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.

Arizona lands first commitment in 2017 class

Alex Barcello (Jon Lopez/Nike)
(Jon Lopez/Nike)
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Arizona landed their first commitment in the Class of 2017 on Friday night as point guard Alex Barcello pledged to Sean Miller and the Wildcats.

Barcello is a 6-foot-2 point guard from Tempe who plays his high school ball for Corona del Sol. He committed to the Wildcats on an official visit to the Tucson campus.

Barcello is a borderline top 100 prospect who sits at No. 123 in the Rivals top 150. He’s known for his ability to shoot, and he’s more of a combo-guard — i.e. shoot-first — than a point guard at times, but he’s a nice pickup and projects as a solid four-year player for the Wildcats.

Virginia, Indiana, Stanford and Butler were the other four schools on Barcello’s list.

Duke lands first commitment in 2017 class

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Alex O’Connell knew exactly where he wanted to play his college ball, which is why, just two days after picking up an offer from Coach K and the Blue Devils, he became Duke’s first recruit in the Class of 2017.

O’Connell announced the on twitter on Friday afternoon:

O’Connell is a four-star prospect from Georgia that had a terrific summer, going from being a borderline top 75 prospect to a player that caught the interest of Duke, who, along with Kentucky, sit atop the college recruiting hierarchy. He’s an explosively athletic and lanky 6-foot-6 wing with three-point range on his jumper. He needs to add some weight and some strength — he’s listed as a crisp 175 pounds — but he has the tools, and the swagger, to develop into a very effective player in the ACC.

Is he a one-and-done prospect?

Probably not. In fact, since 2010, Duke has landed just two players that were rated lower than O’Connell: Antonio Vrankovic and Jack White. If you know who both of them are, you’re probably either Jon Scheyer or lying.

But what O’Connell is is a kid who put in the work to get better this past year and who has the skill set, the physical tools and work ethic to continue to improve. He may not be on Grayson Allen’s trajectory, but O’Connell has the makings of being an impact player for the Blue Devils for three or four years.

Alex O'Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)
Alex O’Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)

Shaka Smart lands contract extension at Texas

Texas head coach Shaka Smart instructs his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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Shaka Smart has already landed himself a contract extension at Texas.

The school, according to the Austin American-Statesman, has given Shaka a one-year extension — through the 2022-23 season — and bumped his salary up to a cool $3 million, a raise of $100,000 annually.

Smart’s Longhorns went 20-13 last season and lost on a half court buzzer beater from Northern Iowa’s Paul Jespersen. It will be tough for Smart to match the success that he had last season, specifically because he lost senior point guard Isaiah Taylor to the professional ranks.

That said, the former VCU head man has been reeling in quite a bit of talent from the state of Texas — namely, Andrew Jones and Jarrett Allen — and is not all that far from turning the Longhorns back into a relevant member of the Big 12 title race.

Arizona and Texas headline Lone Star Shootout

PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 17:  Head coach Sean Miller of the Arizona Wildcats reacts in the first half against the Wichita State Shockers during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 17, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
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Another marquee, early season event is on the books for the college basketball season as four potential tournament teams will be squaring off at the Toyota Center in Houston on Dec. 17th.

The highlight of the double-header, which has been dubbed the Lone Star Shootout, will probably end up being Arizona vs. Texas A&M. The Wildcats are a Pac-12 contender and a borderline top 10 team as we enter the season, and while the Aggies will have work to do replacing the seniors they lost off of last season’s roster, they’re a borderline top 25 team.

The other matchup will feature a pair of former Southwest Conference rivals facing off in Texas and Arkansas. Texas will be talented but young while Arkansas may actually have the best player on the floor in Moses Kingsley. What will make this matchup interesting is that both Mike Anderson and Shaka Smart are known for being coaches that prefer a full court pressing system.

“We are extremely excited about the opportunity to play in front of our fans at the Toyota Center in Houston,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said in a statement. “It is one of the most important areas in this state as it relates to our recruiting and fan base.

Five-star 2017 guard Lonnie Walker cuts list to five schools

Men's U18 trials head shots and team photo on 6.15.16
Bart Young/USA Basketball
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Five-star shooting guard Lonnie Walker is coming off of a very good summer as he trimmed his list to five schools on Thursday night.

The 6-foot-4 native of Reading, Pennsylvania is still considering Arizona, Kentucky, Miami, Syracuse and Villanova, he announced on Twitter.

Regarded as the No. 26 overall prospect in the Class of 2017, Walker played with Team Final in the Nike EYBL this spring and summer as he averaged 16.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. Walker shot 45 percent from the field, 39 percent from three-point range and 72 percent from the free-throw line.

An efficient scorer who is learning to drive with both hands, Walker is very talented and the type of guard who might also be able to handle a bit as well.