“I’ve always wanted to say this, ‘I’m taking my talents to South Beach,'” Weber posted on his twitter account after agreeing to a training camp deal with the Miami Heat.
“I appreciate all the love and texts,” he added, “but this is not final, it’s work to be done. But, for now, l’m going to live in the moment.”
Weber was the engine that made VCU’s defense run last season, a feisty, freak of an athlete at the point guard spot that was 12 steals away from setting the NCAA’s career record when his knee gave out coming to a jump-stop against city-rival Richmond. He tore the ACL, the MCL and the meniscus in his right knee, which ended his season and put a damper on any chance that he would have to get drafted.
Weber will be eligible to be assigned to the Sioux City Skyforce, Miami’s D-League affiliate, if he gets cut during the preseason and doesn’t get signed by another NBA team.
No. 14 VCU entered Saturday’s home game against city rival Richmond with a 7-0 conference record, and the perimeter tandem of seniors Briante Weber and Treveon Graham has done a very good job of leading the way. Things didn’t go as planned for the Rams however, as Richmond pulled off the 64-55 upset with point guard Kendall Anthony leading the way with 22 points and six assists.
While the outcome is important the biggest concern moving forward for VCU is how they account for the loss of senior point guard Briante Weber, who tore the ACL, MCL and meniscus in his right knee. The school announced the news Saturday night.
Weber left the game with 3:18 remaining after injuring his right knee on a jump stop on the lane, and he eventually returned to the bench on crutches. His activity as a defender in both the full and half court is what makes the VCU defense so difficult for many opponents to crack. Given the impact Weber has on both ends of the floor, this is a huge loss for the Rams.
A key reason why Richmond won was the way in which they navigated the VCU defense, as they committed just 12 turnovers on the day. In five of VCU’s seven conference wins their opponent committed 16 turnovers or more, with Davidson (15) and Saint Louis (14) being the exceptions. But turnovers against VCU aren’t just about the number committed; there’s also the matter of distinguishing between dead and live-ball turnovers.
Richmond was able to keep the live-ball turnovers down to a minimum, making a team that entered the game ranked tenth in the Atlantic 10 in field goal percentage do the majority of their work in the half court. VCU scored just four fast-break points and ten points off of Richmond turnovers, and those are areas that can help a team make up for poor shooting.
VCU shot 40.7% from the field, 3-for-20 from beyond the arc and were outscored by 12 points (20-8) from the foul line by the Spiders, who picked up their first road win over a ranked opponent in 11 years. Treveon Graham scored 18 points to lead the way, with 13 coming in the second half, but Melvin Johnson shot just 2-for-7 from the field in the final 20 minutes.
Finding quality looks in the half court, and making them, was an issue for VCU against Richmond and that’s been the case in many contests. But a team that has been so good at creating open-court chances was unable to do so Saturday afternoon, and for that Chris Mooney’s deserves credit. And in Kendall Anthony, he has a point guard who is one of the best in the Atlantic 10.
Like his teammates, Anthony struggled in the first half, as he scored just two points on 1-for-6 shooting and did not attempt a single free throw. That wasn’t the case in the second stanza, as Anthony attempted 11 free throws (making nine) and did a solid job of leading the Spiders through VCU’s “HAVOC” defense. Richmond’s 43.5% shooting from the field wouldn’t set any records, but they fact that they were able to get 22 free throws (making 18) made a huge difference in the second half.
The result itself isn’t cause for panic for VCU, as they’re still up by a game in the loss column in the Atlantic 10 standings. But the loss of Weber, a player who runs the show on both ends of the floor, will have a major impact on what the Rams are able to achieve this season.
Conference play is right around the corner, so over the course of the next two weeks, College Basketball Talk will be detailing what some of the country’s best, most intriguing, and thoroughly enigmatic teams should resolve to do with the New Year right around the corner. What can we say, we’re in a giving mood. Thank Jessica Simpson.
VCU PROMISES TO: Consistent production from Melvin Johnson
It will happen because: VCU has seen an increase in Johnson’s points per game and 3-point makes/attempts this season. The Rams offense is going to keep letting him shoot because he’s: A. their best 3-point option and B. he can get rolling quickly. In the last two games, Johnson has gotten early touches to start each half, resulting in identical 4-of-9 shooting from three in wins over Cincinnati and Eastern Tennessee State. Johnson’s 3-point shooting can help as the season progresses, especially in postseason play. With Johnson out injured last March, the Rams lacked its top shooter in a Round of 64 upset to Stephen F. Austin.
It won’t happen because: While he can get going quickly, Johnson can be inconsistent. He was 1-of-4 from three against Villanova, 1-of-8 vs. Old Dominion, 1-of-6 in a loss to Virginia and 2-of-9 in 39 minutes in a double overtime win over Northern Iowa. His 3-point shooting can be a lift to VCU’s offense. Havoc has struggled to turn over teams with veteran guards, which limits fast break opportunities. If teams can solve VCU’s full-court pressure they are more than likely to find good looks against its half-court defense, putting VCU in a hole. On nights against top competition, Johnson will need to be firing.
VCU ALSO SWEARS THEY WON’T: Get beat by the three-ball
It will happen because: This season, VCU has allowed teams to shoot 38 percent from beyond the arc. That’s up from the 30.3 clip Havoc allowed in 2013-14, which ranked 12th best in the country. However, entering the Atlantic 10 — which as a whole has had a lackluster non-conference despite George Washington’s recent win over No. 11 Wichita State — VCU won’t see a lot of great 3-point shooting teams. Of the top-100 3-point shooting teams, only four come from the A10 with the Rams being one of them.
It won’t happen because: In its three losses — Villanova, Virginia and Old Dominion — VCU’s defense has allowed a combined 22-of-48 from three (46 percent) with the lowest shooting percentage being Villanova, a team that had struggled with its 3-point shooting entering the Legends Classic contest. In its two narrow wins — Illinois State and Norther Iowa — opponents shot a combined 18-of-37. Against better teams, VCU will either need to execute better half-court defense or its press will have to force more turnovers. Villanova didn’t turn the ball over and it turned a two-point halftime lead into a 24-point victory. Old Dominion moved the ball around and got open looks, as did Virginia. VCU’s halfcourt defense has struggled: allowing open looks, slow on rotations with no rim protector.
The Atlantic 10, the Rodney Dangerfield of college basketball, is out to gain the respect yet again in 2014-15. The A-10’s 2013-14 season ended on a positive note, as Dayton, a team that began conference play with a 1-5 record, reached the Elite 8. This year, the league will look to build on that run, although outside of VCU, a top 20 team, there is not much clarity when it comes to the conference’s power structure.
In: Davidson Out: None
FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:
1. Archie Miller stayed: After guiding Dayton an Elite 8 run in March, Miller had a couple of options for leaving the Flyers for a high-major job. He decided to sign an extension at Dayton through 2019. It speaks to the strength of the league when hot coaching commodities like Miller and Shaka Smart continue to spurn Power 5 schools.
2. Rhode Island on the rise: Danny Hurley is in his third season at Rhode Island, and his rebuilding effort has been a major storyline in the A-10. Is this team, led by all-conference guard E.C. Matthews, ready to make the jump this season, or are the Rams still “one year away”?
3. George Washington: In 2013, the A-10 preseason poll predicted a 10th-place finish for Mike Lonergan’s Colonials. After a surprise season, Lonergan has a quartet of juniors — Patricio Garino, Kethan Savage, Joe McDonald and Kevin Larsen — ready to handle preseason hype, as George Washington looks for a second straight NCAA tournament appearance.
4. RPI and non-conference: Last season, eight teams were listed in the RPI top 100, the same number of teams in kenpom.com’s 2014 ratings (with two more just on the outside). The league also boasted non-conference wins over the Virginia, Gonzaga and Creighton last season.
5. Games on NBC Sports Network: There will be 25 Atlantic 10 games broadcasted on the NBC Sports Network. Full schedule is here.
PRESEASON ATLANTIC 10 PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Treveon Graham, VCU
The 6-foot-6 Graham should end up going from an under-recruited forward to a conference player of the year with four NCAA tournament appearances. Graham, who averaged 15.8 points 7.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game as a junior, is a tough matchup for opposing defenses with his physical brand of basketball. Graham wasted little time preparing for his final season in Richmond as he spent the summer at the LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul elite camps.
THE REST OF THE ATLANTIC 10 FIRST TEAM:
Kendall Anthony, Richmond: The diminutive lead guard averaged 15.9 points per game, shooting better than 35 percent from beyond the arc.
DeAndre Bembry, Saint Joseph’s: The co-Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year will be the key for the Hawks this season after they lost three of their top four scorers.
E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island: The 6-foot-5 guard has generated a lot of buzz for himself this summer after a freshman season that ended with sharing A-10 rookie honors with Bembry. Matthews scored 20 or more nine times after January.
Briante Weber, VCU: The defensive catalyst for Havoc recorded 3.5 steals a night for VCU, and could potentially break the Division I record for steals this season.
FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:
Patricio Garino, George Washington
Cady Lalanne, UMass
Kethan Savage, George Washington
Jordan Sibert, Dayton
Jerrell Wright, La Salle
BREAKOUT STAR: Jordan Price, La Salle
Tyreek Duren and Tyrone Garland both exhausted their eligibility, and they combined to averaged almost 28 points. Dr. John Giannini will look to yet another transfer to anchor the Explorers’ perimeter. Jordan Price, an Auburn transfer, was ranked No. 79 overall recruit by Rivals in 2012. In his lone season with the Tigers, he averaged 5.4 points per game, shooting 39 percent from three.
COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Tom Pecora, Fordham
Tom Pecora holds a 34-85 record as he enters his fifth season at Fordham. Since the 2010-2011 season, the Rams have followed this pattern: seven wins, 10 wins, seven wins, 10 wins, and have finished last three of four years. Fordham will be a young team with nine freshmen and sophomores, compared to six upperclassmen.
ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : “How many bids will the Atlantic 10 get?”
It’s becoming the annual theme for the Atlantic 10 on Selection Sunday. Five in 2012, six in 2013, but how many this upcoming season? I’d set the line at -4.5, and I would probably take the over. Look at a team like UMass. The Minutemen will play a handful of tournament-caliber teams in the non-conference (LSU, Providence, BYU, Harvard all on the road), so even if they do stumble in the conference play again this season, they have the chance to pick of several quality out of conference wins.
Just look at other teams last season. Dayton defeated Gonzaga in Maui and George Washington knocked off Creighton in December.
I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT : Conference play
Atlantic 10 conference play always seems to be unpredictable. For example, GW was picked to finish 10th in 2013-2014 befor earning an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. This season should be no different. Some of the better teams still have their questions while other programs appear to be on the rise. No better way to cap of league play than with a four-day stay in Brooklyn.
FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:
Nov. 24, VCU vs. Villanova (at the Barclays Center, Brooklyn)
1. VCU: A top-15 team heading into the preseason, and with Treveon Graham and Briante Weber, Shaka Smart should be poised to win his first regular season conference title.
2. George Washington: The core of juniors George Washington returns will have to offset the lost production from Mo Creek and Isaiah Armwood. The Coloinals should be able to weather the storm with a healthy Kethan Savage, and a tough defense that forced the third most steals per game last season in the Atlantic 10.
3. Dayton: The Flyers have plenty of returnees from a deep Elite 8 team, but the loss of Devin Oliver and Vee Sanford will hurt.
4. Rhode Island: This is the team to watch this season, because sooner or later the Rams will be near the top of the conference standings.
5. UMass: The Minutemen return our key players and adds West Virginia transfer Jabarie Hinds. Depth will be a concern.
6. Richmond: Chris Mooney dealt with personnel issues late last season, but Richmond has the pieces to be on the right side of the bubble come March.
7. La Salle: The Explorers will have good size on the frontline with 6-foot-11 Steve Zack and the league’s top rebounder Jerrell Wright.
8. Saint Joseph’s: The reigning A-10 Tournament champion lost Langston Galloway, Ronald Roberts and Halil Kanacevic, though, DeAndre Bembry is worth watching.
9. Duquesne: A junior-heavy roster, led by sharpshooter Micah Mason and guard Derrick Colter. Dukes should
10. Saint Louis: It’ll be a rebuilding year for Jim Crews after losing Dwayne Evans and Jordair Jett. Billikens shouldn’t be here long.
11. St. Bonaventure: The Bonnies will likely take a step back after an A-10 Tournament run. Youssou Ndoye, a 7-foot senior, is worth keeping an eye on.
12. Fordham: A young team that will rely on better shot selection from sophomore Jon Severe (17.3 ppg). Eric Paschall could be A-10 Rookie of the Year.
13. Davidson: The Cougars will had their growing pains in their first season in the new conference. Bob McKillop will change that quickly.
14. George Mason: First year as A-10 members didn’t go so well for the Patriots, who need to be better on the road in 2014-2015.
Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package. We continue our countdown today with No. 13 VCU.
Last Season: 26-9, 12-4 Atlantic 10 (t-2nd), lost in the opening round to No. 12 seed Stephen F. Austin
Key Losses: Juvonte Reddic, Rob Brandenberg, Terrence Shannon
Newcomers: Terry Larrier, Michael Gilmore, Justin Tillman, Jonathan Williams
– G: Briante Weber, Sr.
– G: Melvin Johnson, Jr.
– F: Treveon Graham, Sr.
– F: Jordan Burgess, So.
– F: Mo-Alie Cox, So.
– Bench: JeQuan Lewis, So.; Terry Larrier, Fr.; Jarred Guest, Sr.; Antravious Simmons, Fr.; Justin Tillman, Fr.; Jonathan Williams, Fr.; Michael Gilmore, Fr.
They’ll be good because … : Shaka Smart will once again have himself a roster perfectly suited to VCU’s ‘Havoc’ style of play. Briante Weber is an absolute nightmare to try and handle the ball against, having led the country in steal percentage in each of his first three seasons in college, and he’s the guy that plays the point in VCU’s full-court press. He’s the engine that makes that defense go, and when the Rams get on a roll defensively, they can simply overwhelm opponents.
Weber will be joined on the perimeter by senior Treveon Graham, who is arguably the best player in the Atlantic 10. Graham is a known-quantity at this point in his career. He’s a physical, 6-foot-6 wing that scores a lot of points, draws a lot of fouls and just generally causes headaches for opposing power forwards that have to guard him. There are some question marks at some other spots on the floor, but with those two seniors anchoring the lineup, VCU is always going to be good.
But they might disappoint because … : There are, more or less, three real concerns for this VCU team:
The Rams don’t have all that much in the way of consistent perimeter shooting. Melvin Johnson can get hot in a hurry and hit four or five in a game, but he’s streaky. Graham is a respectable shooter, while Weber is barely a threat. Jordan Burgess shot 30.7% from the field as a freshman. This limits what VCU can do offensively, and when the Rams struggle to score, they struggle to get into their press.
Mo-Alie Cox is one of my favorite players in the country for a couple of reasons: His name is terrific, and he’s a 6-foot-5 brick wall of a big man that looks like he should be playing football, not basketball. He’s physical, he can rebound, he can score around the rim, but he’s also VCU’s best front court option and he’s all of 6-foot-5. Antravious Simmons has lost a ton of weight and VCU landed a pair of forwards that are long, lanky and athletic in Michael Gilmore and Justin Tillman, but none of them are guaranteed to be impact guys this season. The front court could be a constant question mark.
Sticking with that same theme, I’m not sure if VCU has enough depth this year. Freshman Terry Larrier, an athletic, 6-foot-8 wing that was a top 50 recruit nationally, should be an impact guy right away for Smart. JeQuan Lewis will provide some experience in the back court as well. Beyond that, there’s a lot of youth. Having quality depth is a bit overrated in college basketball, but not when you run the system VCU runs.
Outlook: Here’s a stat for you: Shaka Smart has never won a conference regular season title. Not in the CAA, and not in the Atlantic 10, and that is a point worth discussing. Ever since he led VCU to the 2011 Final Four out of the play-in game, Smart has been one of the hottest names in college coaching. He’s taken VCU from being a contender in a mid-major conference to being a perennial top 25 program and the overwhelming favorite to win one of the top nine conferences in the country.
Smart has done a terrific job building — and branding — this VCU team, but there are skeptics out there. Is VCU nothing more than ‘Havoc’? And can a team that relies on being more athletic, more aggressive and in better shape to win games really going to be able to beat elite teams, teams with players that can match up with VCU athletically who won’t be bothered by a full court press? It’s worth noting here that the team Smart had the most success with, that 2011 team, was the least ‘Havocy’ of any team he’s had in Richmond. They played the slowest pace, forced the fewest turnovers and won because they had shooters that caught fire from deep at the right time.
I say all that to say this: VCU is the best team in the Atlantic 10, which is the first time the Rams been the clear favorite since joining the conference. They should win the regular season title, and at least a game or two in the NCAA tournament. If they don’t win the league, however, than we’re going to have to have a real conversation about whether or not VCU can be elite using ‘Havoc’.
While many of their classmates go home for the summer, for college athletes a steady “diet” of summer school and offseason workouts lie in front of them throughout July and August. It’s a time where players can not only make their greatest strides individually, but also collectively as leaders emerge and bonds become (hopefully) stronger. VCU released a video of its summer workouts, and to say that it looks grueling would be an understatement.
The Rams, who won 26 games and made their fourth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance under head coach Shaka Smart, are considered to be one of the early favorites in the Atlantic 10 in 2014-15. Guards Briante Weber, Melvin Johnson and Treveon Graham all return for VCU, which also adds a solid recruiting class led by forwards Terry Larrier and Justin Tillman.
VCU will have to account for the loss of power forward Juvonte Reddic and guard Rob Brandenburg, but they’ve got enough talent back on campus to erase the sting of last year’s NCAA tournament loss to Stephen F. Austin.