After their Cinderella run to the Final Four last season, part of me has a really hard time ranking the VCU Rams this low. They seem ready to emerge as a yearly, dangerous mid-major team as long as Shaka Smart is running the show. However, with four starters gone from last year, VCU has to replace a lot of experience.
Bradford Burgess is the only returning starter from a year ago. He finished second on the team in scoring and rebounding, and was also the team's top three-point threat. Burgess will have to take on an even bigger role this season as both a scorer and leader. Redshirt freshman Reco McCarter and true freshman Treveon Graham will battle to backup Burgess.
With Joey Rodriguez, Brandon Rozell, and Ed Nixon all gone, Smart is in search of answers in his backcourt. Rob Brandenberg was a key reserve as a freshman and showed off his scoring ability when given significant minutes. He will have an expanded role this season as he figures to flank Burgess on the wing.
Darius Theus will likely assume the starting point guard position. He saw quality playing time last season but is more of a distributor than scorer. Freshman Teddy Okereafor will push Theus for minutes and should be able to make an immediate impact.
The frontcourt competition seems to be wide open with the losses of Jamie Skeen and Toby Veal. Smart used a four-guard starting lineup for most of last season with Burgess playing the four, but figures to slide him to the small forward spot and start a pair of true post players.
Seven-footer D.J. Haley and Juvonte Reddic were role players last year but are the early favorites to win starting spots. They offer good size inside, but can they replace Skeen's scoring ability? David Hinton played sparingly and should factor into the mix along with redshirt freshman Heath Houston. True freshman Jarred Guest is a more versatile forward who could offer Smart a different look.
From Eric Maynor to Larry Sanders to last year's tourney run; VCU has cemented its status on the national map. It appears that as long as Shaka is on board, the Rams will compete for the CAA Championship and be in the NCAA Tournament picture. That should be the case this year, despite all the pieces to replace.
Player to Watch: Rob Brandenberg, SG
One of the biggest questions for Smart is figuring out who will emerge as the second scorer behind Burgess. Besides Brandenberg's ability to get buckets, he is also a solid defender exemplified by his game-clinching block in the NCAA Tournament against Florida State. Brandenberg should be poised for a breakout season and will likely flourish in a starting role.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/17 vs. Seton Hall (Charleston Classic)
11/18 vs. Georgia Tech/St. Joseph's (Charleston Classic)
11/20 vs. Northwestern/LSU/Tulsa/Western Kentucky (Charleston Classic)