MEETING MASON…HISTORY FIRST

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VCU and George Mason will meet for the 50th time Thursday. The Rams lead the all-time series 31-18.

VCU and George Mason will meet for the 50th time Thursday. The Rams lead the all-time series 31-18.

For all that VCU gained in its move to the Atlantic 10 Conference in 2012, the Rams did forfeit a couple of compelling in-state rivalries. Sure, the Rams still play Old Dominion, but without a conference race at stake – not to mention the Monarchs’ recent struggles – the series has lost momentum. The other realignment casualty was VCU’s series with George Mason. When VCU packed up for the A-10, I didn’t lose any sleep over the possible end to games with James Madison and William & Mary, but the Mason rivalry has had some incredible moments. When the Patriots made the jump to the A-10 this summer, I was happy that the Rams would have another in-state rival playing for similar stakes.

Until 2012-13, the last season in which VCU and George Mason did not meet was 1983-84. So there’s some history, here. VCU leads the all-time series 31-18, and in the last 8-10 years, the rivalry really hit its stride. Both were CAA contenders essentially every year, they were two hours apart (depending on that NOVA traffic) and each enjoyed postseason success, including a Final Four.

But the Rams were also 6-0 against the Patriots in the CAA Tournament. VCU actually ended the Patriots’ conference title hopes the last four years they were in the CAA together and five of the last six. It’s at this moment that I wonder if George Mason actually suggested that the Rams join the A-10. They may have helped pack VCU’s bags.

While Mason isn’t likely to shake off those stinging losses, which include two CAA Championship games (we’ll get to that), the Patriots have earned some notable wins over the Rams in recent years. At the top of the list is Sherrod Wright’s 30-foot buzzer-beater that spoiled Valentine’s Day in 2012, and the 71-51 hammer the Patriots dropped on VCU at the Siegel Center in 2011, just prior to the Rams morphing into the Lakers (well, the old Lakers).

All-in-all, it’s been a fun rivalry, one fans should welcome back on both sides. Here’s a quick look at some recent memorable contests between George Mason and VCU.

THE (VCU) GOOD

Tournament MVP Eric Maynor celebrates VCU 2007 CAA Championship over George Mason.

Tournament MVP Eric Maynor celebrates VCU 2007 CAA Championship over George Mason.

March 5, 2007 – VCU 65, George Mason 59 – CAA Championship GameBox Score
Before there was “The Dagger”, there was this. Eric Maynor may have made his name by crushing Duke in the 2007 NCAA Tournament, but it wouldn’t have been possible without his incredible performance – highlighted by back-to-back steals – to stun George Mason.

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CALIFORNIA (PA.) EXHIBITION NOTEBOOK

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Despite the offseason chatter, fouls slid into the background of VCU's 92-54 win.

Despite a lot of offseason chatter fouls slid into the background of VCU’s 92-54 win.

BOX SCORE

RICHMOND, Va. – It’s a bit of a fishing expedition to find a reasonable narrative in these mismatched Division I-Division II exhibition games.  There’s a desire to look at the scoreboard, which showed that VCU earned a 92-54 win over California (Pa.) Saturday night, and extrapolate 100 superlatives from the wreckage of the box score. More often than not, it’s fool’s gold.

But Saturday, even as I waded through some impressive, if not gaudy, statistics, I was still struck by the depth of talent on this VCU team. If Shaka Smart truly desires a 10 or 11-man rotation, it sure looks like he’s got the horses to do it.

Smart essentially rotated 11 players in the first half and 10 in the second after Rob Brandenberg exited with back spasms. While there were moments of youthful frustration, there was hardly a dramatic drop-off in ability.

Freshman Doug Brooks led VCU in scoring with 14 points in 13 minutes of play. For most of those 13 minutes, he looked like Briante Weber with a better jumper and a disinterested barber.

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IN THE GYM: MAYNOR, SHULER, ROZZELL, BURGESS

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Mike Voyack caught up with former VCU stars Eric Maynor, Brandon Rozzell, Jamal Shuler and Brad Burgess (showing off a new Golden State Warriors t-shirt) Wednesday. The quartet is just part of a large group of former VCU Basketball standouts that return to campus during the summer for offseason workouts. In the summer months, Franklin Street Gym and the VCU weight room can feature a who’s who of program greats, from Maynor and Larry Sanders, to Jesse Pellot-Rosa and B.A. Walker.

MEN’S BASKETBALL SUMMER NOTEBOOK: PART DEUX

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Terrance Shannon averaged 7.9 points and 5.6 rebounds in 20 games last season.

Terrance Shannon averaged 7.9 points and 5.6 rebounds in 20 games last season.

SHANNON ADDS DEPTH, INTRIGUE TO VCU LINEUP
RICHMOND, Va.VCU Basketball under Coach Shaka Smart has been known for many things: Havoc, quickness, speed, creating chaos, high energy; descriptors of a dynamic category. While there are plenty of ways to paint a picture of the Rams’ style of play, “physical” has not been one of the more popular adjectives.

But Smart hopes the addition of Florida State transfer Terrance Shannon, as well as other newcomers, will help change the way the Rams play and, in turn, are perceived.

Shannon transferred to VCU in May and will be eligible immediately under an NCAA provision that allows graduating seniors to transfer and play without sitting out a year. Shannon graduated from Florida State in May and will have one year of eligibility remaining.

A 6-foot-8, 240-pound forward, Shannon averaged 5.2 points and 3.3 rebounds per game in 72 career appearances. Last season, he averaged 7.9 points and 5.6 rebounds and swiped 23 steals in 20 games. He earned a medical redshirt in 2011-12 after a shoulder injury limited him to just seven games.

Although occasionally beset by injuries at Florida State, Shannon gives the Rams a battle-tested post presence who can spell All-Conference forward Juvonte Reddic or play alongside him.

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DANIELS AIMS TO OPEN NBA EYES

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VCU senior Troy Daniels will work out for NBA scouts May 22-23 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

VCU senior Troy Daniels will work out for NBA scouts May 22-23 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

RICHMOND, Va. – Troy Daniels made a career out of connecting on long shots. So what’s one more?

Daniels has been invited to an NBA workout May 22-23 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. Representatives from all 30 NBA teams are expected to attend.

“It’s time to get a job now. This is a lot different than college,” Daniels said Thursday. “It’s a great feeling. “It’s something that you dream about when you’re younger and it’s finally coming true now.”

Despite his sharpshooting credentials – Daniels ranks second in school history in 3-pointers (251) and owns the top two single season marks – the senior from Roanoke, Va. likely faces an uphill battle. He’s currently not expected to be drafted and is not listed among the top 100 NBA prospects by NBADraftExpress.com, NBADraft.net or CBS Sports’ Jeff Goodman.

But Daniels, who will graduate from VCU Saturday with a degree in criminal justice, says that won’t be a deterrent. He’s says he’s been working out twice a day, fine-tuning his skills and hopes to grab the attention of scouts and executives in Brooklyn. He’s also recently worked out with former Ram Eric Maynor of the Portland Trail Blazers, who typically spends much of his offseason in Richmond.

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QUICKLY: CLIPS AND NOTES

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PITTSBURGH – More to follow on VCU’s 90-63 win at Duquesne later, but a few pieces of housekeeping:

  • With the win, Shaka Smart improves to 100-31 all-time. He is the third VCU coach, joining J.D. Barnett and Sonny Smith, to reach that plateau. Smart reaches 100 wins in the 30th fewest games in NCAA history and is just the 12th coach to top the century mark in his first four seasons.
  • VCU’s victory was its 13th straight, the third longest in school history. The Rams won 16 in a row Jan. 18-March 13, 1981 and 15 straight Jan. 15-March 4, 1983.
  • Sophomore Treveon Graham scored 20 points in 21 minutes of play. It’s his fifth 20-point game of the season and his third in five games. Graham is averaging 20.5 points per game in his last six contests.
  • VCU knocked down 12-of-29 three-pointers Saturday, its most in five games.
  • Senior Troy Daniels buried two 3-pointers to become the fourth VCU player to hit 200 in his career. He joins B.A. Walker, Joey Rodriguez and Bradford Burgess on that exclusive list.

A FEW HIGHLIGHTS:

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RAMS IN THE PROS: SANDERS SURGES

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Former Ram Larry Sanders (center) is averaging 8.0 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game this season.

Former Ram Larry Sanders (center) is averaging 8.0 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game this season.

It looks like Larry Sanders is starting to figure out this NBA thing.

The 24-year-old former VCU star and current Milwaukee Buck is enjoying a breakout season. Selected 15th overall in the 2010 NBA Draft, Sanders is beginning to deliver on the promise Milwaukee saw on film and in workouts.

Through a quarter of the season, the 6-foot-11, 235-pound center was averaging career-highs of 8.0 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. Sanders is shooting 54 percent from the floor, and as of this writing, his 3.0 blocks per game average was tied for the league lead.

Last season, Sanders averaged just 3.6 points and 3.1 rebounds per game. But a strong preseason and training camp earned him increased playing time from Bucks’ Coach Scott Skiles. Sanders responded with 10 points and seven rebounds in an opening-night victory over the Boston Celtics.

On Nov. 30, Sanders recorded his first career triple-double with 10 points, 12 rebounds and 10 blocked shots in a loss at Minnesota. His 10 blocks tied the franchise record, set by Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Abdul-Jabbar later took to Twitter to congratulate Sanders.

Sanders followed with 18 points, 16 rebounds and five blocks against the Celtics the next night.

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LOFTY EXPECTATIONS DON’T GET GRAHAM DOWN

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RICHMOND, Va. – It’s been a while since a VCU sophomore received the type of preseason pub Treveon Graham is getting these days. Luke Winn of Sports Illustrated labeled Graham the No. 1 sophomore breakout threat in the country. Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports Network, in addition to his volcanic musings, wrote that Graham was likely to emerge as the “go-to scorer” of this year’s team; one that is of top-25 quality, according to many national writers.

Don’t expect VCU coach Shaka Smart to be the guy to pump the brakes on those expectations. He’s even willing to go a step further.

“I’ve always had extremely high expectations for Tre,” Smart, entering his fourth year with the Rams, said. “When we recruited him, I told him I felt like he could be the all-time leading scorer at VCU. He might have thought that was just a recruiting line, but I really meant that.”

Treveon Graham averaged 7.0 points and 16.7 minutes per game last season.

Eric Maynor set the school scoring record with 1,953 points from 2005-09, which means Graham is just 1,701 short of VCU immortality. But it wasn’t until Maynor’s sophomore season in 2006-07 that his career took off. That season, he averaged 13.9 points per game and led the Rams to a conference championship and a first round upset of Duke in the NCAA Tournament. He followed with seasons of 17.9 points and 22.4 points per game as a junior and senior, respectively. Graham would be okay with a similar career arc.

A 6-foot-5 swingman, Graham will likely fill the role vacated by Bradford Burgess, who led the Rams in scoring (13.4 ppg) and intangibles last year. A rugged scorer, Graham can knock down 3-pointers, but is most comfortable driving to the paint and absorbing contact.

After a 1-of-16 shooting slump to start the year – “nerves”, Graham says – the Washington, D.C. native recovered to average 7.0 points in 16.7 minutes per game. He also drew a team-high 6.0 fouls per 40 minutes last season. Everyone, from Shaka Smart to the janitors at the Siegel Center, expects those numbers to go up this year, and that’s fine by Graham. He says Smart’s talk of chasing Maynor didn’t bother him. Instead of chalking it up to recruiting-speak, Graham says Smart’s confidence empowered him.

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SURVIVING THE POST-BRAD ERA

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Bradford Burgess averaged 13.4 points and 5.0 rebounds per game last season for VCU.

We’re still 28 days from hoops season, but what the heck. Atlantic 10 Conference Media Day is Thursday, so that’s reason enough to blog about basketball. Chris “Pavarotti” Crowley was asking about this on Twitter this morning, so I figured I’d try to answer as best I could.

Bradford Burgess was so important to the Rams last year, and now that he’s gone, VCU fans are wondering how Shaka Smart and Co. will fare without their leading scorer from 2011-12. Honestly, it’s an impossible question to answer. There are so many moving parts and so many intangibles in play, but we can make some educated guesses.

Burgess averaged 32.3 minutes per game and appeared in 1,164 of 1,450 possible minutes last year. That means there were about 286 minutes last year when Burgess wasn’t on the floor. Below I’ve listed the six most popular lineups for VCU when Burgess wasn’t in the game. All of these players return for the 2012-13 season and will be heavy rotation guys.

While that’s not a big sample size, those six lineups were 26 points better than their opponents last year over what equates to roughly three full games.

This doesn’t mean the Rams will continue to perform at exactly the same rate this season and doesn’t factor in a 100 other possible variables or VCU’s new additions. But what we can safely draw from this information is that the Rams are in capable hands.

NBA SUMMER LEAGUE CHEAT SHEET

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Bradford Burgess is one of three former Rams who will be trying to impress at NBA Summer Leagues in July

By now you should know that three former VCU players will participate in NBA Summer Leagues (as of this writing). Bradford Burgess will play for the Orlando Magic in the Orlando Summer League July 9-13, while both Jamie Skeen (Chicago) and Larry Sanders (Milwaukee) are set to play in the Las Vegas Summer League July 16-22.

The word is that Burgess may also play in Vegas, but that hasn’t been decided. Orlando isn’t sending a team to the Las Vegas Summer League, so he’d have to play for another franchise, which isn’t uncommon. Old Dominion’s Kent Bazemore, for instance, will play for the Oklahoma City Thunder in Orlando and the Golden State Warriors in Las Vegas.

Here’s a quick look at the schedules for the three VCU guys, as well as the TV listings. The good news for Ram fans is that NBA TV will essentially broadcast every game, most of them live.

One game to keep an eye on will be the July 22 game in Las Vegas between Skeen’s Bulls team and Sanders’ Bucks squad. The NBA TV schedule wasn’t available that far out, but I’m assuming it will also be carried by the network.

ORLANDO MAGIC LEAGUE: Bradford Burgess (Orlando)

Monday, July 9
Brooklyn vs. Orlando, 11 a.m. (NBATV)

Tuesday, July 10
Detroit vs. Orlando, 3 p.m. (NBATV)

Wednesday, July 11
Utah vs. Orlando, 5 p.m. (NBATV)

Thursday, July 12
Philadelphia vs. Orlando, 5 p.m. (NBATV)

Friday, July 13
Boston vs. Orlando, 10 a.m. (NBATV)

Orlando Magic Summer League roster

Notes: Teams will play four 10-minute quarters. Overtime periods will be three minute in length.

LAS VEGAS SUMMER LEAGUE : Larry Sanders (Milwaukee) and Jamie Skeen (Chicago)

Monday, July 16
Milwaukee vs. New Orleans, 10:30 p.m.  (NBATV)

Tuesday, July 17
Chicago vs. Boston, 10 p.m. (Tape delay NBATV, July 18, 12 p.m.)

Wednesday, July 18
Milwaukee vs. Washington, 4 p.m. (NBATV; plus a replay July 19, 12 p.m.)
Chicago vs. Houston, 6 p.m. (Tape delay NBATV, July 19, 2 p.m.)

Thursday, July 19
Milwaukee vs. NBA D-League, 10 p.m.

Friday, July 20
Chicago vs. Golden State, 8:30 p.m. (NBATV)

Saturday, July 21
Chicago vs. L.A. Clippers, 8:30 p.m. (NBATV)
Milwaukee vs. Boston, 10:30 p.m. (NBATV)

Sunday, July 22
Chicago vs. Milwaukee, 4 p.m. (TV schedule not yet available)

Milwaukee Bucks Summer League roster
Chicago Bulls Summer League roster (not yet available)

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