NCAA Basketball Tournament - VCU v Indiana

Top 25 Countdown: No. 21 VCU Rams

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 29-7, 15-3 CAA (2nd); Lost to Indiana in the Round of 32 in the NCAA tournament

Head Coach: Shaka Smart

Key Losses: Brad Burgess

Newcomers: Mo Alie-Cox, Jordan Burgess, Melvin Johnson, Justin Tuoyo

Projected Lineup:

G: Darius Theus, Sr.
G: Troy Daniels, Sr.
F: Treveon Graham, So.
F: Juvonte Reddic, Jr.
C: DJ Haley, Jr.
Bench: Briante Weber, So.; Rob Brandenburg, Jr.; Melvin Johnson, Fr.; Jordan Burgess, Fr.

Outlook: It’s almost impossible to underrate VCU at this point.

They are 18 months removed from playing in the Final Four. They have a head coach that gets massive, high-major contract offers about as often as I get a cup of coffee. They parlayed that success into an invitation from the stronger Atlantic 10, and have since been crowned a favorite to win one of the deepest, most balanced conferences in the country despite it being their first season in the league. Heck, we ranked them 21st nationally. That’s quite a measure of respect.

And still, it feels like the Rams are going to end up being better than projected heading into this season.

Shaka Smart runs a system at VCU much the same way that Bo Ryan does at Wisconsin or that John Thompson III does at Georgetown. Smart loves to press, and while some programs do that specifically do speed up the tempo or to force the offense to burn time off of the shot clock on every possession, the Rams have one goal in mind defensively: force turnovers. They led the nation in both steal percentage and defensive turnover rate in 2011-2012, according to Kenpom, a stat that shouldn’t change all that much this season given the fact that the Rams bring back all but one member of last season’s team.

Seniors Darius Theus, the point guard, and Troy Daniels, the shooter, will likely start in the back court with junior Rob Brandenburg, sophomore Briante Weber and freshman Melvin Johnson coming off the bench. All five of these guys have specific strengths — Theus is easily the best creator, followed by Weber; Brandenburg is a slasher and the best athlete; Weber is probably the best on-ball defender; Daniels is the best shooter, followed by Johnson, who has the rep of a big-time scorer out of New York City — but, for all intents and purposes, they are more-or-less interchangeable on the perimeter.

In the front court, Smart usually starts both DJ Haley and Juvonte Reddic. Reddic is a better fit for the system, as he’s got the mobility and speed to get up and down the floor in this system while still being able to rebound, defend the rim and score around the basket thanks to his 6-foot-9 frame. Haley’s role is as more of a shot-blocker and a guy that can bail out defenders pressuring on the perimeter if they get beaten off the dribble.

While both Haley and Reddic start, Smart doesn’t usually use them at the same time, opting instead use four smaller players. That’s where the loss of Brad Burgess hurts this group. At 6-foot-6, Burgess was simply a terrific all-around basketball player. He could guard guards on the perimeter, he could hang in the paint and rebound the ball, he hit threes, he was a pure-bred leader. His role for the Rams was similar to the role that Kim English played for Missouri last season, and his value creating mismatches cannot be overstated.

The guy that many expect to fill that role this season will be sophomore Treveon Graham. A 6-foot-5 sophomore, Graham averaged 7.0 points and 3.2 boards in just under 17 minutes as a freshman. He’s shown promise and potential as a scorer, but that 31.3% three-point shooting is a bit of a red-flag. The other guy that will see time at the four spot this season is Jordan Burgess, a top 100 recruit that just so happens to be Brad’s younger brother. The similarities in their game go beyond a shared last name.

There is one thing that VCU could stand to improve on that would take them from being a good team to potentially being an elite team: three-point shooting. The Rams take a lot of them; it’s built into their system and what Smart wants them to do on the floor. The problem? They shot 33.4% from beyond the arc as a team last season and only return one guy — Daniels, at 38.1% — that shot better than Graham’s 31.3% from three. That’s a number that needs to get better for a team that shoots more than 22 three-pointers a night.

Predictions?: Simply based on the strength of what is coming back, the Rams are going to be competing for the Atlantic 10 title and, most likely, heading to the NCAA tournament with a more favorable seed than they have in the last two seasons. There is room for them to grow, especially if Graham — and the younger Burgess — can adequately take on the “power forward” role on this team and, as a team, they improve their accuracy from deep. With how wide open college basketball is this season, a return to the Final Four is not out of the realm of possibility if those things happen, although I think winning the A-10 and reaching the Sweet 16 are more realistic goals (expectations?).

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Kennedy Meeks to return to North Carolina

Kennedy Meeks
(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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North Carolina center Kennedy Meeks announced on Wednesday that he would be withdrawing his name from NBA Draft consideration.

“I’m thankful I had the chance to explore my draft options, but I’m excited about the opportunity to rejoin my teammates and work toward having another outstanding season at UNC,” says Meeks. “I appreciate the support my coaches and teammates gave me during this process as we gathered information about my professional opportunities at this time. The feedback on what I have to work on so that I can have a great senior year, help my team have a great season and be ready to take that next step is invaluable.”

Meeks did not get an invitation to the NBA Draft combine, which is a pretty clear indication that he did not have a real chance to get drafted this year. But the new rule allows him to gather feedback on what he needs to do to improve and get himself into a position where he can land a professional contract after he graduates next season.

As a junior, Meeks battled injury but still managed to average 9.2 points and 5.9 boards.

Louisville students’ lawsuit against escort is dismissed

Rick Pitino
(AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
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A Louisville judge has dismissed a lawsuit by University of Louisville students filed against Katina Powell that said the escort’s book allegations of sex parties at the men’s basketball players’ dormitory had devalued their education.

Kyle Hornback and three other students sued Powell last fall, saying her book damaged the school’s reputation. Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Mitch Perry denied their argument in Friday’s decision but allowed others who joined the suit after being named in the book to file amended complaints that they were falsely accused and defamed.

Powell has said that former Cardinals basketball staffer Andre McGee hired her and other dancers to entertain recruits and players. Several investigations are ongoing including one by Louisville, which self-imposed a postseason ban and reduced scholarships and recruiting opportunities.

Report: Wichita State approaches Mountain West

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A year ago, Wichita State president John Bardo called for the school to study the feasibility of bringing football back to the athletic program.

Apparently the Shockers administration has even grander designs.

Wichita State has approached the Mountain West Conference about membership, according to a report from CBSSports.com.

The Missouri Valley Conference, which has been the Shockers’ home since 1946, is aware of Wichita State’s interest in switching conference affiliation, the report states. The Mountain West would makes sense for the Shockers as the conference currently has an odd-number hoops membership of 11 and would provide them with higher-profile opponents than the Valley. Just twice in conference history has the MWC been a one-bid NCAA tournament team, with last year being the first since 2001 for it to occur. The Shockers are also reportedly eyeing other leagues, like the AAC and Conference USA.

MWC commissioner Craig Thompson told CBS Sports that if Wichita State were to leave the Valley, “it ain’t going to be to us.”

Wichita State, which dropped football in 1986, has seen its basketball profile skyrocket in recent years under Gregg Marshall, who led the Shockers to a Final Four and a 35-0 start to the season in back-to-back years before reaching the Sweet 16 in 2015 and the Round of 32 last year. Marshall now makes more than $3 million per season.

Losing Wichita State would be a considerable blow to the Valley, which already lost perennial power Creighton to the Big East in the last round of realignment. Loyola Chicago, formerly of the Horizon League, filled the Bluejays’ spot.

Michigan’s Chatman transferring

Michigan  guard/forward Kameron Chatman (3) passes against Northwestern during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game on Tuesday, March 3, 2015, in Evanston, Ill. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)
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Kameron Chatman is leaving the Michigan program after two seasons, the school announced Tuesday.

The 6-foot-8 forward will transfer following a sophomore season in which his minutes were halved from his freshman campaign.

“I am incredibly grateful for my two years at Michigan,” Chatman said in a statement released by Michigan. “I would like to thank coach (John) Beilein and his entire staff for taking a chance on a small town kid out of Portland. I know my experience has inspired others as I will take all of my lessons learned to continue my pursuit of becoming the best man and player I can.”

Chatman is now the fourth Wolverine to transfer this spring, as Spike Albrecht (Purdue), Aubrey Dawkins (Central Florida) and Ricky Doyle have already departed. The Wolverines, who still have not announced replacements for assistant coaches LaVall Jordan (Milwaukee) and Bacari Alexander (Detroit), have been active in graduate transfer market as they look to rebuild much of their depth on the perimeter.

Chatman, who was a top-50 recruit out of high school, averaged 3.2 points and 2.0 rebounds per game for Michigan. He made 15 starts as a freshman, but only two as a sophomore.

Gilmore leaving VCU

Will Wade (AP Photo)
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Sophomore forward Michael Gilmore is transferring from VCU, the school announced Tuesday.

Gilmore started 18 games and appeared in 55 total for the Rams, but never carved out more than a marginal role, averaging 11.5 minutes per game as a sophomore after 6.3 his freshman season. He averaged 3.2 points and 2.8 rebounds per game this past year as he saw his role dwindle down the stretch for the Rams.

His departure will take away some interior depth for VCU, but coach Will Wade will still be returning the bulk of the team that tested eventual Final Four participant Oklahoma in the Round of 32 a month ago.

For Gilmore, he’ll likely have plenty of suitors despite the pedestrian numbers he posted over the last two years as 6-foot-10 forwards who have shown the ability to space the floor don’t hit the transfer market with great regularity.He was a consensus four-star recruit in the Class of 2014.