VCU Holding Steady Under Will Wade

Posted by Ray Curren (@currenrr) on February 16th, 2016

As with any beloved family member, the longer Shaka Smart stayed in Richmond, the harder he was going to be to replace. And contrary to what many outside the area may think, VCU’s strong basketball tradition didn’t start with the charismatic and personable young coach, but it made him a seemingly impossible act to follow. A 2011 trip to the Final Four is the most notable element of Smart’s impressive coaching resume, but he also won at least 26 games in all six seasons at the helm, going to the NCAA Tournament in each of the last five years (VCU is one of 11 schools nationally with such a streak). In the school’s first three years since moving up to the Atlantic 10, Smart led the Rams to 12 conference wins each season and the Rams never received a seed lower than #7 in the NCAA Tournament.

Once under Shaka Smart, the young Will Wade is beginning to plant the seeds towards his own legacy at VCU. (Getty)

Once an assistant under Shaka Smart, the young Will Wade is beginning to plant the seeds towards his own legacy at VCU. (Getty)

VCU did its best to keep Smart from leaving. To call his departure inevitable is probably inaccurate, but they certainly knew it was a distinct possibility all along. After Smart bolted for the resource-rich program at Texas, it didn’t take long for VCU to appoint Will Wade to replace him. Wade, like Smart, is a young, energetic, new-age leader who never played at a high level. At 33 years old, he is currently the fourth-youngest Division I coach, but, unlike Smart, this young head coach brought two years of D-I head coaching experience with him, leading Chattanooga to a 27-7 Southern Conference record over two seasons from 2013-15. Wade was also an assistant for four years under Smart (including the Final Four campaign) prior to that, and was a key member of the Harvard dynasty in the Ivy League before joining the VCU staff.

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Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on December 29th, 2015

Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference.

Last Week… and This Week

Conference teams played 12 games over the abbreviated week, going a total of 7-5. A winning percentage of only 58 percent continues the conference’s declining winning percentage this month, but Atlantic 10 teams have 12 more games through New Year’s Eve to rebuild their momentum. Four more games featuring Power Six opponents, two of which offer the signature-type of wins that can help a team’s postseason resume, are still to play — see the Five Games to Catch This Week section below. We then turn quickly to conference play over the weekend, with five games on Saturday and two more Sunday, two of which should have long-term conference race implications.

Jack Gibbs has paced what has been an impressive showing by the A-10's top tier guys this season. (USA TODAY Sports)

Jack Gibbs has paced what has been an impressive showing by the A-10’s top tier guys this season. (USA TODAY Sports)

The All Non-Conference (OOC) Teams

KenPom observed that “players do jump from being decoys to go-to guys in one season, and some even regress the other way. Those are the exceptions. By and large, a player’s role on his team in one season is a good indicator of his role the following season.” Non-conference play suggests that the following players are the engines that drive their team’s performances. The question is whether they can maintain that status through conference play. For those on the All-Freshman and All-Surprise Teams, the question on the eve of conference play is whether the roles and momentum they have established so far will continue.

Non-Conference First Team

It should not surprise anyone that three of the names on the First Team at the midpoint of the season are known commodities who were named to the preseason All-First Team, while the other two were named to the All-Third Team. Their roles as outstanding players on their respective teams have not changed much from last season. Read the rest of this entry »

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VCU Battling Ghosts From Years Past

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 21st, 2015

A funny thing happens when a head coach leaves, his legacy left implanted into the university, the program and every single one of his players. In college basketball, where head coaches matter more for long-term success than do the players, a shockwave ripples through when such a shift occurs. Since his hire by VCU in spring 2009, Shaka Smart poured his heart and soul into the program, taking the reins from predecessor Anthony Grant and capitalizing on the team’s streak of consecutive 20-win seasons. Smart then led VCU — through injuries, roster turnover and conference realignment — to five NCAA Tournament appearances over five seasons, including a 2011 run to the Final Four. Last March, on an otherwise uneventful day in Richmond, the man who had turned VCU basketball into a hot name in college basketball, bolted. The head coaching position offered by Texas, a major state school with a seemingly endless supply of resources, proved too lucrative and rife with possibilities to turn down. But while Smart packed his bags and headed west, the heart and soul of the storied program remained in place.

Shaka Smart's imprint on the VCU program will be forever entrenched - but Will Wade is off to a solid start. (AP)

Shaka Smart’s imprint on the VCU program will be forever entrenched – but Will Wade is off to a solid start. (AP)

Newly minted head coach Will Wade, Smart’s first hire at VCU, returned to the school, carrying with him a keen sense of familiarity with Smart’s patented HAVOC system. So, while the program suffered quite a bit of turmoil amid lost recruits, graduating seniors and a new conductor on the sidelines, the system that spawned all of that success remained the same.

Friday night provided what would be the ultimate test of the system’s durability: a clash with defending National Champion Duke. While a win was the optimal outcome, the bigger achievement here was the Ram’s overwhelming sense of renewed hope. HAVOC tempered the uptempo, highly efficient Duke offense and enabled VCU to play the role of the aggressor throughout much of the game (despite a size difference at every position). Coach K agreed with this sentiment after his team turned the ball over 14 times. “Those kids were strong, it was tough to run an offense against them. […] Every time you get the ball, there’s something they put on you.” Offensively, the Rams found driving lanes, cutters and open shots almost at will, as evidenced by their 46 percent shooting for the game. Maybe on paper Wade’s team had failed by conventional win-loss metrics; but by any other standard, the loss was a significant measure of success. “We didn’t just beat a team, we beat a program. They have a program at VCU,” Krzyzewski stated assuredly after his team’s win.

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VCU Reserves are the X-Factor in Rams’ Recent Surge

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 8th, 2015

The book on VCU’s style of play is fairly simple. Defensively, they want to press you full-court to create a bunch of turnovers and resulting easy baskets. Offensively, they shoot a high volume of three-pointers and rely on the quickness of their guards to break down a defense in the waning seconds of a shot clock. That’s pretty much their ethos. But as the program now enters its third season in the Atlantic 10, teams know what’s coming and have begun countering what VCU likes to do. What they are having trouble dealing with, however, isn’t a problem of strategy as much as personnel. VCU, currently riding a seven-game winning streak, boasts a much-improved second unit this season, led by the heralded freshman Terry Larrier. The bench’s production was on grand display in the Rams’ impressive victory over Davidson in Richmond on Wednesday night.

Terry Larrier is starting to show why he's Shaka Smart's highest-rated recruit (AP Photo)

Terry Larrier is starting to show why he’s Shaka Smart’s highest-rated recruit (AP Photo)

In those seven games, the Rams’ bench has outscored its opposition in all but one contest (a double-overtime victory over Northern Iowa). VCU’s second unit is comprised largely of young players, and they are starting to come around at just the right time. Freshmen Justin Tillman and Michael Gilmore have been doing a much better job on the boards in relief of Mo Alie-Cox inside and have looked more active offensively; classmate Jonathan Williams appears much more confident handling the ball when he spells Briante Weber and JeQuan Lewis at the point; and sophomore Doug Brooks has become a real spark with solid long-range shooting and a disruptive role in the chaos-inducing Havoc defense. Brooks was especially key in last night’s VCU victory with his contributions of eight points and two steals.

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Tremendous Guard Play Masks VCU’s Interior Weakness

Posted by Lathan Wells on November 19th, 2014

This year’s VCU team is considered Shaka Smart‘s best squad since he took the reins in Richmond some five years ago. The return of the majority of last year’s team coupled with three top-100 recruits helped the Rams to a #15 ranking in the preseason AP poll, the team’s second consecutive such honor. After two wins in its first two games of the season, it’s clear that there is a lot of talent on this roster. But there is also a glaring question shadowing the team: Can the Rams consistently win without offensive production in the post?

Alie-Cox and his fellow post players need to add offense to their defensive contributions (AP)

Mo Alie-Cox and his fellow post players need to add some offense to their defensive contributions (Associated Press)

The season’s first two contests — a convincing win over Tennessee and last night’s thrilling victory over Toledo — demonstrated more of what everyone has come to expect from VCU. The Havoc defense creates all kinds of problems for opposing offenses, and the Rams have a number of players who can hit the open three-pointer. In those two contests, the Rams have already created 40 turnovers and knocked down 20 threes. What’s different about this season’s team is that they lack a skilled big man who can provide a credible offensive threat on the interior. Juvonte Reddic and his 12 points per game are gone to graduation, and the players filling in for him have done little thus far to make up for his production.

Mo Alie-Cox is the sole big man in the starting rotation, and he has contributed only nine points through two games. Jarred Guest, Justin Tillman and Michael Gilmore have combined for 12 points as the frontcourt reserves. While all of these players have excellent potential, they too come with limitations. Alie-Cox is a brute force inside, but he stands at only 6’6″ and has a limited offensive skill set, making it difficult for him to match up against true centers. Guest is a senior but is still too lithe to bang with big bodies inside and often finds himself in foul trouble. Gilmore and Tillman are both freshmen, clearly learning their roles on the offensive side of the ball. The result so far has been a team living off the long ball and dribble penetration from its guards.

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Checking In On… the Southland Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 20th, 2011

Zach Birdsong is the RTC Correspondent for the Southland Conference. You can also find his musings online at or on twitter @zachbird_nerd.

Readers Take


The Week That Was

  • Pat Knight Era Begins at Lamar: The Pat Knight era at Lamar University began in earnest last Friday as the Cardinals took on Arkansas State in their home opener. Knight and the Cardinals picked up the win, 65-62, as Brandon Davis led all scorers in the game with 17 points for the game. Devon Lamb also contributed 13 points and picked up 15 rebounds. After that, the team traveled and lost to #8 Louisville, 68-48. Knight and his team endured its first loss of the season. Despite the score, Lamar was able to hang with Louisville for awhile before Rick Pitino’s team took control of the game. Two days later the team fell in their second consecutive game at Ohio in overtime, 85-78, but followed that up with an 18-point pasting of Charlotte on Saturday night.

Pat Knight Takes Over at Lamar

  • Sam Houston A Growing Team:  Last season, the Bearkats won the Southland Conference West Division. However, they lost numerous players including Conference Player of the Year Gilberto Clavell.  This season, Sam Houston has just three returning players, including one starter (Antuan Bootle), so SHSU is still looking to find its identity. In the season opener, the team beat Howard Payne, 76-42, and shot the ball at 40% from the field and 12.5% from three-point range. In the second game of the season, the team traveled to South Bend, dropping a 74-41 game to Notre Dame. SHSU had trouble shooting, with a clip of just 34% from the field, faring even worse from the perimeter. Overall, the young team is shooting 37.2% from the field and 16.1% from beyond the arc. They have also turned the ball over 33 times in two games as they struggle to find consistency.
  • Southland Schools Battle Power Conference Squads: Four schools in the Southland Conference battled teams from the Big 12 and Big East. Last Friday, Texas A&M-CC lost to Oklahoma State; then, on Sunday, November 13, Lamar traveled to Louisville and lost, followed by a game on  Wednesday, November 16, where Sam Houston State traveled to Notre Dame while UTSA lost a heartbreaker to Oklahoma State. Despite not having their leading scorer, Melvin Johnson III, who was serving his second game of suspension for violating team rules, UTSA built a lead before a miracle sequence from Cezar Guerrero eventually sunk the Roadrunners.

Power Rankings

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