VCU Basketball Preview: #83
Overall Rank: #83
Conference Rank: #3 CAA
2008-09: 24-10, 14-4
2008-09 postseason: NCAA
Coach: Shaka Smart (First year at VCU, 0-0 overall)
VCU has two major losses to deal with heading into 2009-2010. On the floor the absence of Eric Maynor is huge. It was Maynor who knocked off Duke in the first round of the 2007 NCAA Tournament with his last second heroics and it was Maynor who turned this team into a consistent powerhouse in the Colonial Athletic Association. The other loss is that of head coach Anthony Grant. Like Grant, new coach Shaka Smart was an assistant at Florida.
Key Losses: F Lance Kearse, G Eric Maynor
As usual, the Rams have some talented freshmen coming in, but a couple transfers may make a bigger splash this year. The lone big man is Jamie Skeen. The transfer from Wake Forest may not score too much, but he can eat up space in the paint and grab some boards. Jay Gavin had a successful freshman campaign at Marist before opting to transfer. He is a sold three-point shooter and could provide a nice spark off the bench…if he doesn’t crack the starting lineup. But he may have to battle for minutes with incoming freshmen Darius Theus, Troy Daniels and Issiah Grayson.
The focus of this team may move to the frontcourt now that Maynor is gone, but there are still some talented players on the perimeter who are eager to step up in Maynor’s absence. Bradford Burgess had a solid freshman campaign, tallying 7.4 points per game and connecting on 43.0 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc. At 6-5 Burgess is also a versatile player who can hit the glass. Brandon Rozzell’s shot was not falling last year, but he is an experienced player who can provide a spark off the bench. With Ed Nixon and T.J. Gwynn also returning, the Rams have plenty of options on the wings.
But all the talent in the backcourt pales in comparison to that of Larry Sanders. And with Maynor gone this is truly the Larry Sanders show now. The 6-11 junior averaged 11.3 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks last year and will once again simply dominate the paint in CAA play. Kirill Pishchalnikov will again be his partner in the paint. Pischalnikov is not much of a scorer, but he will do the dirty work around the basket and free up space for Sanders. The main issue in the frontcourt is the lack of depth. Skeen will fill some of that void, but otherwise the Rams will need Terrance Saintil to drastically increase his minutes or, at times, play small with Gwynn at the four spot.
Who to Watch:
Joey Rodriguez nearly transferred during the offseason and that would have left a huge void at the point guard spot. Nobody is going to replace Maynor’s playmaking ability, but Rodriguez is certainly the best available option and the Rams would have had some backcourt troubles had he opted to leave. Last year Rodriguez dished 2.5 assists per game and added 9.4 points. He is also a good outside shooter, but he may get fewer quality looks this year now that he will spend most of the time with the ball in his hands.
This is not exactly the same team that beat Duke in the NCAA Tournament a couple years ago or gave UCLA a run for their money last year, but it is still a talented squad. Sanders can play with just about anybody in the country and if the guys in the backcourt can get adjusted to life without Maynor, this team will battle for the top spot in the conference.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NIT
Projected Starting Five:
Joey Rodriguez, Junior, Guard, 9.4 points per game
Ed Nixon, Junior, Guard, 4.0 points per game
Bradford Burgess, Sophomore, Guard, 7.4 points per game
Kirill Pishchalnikov, Senior, Forward, 5.2 points per game
Larry Sanders, Junior, Forward, 11.3 points per game