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.

UT Arlington coach Scott Cross wins the #DriveByDunkChallenge by dunking over his son

(Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images)
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UT Arlington head coach Scott Cross is the current leader in the #DriveByDunkChallenge, the latest social media craze that endorses dunking on random hoops while cruising through a neighborhood.

After Kentucky head coach John Calipari set the bar for college head coaches in the challenge with his dunk on late Friday night, Cross came in strong by putting on some Lil Jon and taking flight over his own son on a random hoop.

Between the soundtrack selection and using his own son as a prop in his dunk, Cross has set a strong standard among college coaches for this challenge.

(H/t: Mid-Major Madness)

Mississippi State stays hot with commitment from four-star 2018 guard D.J. Stewart

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Mississippi State stayed hot on the recruiting trail on Monday as they scored an in-state pledge from four-star shooting guard D.J. Stewart.

The 6-foot-5 Stewart is the second major commitment to the Bulldogs and head coach Ben Howland this July as five-star forward Reggie Perry announced his intentions to go to Mississippi State last week.

After not having a single Division I scholarship offer entering April, Stewart exploded on the national landscape with his play with Mississippi Express in the Nike EYBL.

Regarded now as the No. 106 overall prospect in the Rivals national Class of 2018 rankings, Stewart has some upside as a wing scorer and defender at the college level.

Four-star forward Joey Hauser gives Marquette important Class of 2018 commitment

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Marquette earned an important commitment on Sunday as four-star Class of 2018 forward Joey Hauser pledged to the Golden Eagles.

The 6-foot-8 Hauser will join his brother, Marquette sophomore forward Sam Hauser, for two seasons in Milwaukee as he’s regarded as the No. 43 overall prospect in the national Class of 2018.

A tough and versatile forward who can play either spot in the frontcourt, Hauser is Marquette’s first Class of 2018 pledge as head coach Steve Wojciechowski has kept another talented player at home.

Now that Hauser has committed, Marquette can look for more perimeter threats in the class since they will also get former four-star wing forward Brendan Bailey coming in for that class. Bailey is on a two-year mission trip and will be another talented piece for that group as the Golden Eagles will try to compliment them with another guard.

Five Takeaways from the Under Armour All-America Camp

Kelly Kline/Under Armour
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PHILADELPHIA — The Under Armour All-America Camp might have had the best overall collection of talent in the country during the second week of the July Live Evaluation Period as top-100 players from multiple classes took part in a three-day camp at Philadelphia University.

With a few Class of 2018 five-star prospects in attendance, and some others making names for themselves, it was a great chance to see some of the best players that will be entering college basketball for the 2019-20 season. Here are five takeaways from the camp.

1. Four-star point guard Devon Dotson is coming on strong in the Class of 2018

The crop of point guards in the Class of 2018 is strong when it comes to players who could have a major impact at the college level. While we’ve spoken about players like Immanuel Quickley, Tre Jones and Darius Garland as the best in the class, the second tier of guys is also strong.

One of the players who will push five-star status after July is North Carolina native Devon Dotson. The 6-foot-1 native of Charlotte was the best player overall at the Under Armour All-America Camp as he was unstoppable off the dribble. Scoring in multiple ways around the basket, including some thunderous dunks, Dotson is a very good athletic if he gets a full head of steam going towards the rim.

Dotson can occasionally get tunnel vision when he has the ball in his hands, but coaches also have to like the ultra-aggressive way that Dotson plays the game. Always putting pressure on the defense with the way that he plays, Dotson is a consistent three-pointer away from being a major problem in college.

Back in June, Dotson named a top eight of Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Maryland, Miami, Ohio State, USC and Wake Forest as it’ll be interesting to see if things heat up after his strong camp performance.

2. The upside of Class of 2018 center Moses Brown is scary

The Class of 2018 has a glaring lack of potential one-and-done players and a short supply of big men. As a fluid 7-foot-1 big man with a rapidly rising skill level, you can see why New York native Moses Brown has positioned himself as a consensus top-ten player in this class.

Moving very well for his size, Brown is still learning how to be productive at all times as he continues to add strength and coordination, but he’s now learning how to also use his extreme gifts to his advantage. Brown has now become a consistent presence at the rim thanks to his length and defensive IQ and he’s also rebounding near rim level at every play. Also improving as an offensive player, Brown showed some versatility by pushing off of rebounds and making more plays as a passer.

Still a tad inconsistent in terms of overall motor and offensive production, Brown could stand to work more on his post game beyond a hook, but he’s also the type of big man who should fit in well with the new age of basketball. Brown wasn’t tested a lot defending high ball screens in Philadelphia, but he has a chance to be a very disruptive defender at all levels of basketball if he continues to get better. 

3. Class of 2018 point guard Jahvon Quinerly continues to impress

It wasn’t the strongest camp showing in terms of production from five-star point guard Jahvon Quinerly, but he also displayed the ball handling, passing and leadership that made him one of the best players in the nation this spring.

Possibly having the tightest handles in the class, Quinerly has the ball on a string at all times and it enables him to make a lot of difficult passes for easy buckets off of drives. Also gifted as a perimeter shooter, Quinerly should be a gifted enough floor spacer to play a bit off the ball and still be a weapon on the three-point line.

Something to keep an eye on with Quinerly’s development will be how he adjusts to long and athletic defenders at all positions. Without elite burst, Quinerly will have to use some counter moves the get open and scoring over length is another area that Quinerly can work on. But with his combination of overall basketball savvy and skill level, Quinerly should be a great college player.

Still considering Arizona, Kansas, Stanford, UCLA, Villanova and Virginia, Quinerly had an official visit to the Wildcats already.

4. Class of 2018 big man Riley Battin opens eyes with production

Opening eyes with his play at the Under Armour All-America Camp with his overall skill and production was three-star Class of 2018 big man Riley Battin. Shooting 59 percent from the field during the week while finishing near the top in overall camp scoring, the 6-foot-8 Battin is an intriguing player at the next level even if he isn’t the greatest athlete.

With great footwork and good touch on his jumper from all three levels, Battin can knock down three-pointers (42 percent this spring in the UAA) while also scoring in the post or the mid-range. Already taking an official visit to Vanderbilt towards the end of August, Colorado, Davidson, Georgia Tech, Northwestern, Utah and Wichita State are also involved.

Battin is the type of player who won’t get a lot of hype in national recruiting rankings but he could very well be a damaging player in the right system. A tough cover because of some unconventional moves, Battin could be a lot of fun to watch at the next level.

5. The second week of the July live period needs a major overhaul

The Under Armour All-America Camp was a strong event during a weak second week of July and it’ll be curious to see if any changes are made to fix the timing of this on the recruiting calendar.

With all three major shoe companies having major summer championships the week before many of the nation’s elite players played in high-profile events last week before getting injured or sitting out the second week

Since the first week of the recruiting calendar is heavy in Georgia and South Carolina and the third week mostly goes to Las Vegas, the second week is also way more spread out than any other time during the July period. The coast-to-coast nature of events during the second week of July makes it tough for college coaches traveling because the talent is so diluted at most events.

It’ll be interesting to see if any changes occur with how events are run or how the calendar looks because the second week featured a lot of watered-down play.

Buffalo sophomore arrested, charged with strangulation, witness intimidation

City of Tonawanda Police
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Buffalo sophomore Quate McKinzie is facing a litany of charges stemming from an incident in which he allegedly attempted to strangle a female acquaintance.

McKinzie, who is 20 years old, was later handed more charges after he made threatening phone calls to his accuser from jail.
From the Buffalo News:

The original charges placed against the UB sophomore were second-degree strangulation, a D-felony; misdemeanor counts of criminal obstruction of breathing, assault, menacing, harassment; and stealing the victim’s vehicle.

The latest charges are third-degree witness intimidation and first-degree criminal contempt, both E-felonies; and two misdemeanors, aggravated harassment and disobeying a court mandate, according to Tonawanda Police Patrol Capt. Fredric Foels.

“University Athletics is aware of the alleged incident and is in communication with university and local authorities,” Buffalo released in a statement. “Quate McKinzie is currently enrolled at the University at Buffalo and is suspended indefinitely from the university’s basketball team. Due to the ongoing investigation and federal protections on student information, we will have no further comment on the matter at this time.”

McKinzie is a 6-foot-8, 195 pound forward that played in 17 games last season. He averaged 3.9 points and 4.3 boards.