.

“I’m a spreadsheet guy,” Wade said with a smile.

For VCU’s players, there might be some comfort in the continuity as well. Wade coached and/or recruited many of them. On Wednesday, he recalled his numerous trips as an assistant to Dickson, Tennessee, to recruit rising junior point guard JeQuan Lewis. The rest, he’s eager to get to know.

The Rams lost their leading scorer, senior Treveon Graham (16.2 points per game), and defensive stopper Briante Weber, whose knee injury on Jan. 31 changed the shape of the A-10 race. The Rams lost five of their first nine games after Weber’s injury.

That cost them the A-10 regular-season title, but they found their stride by the A-10 tournament and beat Fordham, Richmond, Davidson and Dayton on consecutive nights. They nearly became the second straight A-10 team to beat Ohio State in the first round of the NCAA tournament but lost 75-72 in overtime in the last game of the Shaka era. Smart finished 163-56 in six seasons.

VCU’s top returners are guards Melvin Johnson (12.4 points per game) and Lewis (8.5) and forward Mo Alie-Cox (7.4).

Like Scoochie Smith, Johnson is from the Bronx. He was the A-10’s Sixth Man of the Year two years ago and has increased his production every season. Johnson is poised for a breakout year, according to this article by Thomas Beindit.

Johnson is coming off the best season of his three year college career at VCU and very well could be the player to watch for the Rams heading into the program’s first season without Shaka Smart since 2009. Not only was Johnson the team’s leader in total minutes last season, but he is the team’s leading returner in points, field goal attempts, 3PT attempts, and assists. He has put up a ton of stats for VCU during his career and could be primed for one major run in his final season with the program.

Smart’s departure cost VCU its top incoming freshman. Tevin Mack joined Smart at Texas. Two other signed players were granted their release: Kenny Williams, who went to North Carolina; and Jordan Murphy, who chose Minnesota instead.

Wade picked up the pieces and put together a class in short order. It appears Wade is picking up where Smart left off, especially with the 2016 class.

Yesterday’s commitment of top-60 2016 recruit De’Riante Jenkins is big news for the Rams. For starters, VCU is adding another very talented player to a roster full of young talent. Jenkins will play his freshman season on a team that will include at least four former ESPN top-100 players (three more than VCU’s Final 4 team) and at least six who were ESPN 4-star recruits out of high school. And that doesn’t even include arguably the best senior player (or best player for that matter) during Jenkins’ freshman season: Mo Alie-Cox.

That’s the obvious good news. But the other big sign in yesterday’s commitment, as well as with VCU’s underrated 2015 class, is that Will Wade is building on what he helped create while an assistant at VCU: an improved recruiting profile for VCU.

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