VCU Rams head coach Smart talks with guard Johnson during the final seconds of their third round NCAA tournament basketball game against Michigan in Auburn Hills

2013-2014 Season Preview: No. 18 VCU Rams

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. The rest of our Top 25 Countdown can be found here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 27-9, 12-4 Atlantic 10 (2nd); Lost to Michigan in the Round of 32

Head Coach: Shaka Smart (5th season at VCU: 111-36 overall, 50-20 CAA/A-10)

Key Losses: Darius Theus, Troy Daniels, Teddy Okereafor, Justin Tuoyo, D.J. Haley

Newcomers: Jordan Burgess, Mo Alie-Cox, Terrance Shannon, Jequan Lewis, Jairus Lyles, Antravious Simmons, Douglas Brooks

Projected Lineup

G: Briante Weber, Jr.
G: Rob Brandenburg, Sr.
F: Treveon Graham, Jr.
F: Terrance Shannon, Sr.
C: Juvonte Reddic, Sr.
Bench: Melvin Johnson, So.; Jordan Burgess, Fr.; Jairus Lyles, Fr.; JeQuan Lewis, Fr.; Mo Alie-Cox, Fr.; Jarrod Guest, Jr.; Antravious Simmons, Fr.; Doug Brooks, Fr.

They’ll be good because …: By now, we all know about Havoc, the all-out, full-court press that Shaka Smart’s teams constantly utilize. It’s what they’re known for, it’s what the program takes pride in, and it’s the game that gives opposing point guards nightmares. That press is devastating, especially when you consider just how well-conditioned these athletes are. They never get tired. It’s demoralizing.

But what makes the Rams especially dangerous this season is that their depth is just ridiculous. Sophomore Melvin Johnson and redshirt freshman Jordan Burgess, the younger brother of former VCU star Brad Burgess, are both former top 100 recruits. And they will both come off the bench this year. Jairus Lyles and JeQuan Lewis could have gone to schools in power conferences. Jarrod Guest, when he gets healthy, will be able to provide minutes up front to spell Juvonte Reddic and Florida State transfer Terrance Shannon. The waves of that press just aren’t going to stop this year.

source: Getty Images
Getty Images

But they might disappoint because …: I have a couple concerns about VCU replacing players they lost from last season. Darius Theus was more valuable to the Rams than he got credit for, as a point guard and as a leader. He’ll be tough to replace; Briante Weber, Rob Brandenburg and Johnson are quite talented, but they aren’t “true” point guards. It will also be interesting to see where VCU replaces Troy Daniels’ perimeter shooting. He made 124 threes last season. As a team, VCU his 278. That’s a big loss.

But the biggest concern I have with VCU is that they struggle against teams that can beat their press. VCU’s defense last season was 31st in the country in efficiency, leading the nation with a ridiculous 28.5% turnover percentage. Many of those turnovers led to layups, dunks and wide-open threes. It’s how the system works. But if they don’t get that turnover? They were 294th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage, 226th in defensive effective field goal percentage and 272 in free throw rate. That’s why teams with talented and/or veteran guards — a la St. Louis — can given the Rams trouble.

Outlook: I love the makeup of this roster for VCU. Juvonte Reddic is a beast in the paint, and with Terrance Shannon on the roster, he’ll have some help in the paint this season. Weber, Brandenburg and the rest of VCU’s hellishly-quick back court will force plenty of turnovers, and Treveon Graham is back for what should be a big junior season.

The difference maker on this team? Jordan Burgess. Like Graham, he’s a big, strong three that can get a three just as well as he can grab a rebound. His presence on the roster is what will give Smart so much more lineup flexibility. Smart can go with a small lineup, using Graham and Burgess together at the forwards spots, and not have to worry about playing a team with three guards on the floor. That will allow Shannon to spell Reddic at the five spot more often.

The point guard issues are a bit disconcerting, especially when you consider that VCU was not a greay team at executing in the half court last year. But that defense? That will make them the odds-on favorite to win the Atlantic 10 this season.

Nova’s Jenkins tries to keep fame from ‘shot’ in perspective

Villanova's Kris Jenkins (2) reacts to his gamne winning three point basket at the conclusion of the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game against North Carolina, Monday, April 4, 2016, in Houston. Villanova won 77-74. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)
AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato
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VILLANOVA, Pa. (AP) Rihanna headlined the Made in America music festival in Philadelphia last month, and some of the national champion Villanova Wildcats wanted to go.

The Wildcat who runs this town tonight – and maybe forever – just felt like staying home.

Kris Jenkins needed a break from the fans who know him as Big Smooth. He just needed peace.

Could it be, Jenkins bigger than Jay Z?

“In this town,” teammate Josh Hart said, laughing, “definitely.”

Hart made the show and bumped into fans who suddenly recognized the Wildcats, not just because they were the big men on the Main Line campus, but because of their increased visibility as the reigning NCAA national champions.

Hart can’t blame Jenkins for his desire to keep a low profile.

“I’ll go out there and I’ll get stopped a couple of times,” Hart said. “I’m just like, I’m happy Kris isn’t out here. If I’m with Kris, I’m not going to be able to go nowhere.”

Jenkins is no longer just another Big East forward likely to be forgotten by all except to the program’s diehards fans. He is the big man on campus. The Big Shot. He is the reason the Wildcats will raise a national championship banner in a ceremony Friday night at the Pavilion.

His 3-pointer at the buzzer lifted the Wildcats to a 77-74 victory over North Carolina and the national championship.

Jenkins joined Christian Laettner, Lorenzo Charles, Michael Jordan and Keith Smart on the March Madness highlight reel of greatest game-winners in tournament history.

“When it first happened, I watched it a couple of times,” Jenkins said. “Recently, I haven’t really watched it. Just trying to put it behind us and put that shot behind me.”

Put the shot behind him?

Good luck with that.

Jenkins’ timely 3 led him to the White House and the red carpet at the ESPYs.

President Barack Obama made the traditional winner’s phone call to coach Jay Wright and said, “Congratulate all of them, and tell Jenkins that he looked pretty cool out there taking that shot.” Obama singled out Jenkins again when the team visited the White House and referenced him by his Big Smooth nickname. Of all the stars, athletes and other celebrities Jenkins met this summer, Obama left an imprint.

“President Obama was probably the only star-struck one,” Jenkins said.

But other All-Stars wowed Jenkins.

“Charles Barkley. DeAndre Jordan. Reggie Miller. All those guys,” he said. “That was pretty cool, too.”

Hart attended the ESPYs and introduced himself to famous athletes and A-listers, finding polite greetings on the other end. But even the big shots knew Jenkins.

“I am an ant in their world,” Hart said. “Kris Jenkins, he don’t really have to announce himself too much.”

He introduced himself to the college basketball world in April.

The shot that made him famous came on a play Villanova practiced daily: Jenkins made the inbounds pass to guard Ryan Arcidiacono. He worked it up court and forward Daniel Ochefu set a pick near halfcourt to clutter things up, then Arcidiacono got set for the feed.

Arcidiacono, cut this week by the San Antonio Spurs, made an underhanded flip to Jenkins, who spotted up a pace or two behind the arc and swished it with Carolina’s Isaiah Hicks running at him.

“I was running hard enough to get close to him and get in his vision so he could see me and hear me,” Jenkins said. “I had to sprint pretty far because he had a little head start on me. I think I’ve got a pretty good voice so the yells were pretty good.”

Wright calmly mouthed, “Bang.” Game over.

“Life changed a little bit,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins kept his sneakers from the game – though Hart has tried prying them away for his collection.

“He’s not letting me get nothing,” Hart said. “I want a pair of compression shorts or something. A sock. I want to get something signed.”

Wright has talked with Jenkins about how to handle the popularity that smacked the humble senior out of Maryland.

“Anywhere he goes, everybody knows who he is,” Wright said. “Even everywhere I go, they ask me about him.”

Jenkins, who averaged 13.6 points last year, downplayed the shot.

“I’m humbled by it,” the 22-year-old said. “I’m just ready to go for the upcoming year.”

The Wildcats will raise the banner and former coach Rollie Massimino will attend to also raise a new and modern 1985 championship banner.

Expect the loudest ovation to be saved for Jenkins.

“I’m low key, so I don’t really get caught up in being a star, or being what people say is a star, or the guy,” he said. “I just consider myself a young man who loves the game of basketball, who loves his teammates and will do anything to help out his guys.”

Especially if they need help on the last shot of the championship game.

Book from former Indiana player alleges Knight abuse


Former Indiana coach Bob Knight is accused of punching a player with a closed fist, breaking a clipboard over a player’s head and grabbing players by the testicles and squeezing in a book authored by former Hoosier Todd Jadlow, according to a report from WTHR-TV in Indianapolis

“If (Knight) did those things today,” Jadlow told WTHR, “he would be in jail.”

The book, titled ‘Jadlow: On The Rebound,’ chronicles Jadlow’s time with the Hoosiers in the mid-to-late-1980s, including the program’s 1987 national championship, as well as his battle with drug and alcohol addiction.

What is likely to garner the most attention, though, is the alleged abuses from the Hall of Fame coach, who was accused of mistreating and berating players throughout his career.

Knight won three national championships and the 1984 Olympic gold medal but was dismissed from Indiana in 2000 after school president Myles Brand determined he had violated a “zero tolerance policy.” Knight went on to coach for seven years at Texas Tech before retiring.

“I’m a Knight guy,” Jadlow said. “I’m proud to have played for him and love him like a father; let’s not mistake that. But this was the life we led when we were playing for him.”

Jadlow’s claims aren’t exactly surprising given the history of allegations against Knight, but seeing them laid out is still rather disturbing. Among them in the book, according to WTHR, are as follows:

  • Jadlow was punched in the back of the head by Knight during a walkthrough for an NCAA tournament game against Seton Hall.
  • Knight broke a clipboard over Jadlow’s head in 1989 in a game against Louisville.
  • Jadlow’s sides were left with bruises after Knight dug his hands into him.
  • Knight “made a habit” of “grabbing players by the testicles and squeezing.”
  • Knight grabbed Daryl Thomas by the neck and shook him after the 1986 NCAA tournament.

Certainly ugly stuff.

UCLA freshman to miss 4-6 weeks with knee injury

UCLA head coach Steve Alford, second from right, watches action against Cal Poly with his assistant coaches in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Los Angeles, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Michael Baker)
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The degree of difficulty just went up for UCLA in a season that was already likely to be filled with intrigue.

Ike Anigbogu, one of the members of the Bruins’ highly-touted recruiting class, suffered a torn meniscus in his right knee and will miss 4-to-6 weeks, UCLA coach Steve Alford announced Tuesday.

The 6-foot-10 center is one-third of Alford’s top-10 2016 class, which also included five stars Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf. He wasn’t as highly regard as those two, but Anigbogu was a consensus top-50 recruit coming out of Corona, Calif. He averaged a double-double for UCLA during their foreign trip this summer.

“We’re optimistic we’ll have him back in four weeks so not going to miss a lot,” Alford said, according to Bruin Report Online. “The first three games probably.”

The Bruins aren’t without depth to weather the loss of Anigbogu as returning center Thomas Welsh averaged 11.2 points and 8.5 rebounds a game as a sophomore year ago and of course Leaf will play a major role.

Still, it’s a blow for a team that whose future appears so dependent on a group of freshmen, to lose one to start the season complicates the issue.

“Ike is doing a lot of good things,” Alford said. “Fortunately it’s a small tear. It’s not a major tear. I don’t think it’s going ot be a huge setback, but every time you have an injury there’s a setback.”

The timetable for Anigbogu’s return is interesting as if he’s able to hit the short end of the rehab window, which Alford repeatedly indicated they expected, he could be back for UCLA’s toughest stretch of non-conference games, starting with Kentucky on Dec. 3, then against Michigan on Dec. 10 and Ohio State on Dec. 17 before the Bruins open Pac-12 play against league favorite Oregon.

Duke’s Jayson Tatum injured during ‘Pro Day’ practice

Jayson Tatum (photo courtesy Duke Athletics)
Courtesy Duke Athletics
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Duke freshman Jayson Tatum suffered an injury to his left foot during Duke’s pro day practice on Tuesday.

The severity of the injury is not yet known.

Tatum suffered the injury on what was a “routine landing”, according to someone that attended the practice, and it was immediately apparent he was in pain. Another source added that Tatum left the court without putting any pressure on the foot.

Tatum is a top five prospect in the Class of 2016 and a potential No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft. He’s been as impressive as any player during the first month of practice, multiple sources have said.

Duke is currently without their other top five prospect, as freshman Harry Giles III is still recovering from a knee procedure last month. It’s unclear just how much Giles will provide this season, as this was the third surgery on his knees.

Miami beats out Kansas and Florida for 2017 center

Jim Larranaga
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Jim Larranaga and Miami just won a big recruiting battle.

Deng Gak, a 6-foot-11 center in the Class of 2017, committed to the Hurricanes on Tuesday over the likes of Kansas and Florida.

“First off I’d like to thank my family for supporting me throughout this long process,” Gak wrote on Twitter, “and all the coaches that recruited me up to this point.

“After thinking long and hard, I’ve decided that the University of Miami is the best fit for me to continue my education and basketball career!”

Gak made an official visit to Miami last month, but followed it up with visits to Gainesville and Lawrence before ultimately deciding to pledge to the Hurricanes.

Ranked in the top-100 by Rivals, Gak joins a strong 2017 class for Larranaga. The Hurricanes already have a commitment from four-star point guard Chris Lykes as well as highly-regarded New Zealand power forward Sam Waardenburg.

Miami would appear to have plenty recruiting momentum at the moment, coming off a 2016 class that included McDonald’s All-American Dewan Huell and top-50 guard Bruce Brown.