Overall Rank: #48
Conference Rank: #1 Colonial
2007-08: 24-8, 15-3, 1st
2007-08 postseason: NIT
As long as VCU has reigning conference Player of the Year Eric Maynor, they will be a force in the Colonial Athletic Association. The 6-3 point guard averaged 17.9 points, 5.5 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 1.2 steals last season and led his team to a 15-3 conference record. The Rams, who were three games better than any CAA opponent, stumbled in the conference tournament, but they have enough weapons to repeat last year’s success and make it to the NCAA Tournament. In fact, led by Maynor, they might not even have to win the conference tournament to get a bid to the big dance.
However, there are holes that need to be filled. Jamal Shuler was easily the team’s best outside shooter and knocked down 41.3 percent of his attempts. His 15.5 points per game was the only other double-figure average on the team besides Maynor. The Rams have to find a shooter or two in the backcourt to replace him. The frontcourt has a couple big losses of their own in Michael Anderson and Wil Fameni. Anderson was the big man who could stretch out the defense with his outside shooting ability and Fameni did the dirty work under the basket.
Bradford Burgess will help replace Shuler. Burgess will not single-handedly be as productive as Shuler from beyond the arc, but the 6-5 guard can hit the outside shot. He will also use his size to get the basket effectively and can score a lot of points in a hurry. Terrance Saintil and walk-on David Hinton are the newcomers in the frontcourt. At 6-8 and 230 pounds, Saintil is a good athlete who has the strength to battle in the paint. He has some work to do as a defender and rebounder, but at VCU he will have the time to grow into his role. In a year or two, the Opa Locka, Florida product could be a special player.
Who to Watch:
For now, the Rams really do not need any more depth in the frontcourt, even with the loss of two key contributors. And it all starts with sophomore Larry Sanders. The 6-10, 220 pounder only started half of the team’s games and averaged less than 17 minutes per contest, but the Virginia Commonwealth faithful have good reason to be excited about his future. He has room to improve in the scoring department, but Sanders led the team with 5.2 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per contest. Going up against Sanders when he is standing under the basket is an intimidating thing for any opponent. The Rams win games with defense and it all starts with Sanders. Lance Kearse averaged less than ten minutes per game as a freshman, yet he has a ton of potential. He is the likely candidate to replace Anderson since he can hit the outside shot and stretch the defense. T.J. Gwynn is the most experienced option. Even though he is just 6-4, he is strong enough to play power forward. Junior Kirill Pishchalnikov adds some toughness to the team and Franck Ndongo, at 6-7, can give the team plenty of size at the small forward spot.
The emergence of the frontcourt is important, but the most important question heading into the 2008-2009 campaign is who replaces Shuler. Outside of Maynor, no returning player on the roster averaged over five shots per game. Those shots have to go somewhere and Joey Rodriguez, Brandon Rozzell and Ed Nixon hope to answer the call. Rodriguez started 18 games a year ago, but it is his defense that keeps him on the floor, not his inconsistent outside shooting. Rozzell is a good shooter and he showed a lot of potential during his limited action as a freshman. If he can turn his successful February and March into consistency that lasts an entire season, Rozzell will be the answer and could be the other double-digit scorer that the team needs to reach the NCAA Tournament.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Eric Maynor, Senior, Guard, 17.9 ppg, 5.5 apg
Joey Rodriguez, Sophomore, Guard, 5.1 ppg, 2.5 apg
T.J. Gwynn, Junior, Forward, 3.4 ppg
Lance Kearse, Sophomore, Forward, 3.9 ppg
Larry Sanders, Sophomore, Forwar, 4.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg