Treveon Graham

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Dayton remains tied for first in the Atlantic 10 with win at No. 22 VCU

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One week after suffering its most disappointing loss of the season, Dayton picked up what to this date is its biggest win of the season Saturday afternoon in Richmond. Archie Miller’s Flyers won 59-55 at No. 22 VCU, moving into a tie for first place in the Atlantic 10 with Rhode Island, and multiple players stepped forward for the visitors.

After Jordan Sibert scored 15 of his 19 points in the first half, Kendall Pollard, Scoochie Smith and Dyshawn Pierre combined to score 19 points in the second to seal the deal for Dayton. Much has been made of Dayton’s rotation, one that’s short in both stature (their tallest available player is 6-foot-6) and bodies (seven scholarship players), but neither of those deficiencies has been used as a crutch by the Flyers.

And faced with a team that, on paper, had a clear advantage in both areas Dayton was able to limit VCU’s opportunities both on the offensive glass and in the open court.

Given their half-court offensive problems, VCU needs turnovers to be at their best on that end of the floor. Entering Saturday’s game the Rams were ranked 13th in the Atlantic 10 (in conference games) in field goal percentage and eighth in three-point percentage, but their league-best turnover margin has kept the Rams right in the middle of the conference title race.

Against Dayton, which has multiple players capable of handling the ball against full-court pressure, VCU was able to force just eight turnovers which were converted into three points. Also of note is the fact that VCU did not score a single fast-break point, and forced to find shots in the half court Shaka Smart’s team shot 34 percent from the field and 6-for-25 from beyond the arc. And while the loss of Briante Weber hasn’t helped matters, the biggest issue for VCU moving forward may be fellow senior Treveon Graham.

Graham’s dealt with an ankle injury this season, missing two games earlier this month, and in the five games since he’s struggled to get back into a groove offensively. In those games Graham has shot 22-for-64 (34.3%) from the field and 6-for-23 (26.1%) from beyond the arc. And after winning the first three games in Graham’s return (George Washington, Saint Louis and UMass) the Rams have lost the last two (Richmond and Dayton). If VCU is to be a threat next month, they have to get Graham untracked.

In regards to Saturday, Dayton certainly deserves credit for the issues Graham and his teammates endured on the offensive end of the floor. Open looks came at a premium, and Dayton completed those defensive possessions by grabbing the ensuing rebound on most occasions. Dayton may not be a deep team, but throughout the season they’ve shown the willingness to compete and practically fight for every foot of space on the court.

That’s a reflection of their leadership, from Coach Miller on down to his players. And with Rhode Island visiting UD Arena Tuesday night, the program’s first Atlantic 10 regular season title of any kind (division or overall) since 2004 is well within their reach.

VCU’s Treveon Graham aggravates injury to his ankle

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No. 18 VCU took a brutal blow on Saturday when star guard Briante Weber, the engine for the ‘Havoc’ system that the Rams utilize, went down with torn ligaments in his knee.

And if that wasn’t enough, in their first game without Weber, potential Atlantic 10 Player of the Year Treveon Graham reinjured an ankle that has been bothering him for weeks.

“He got hit pretty hard in the same spot where he sustained the high ankle sprain,” VCU head coach Shaka Smart said. “He’s obviously not been 100 percent since he had that injury three weeks ago. He got hit and you could see he was in a lot of pain. He was doubled over there.”

Graham didn’t play in the second half.

The Rams were able to get the win, knocking off George Mason 72-60 on the road. JeQuan Lewis stepped up in Weber’s place, finishing with 13 points, four assists and a pair of steals, while Melvin Johnson led the way with 17 points.

That’s good, but the key coming out of this game is finding out just how bad Graham aggravated that ankle injury. He first hurt it in a January 13th win at Rhode Island — where he finished with 26 points and eight boards — and he ended up sitting out the next game as well. The Rams are at St. Bonaventure on Saturday and host La Salle next week before they head to D.C. to square off with George Washington.

The Rams are currently 8-1 in the A-10, a game up on both Dayton and Rhode Island.

VCU’s Treveon Graham goes coast-to-coast for the game-winner (VIDEO)

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VCU had the ball with eight seconds left in the first half. Treveon Graham couldn’t get to the basket, settling for a stepback, contested 3-pointer from well beyond the arc. That missed shot would send the Havoc and Saint Louis to the locker room tied.

A similar situation arose with the game on the line. The score was tied 61-61 with VCU needing to go the length of the floor with 7.6 seconds left. Graham took the ball up the floor, the aptly-nicknamed “Freight Train” going full steam toward the hoop, finishing through contact for the game-winning bucket with 0.8 seconds left, as the Rams remained perfect in Atlantic 10 play with 63-61 road win over the Billikens.

Graham had game-high 21 points, grabbing six rebounds as well. Briante Webber scored 15 with two steals. Four freshmen accounted for 34 of Saint Louis’ 61 points led by Milik Yarbrough with a team-high 15.

New Year’s Resolutions: VCU Rams

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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.

MORE: The rest of our New Year’s Resolutions | Midseason catchups

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.

WATCH LIVE: No. 23 Northern Iowa visits VCU on NBCSN

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With all five starters back from last season’s team, Ben Jacobson’s 23rd-ranked Northern Iowa Panthers entered the 2014-15 campaign with expectations of contending for the Missouri Valley Conference title. And the Panthers have looked the part thus far, winning their first nine games of the season with All-MVC forward Seth Tuttle (15.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg) leading the way.

Saturday night the Panthers will look to win their tenth straight as they visit VCU in a game that can be seen at 7:00 p.m. Eastern on NBCSN. Shaka Smart’s Rams will look to use “Havoc” to force the tempo, and in front of a raucous Siegel Center crowd things can get away from a visiting team quickly if they don’t value the basketball.

The VCU tandem of Treveon Graham and Melvin Johnson is averaging a combined 34.3 points per game, and as a team the Rams are scoring nearly 75 points per contest. The key for VCU will be how they defend in the half court, as opponents are currently shooting 47.3% from the field. If UNI can take care of the basketball, they’ll have a shot at matching the best start in school history. Norm Stewart’s 1963-64 UNI team also won its first ten games.


VCU’s Treveon Graham: From lightly recruited to leader of Havoc, the Atlantic 10 favorites

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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 college hoops preview package

Today, we’re previewing the Atlantic 10.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

In early September, on Belle Isle, a small 54-acre island in Richmond, Virginia, the VCU basketball team gathered in army fatigues for a week of Navy SEAL training. The daily workouts consisted of running with 300-pound sandbags draped over their shoulders, rowing in the James River, pushups, obstacles and an array of other challenging activities, all designed to help VCU remain one of the best conditioned teams in the country.

The Navy SEAL training, also known as ‘Hell Week’, has become part of the fabric of the program since 2011, and for seniors like Treveon Graham, they’ve been a part of each one.

“Communication, leadership, team-building, they always hit us with some sort of adversity or multiple forms of adversity, and it’s good for our guys because that’s what we’re going to face in games, particularly on the road and against great teams,” VCU head coach Shaka Smart said in a video from ‘Hell Week’ 2014.

Graham, Briante Weber, JeQuan Lewis, Mo Alie-Cox and Melvin Johnson were selected as leaders for the five different groups, made up of players, coaches and graduate assistants, all of whom took part in the training. For Graham, the first-team all-Atlantic 10 forward, his last ‘Hell Week’ took on great importance in one area in particular.

MORE: Atlantic 10 preview | Archie Miller staying shows A-10’s growth

“I thought it brought out the verbal aspect of being a leader,” Graham told earlier this month. “My first three years I was more a lead by example. I’m more comfortable now just talking to teammates out on the floor in practice.”

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The 6-foot-6 Graham was ready to be pushed in the week-long workout sessions, spending the summer traveling from camp to camp. There was the Kevin Durant Skills Academy in June. Then the LeBron James Skills Academy three weeks later, followed by the Chris Paul Elite Camp in August. Three years of playing in Havoc’s non-stop, full-court pressure defense has helped Graham take on an individual barnstorming tour like that.

In four years, Graham has gone from an under-recruited VCU commit watching the Rams’ improbable journey to the 2011 Final Four to one of the top forwards in the country, the Atlantic 10 preseason player of the year and the leader of a top-15 team with lofty expectations again this season.

“Last year we fell short of our goals,” Graham said. “We were second place in the regular season. Second place in the A-10 Tournament, and then we lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

“I think we can leave a good mark on VCU. I think this is one of the more talented teams I’ve played with since I’ve been here.”

Coming out of St. Mary Ryken High in Leonardtown, Maryland, Graham was still south of 6-feet as a sophomore, but after a late growth spurt, along with the endorsement of area coaches brought Graham’s to Smart’s attention.

“To be honest, I gotta give a lot of credit to Mike Jones [of DeMatha] and Steve Turner [of Gonzaga] for their words about Tre to us in the recruiting process,” Smart told the Washington Examiner last February. “[They helped] us understand how good he was so that we could have a sense of urgency in recruiting him.”

In that same class recruiting class was Weber, who led the nation in steals rate in each of his first three seasons. Graham and Weber, both perfect fits in Smart’s system, have gone from Colonial Athletic Association commits to all-Atlantic 10 caliber players. And in their final season at Richmond, both could end up leaving their mark in the record books. Graham, who has been a matchup problem for opposing forwards, would need a bump in his 15.8 points per game average to reach Eric Maynor’s 1,953 career points (Graham is currently 604 behind). As for Weber, he has a shot at the Division I record for steals in a career (385) as he enters his senior year with 296 picks.

But the two anchors of this team are looking to leave their mark on the NCAA tournament. Since the Final Four run in 2011, the Rams haven’t reached the second weekend of the NCAA tournament, last season coughing up a ten-point lead to Stephen F. Austin, as the Lumberjacks shot 53 percent from the field against the vaunted VCU defense. In 2013 Michigan, the eventual national finalist, trounced VCU by 25 in the Round of 32.

The unanimous favorites in the Atlantic 10 will get challenged early this season with non-conference games against Villanova and Virginia, and that’s before the Rams go through the gauntlet of A-10 play, looking to fend off the likes of George Washington and Dayton. VCU, led by Graham, made it through ‘Hell Week’, now it’s on to seven months of Havoc.