I was told that Greg Burton actually likes these schedule breakdowns, so rather than disappoint the king of Richmond sports talk radio, here we go again.
A special thanks to Tears for Fears for being here today.
SAINT FRANCIS (Pa.) (Nov. 11, 2011 – Verizon Wireless Arena)
2010-11 Record: 9-21 (7-11 Northeast Conference)
2010-11 RPI: 259
Guy you’ll want to heckle: Umar Shannon, G, Jr. (15.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg).
The skinny: VCU’s last five season openers have been, in order, Longwood, Maryland-Eastern Shore, The Citadel, Bethune-Cookman and UNC Greensboro, a venerable murder’s row. The average margin of victory in those games (all VCU wins) has been 21 points.
With the Charleston Classic looming days later and a tough road contest at Alabama on Nov. 27, the Rams clearly want to show up, raise a Final Four banner, drum a school named after a Fratelli brother and get out of dodge. Gym, tan, laundry.
The good news for Saint Francis is that the Red Flash have 5-11 junior guard Umar Shannon to lead them. Shannon ranked sixth in the NEC in scoring last year.
The bad news for Saint Francis is that they ranked last in the league in field goal defense (.470) and next to last in turnovers per game (15.4). Did I mention that the Rams employ a chaotic full court press and want to turn every game into a track meet? Not a good combination for the Red Flash.
About Saint Francis (Pa.): Saint Francis University, not to be confused with Saint Francis College – which also plays in the NEC – is located in on 600 acres of farmland in Loretto, Pa. Famous alums include Charles M. Schwab (not the Charles Schwab you’re thinking of) and basketball Hall of Famer Norm Van Lier. The Red Flash made their only NCAA Tournament appearance in 1991 under future Rhode Island Coach Jim Baron.
Fast fact: The last time VCU lost a home opener was in 2002, when Wagner (yes, Wagner) beat the Rams and Jeff Capel, 80-72.
SETON HALL (Nov. 17, 2011 – Charleston Classic, Charleston, S.C.)
2010-11 Record: 13-18 (7-11 Big East)
2010-11 RPI: 104
Guy you’ll want to heckle: Jordan Theodore, G, Jr. (11.0 ppg, 4.4 apg).
The skinny: Who are these guys? As of this writing, only six players on the Pirates roster even had numbers listed on the website. The other eight guys include six freshmen and two transfers. So, coach Kevin Willard might still be wearing his “Hello, my name is…” sticker when VCU and Seton Hall meet in the first round of the Charleston Classic. It’ll be a challenge for Willard to get his team on the same page this early in the season.
That’s not to say that there isn’t some talent left over. Senior point guard Jordan Theodore is the Pirates’ leading returning scorer and ranked 10th in the Big East last year in assists. But the guy who might give the Rams the most trouble is 6-8, 236-lb forward Herb Pope. Pope doesn’t shoot it so good (.419 FG), but did manage 9.8 points, 7.9 rebounds and more than a block per game last year. With some uncertainty for VCU in the post, this could prove to be a critical match-up.
About Seton Hall: The Pirates reached the National Championship Game in 1989 under P.J. Carlesimo, who would later be choked out by Latrell Spreewell. Famous Seton Hall alumni include Dick Vitale, Bill Raftery, Max Weinberg and Craig Biggio.
Fast fact: Seton Hall is the same school that once gave the Rams forward Eric Davis, who played the 2005-06 season with VCU and then lasted about five minutes into the Anthony Grant regime.
CHARLESTON CLASSIC – REMAINING FIELD Two Games (Nov. 18-20)
2010-11 Record: 20-14 (7-11 Big Ten)
2010-11 RPI: 80
The skinny: Probably the most dangerous team in the field. The Wildcats are looking to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 2011-12 behind senior forward John Shurna (16.6 ppg) and junior swingman Drew Crawford (12.1 ppg).
2010-11 Record: 19-13 (11-5 Conference USA)
2010-11 RPI: 84
The skinny: Former Navy star Doug Wojcik, the CAA’s career leader in assists (i.e., the guy that threw lobs to David Robinson), has led the Hurricanes to at least 19 wins in each of the last five seasons.
2010-11 Record: 13-18 (5-11 ACC)
2010-11 RPI: 166
The skinny: The Yellow Jackets bottomed out in 2010-11 and Coach Paul Hewitt (now with George Mason) got the axe as a result. But hey, at least Iman Shumpert got drafted (cue for Knicks fans to break things). Former Dayton Coach Brian Gregory has been hired to clean up the mess, which includes recent NCAA sanctions. Glen Rice Jr. (12.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg) returns.
2010-11 Record: 11-22 (4-12 Atlantic 10)
2010 RPI: 167
The skinny: The Hawks were pretty young last season and it showed, but 6-0 guard Carl Jones (17.0 ppg) and 6-9 shot-blocking specialist C.J. Aiken (7.4 ppg, 3.5 bpg) lead four returning starters.
2010-11 Record: 16-16 (8-8, Sun Belt)
2010-11 RPI: 199
The skinny: When I moved to Richmond, I lived with B.J. Burton, VCU’s former Marketing Director, for a month. Burton, who left VCU for Western Kentucky in 2006, used to stock his refrigerator with meat, Natural Light and condiments. “I’m on the Adkins Diet,” he used to say. What does this have to do with basketball? Absolutely nothing.
2010-11 Record: 11-21 (3-13 SEC)
2010-11 RPI: 224
The skinny: LSU is a school with a rich basketball history, but the Tigers have been positively dreadful the last two seasons under Trent Johnson. Still, LSU returns four starters in 2011-12, including talented 6-7 forward Storm Warren (7.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg), and welcome highly-touted center Johnny O’Bryant to the fold. LSU could be the sleeper in this field.
WESTERN KENTUCKY (Nov. 23, 2011 – Bowling Green, Ky.)
2010-11 Record: 16-16 (8-8, Sun Belt)
2010-11 RPI: 199
Guy you’ll want to heckle: Kahli McDonald, G, Jr. (6.7 ppg, 2.0 apg)
The skinny: You’re not seeing things, there’s a chance the Rams and Hilltoppers could meet twice in a matter of days. It feels like a Sun Belt throwback. At the very least, the Rams will get a chance to scout WKU, which graduated its top three scorers and rebounders from last season.
McDonald returns, but it should be noted that he’s primarily a 3-point specialist that wasn’t very special last season, shooting .288 (46-of-160) from long range. Caden Dickerson (6.0 ppg) a 39-percent 3-point shooter from last year also returns.
About WKU: The Rams and Hilltoppers are old Sun Belt Conference rivals, meeting annually from 1983-1992. The all-time series is tied, 15-15 and VCU is 4-11 in Bowling Green.From 2001-2010, Western Kentucky won at least 20 games nine times and reached the NCAA Tournament on five occasions.
Fast fact: Where’s the bigs? The Hilltoppers’ leading returning rebounder is Jamal Crook, who averaged 2.2 per game last season. I get more boards in staff hoops.
ALABAMA (Nov. 27, 2011 – Tuscaloosa, Ala.)
2010-11 Record: (25-12, 12-4 SEC)
2010-11 RPI: 60
Guy you’ll want to heckle: Anthony Grant. Totally sort of kidding. Maybe. Also, JaMychal Green, Jr. F (15.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 2.1 bpg).
The skinny: Welcome to the first Anthony Grant Bowl. The Rams will be facing their former coach, who led VCU to two NCAA appearances from 2006-09. However, any tension with Grant will be limited, as only Bradford Burgess and David Hinton (who redshirted one year under AG) remain from his tenure.
JaMychal Green is a 6-8 forward with legitimate NBA prospects. He’ll push the VCU bigs to their limit. Junior Tony Mitchell is a 6-6 forward who can step out and shoot the 3-pointer, but is also tough in the paint (15.2 ppg, 7.1 rpg).
Grant’s teams are typically strong defensively and selective offensively, so expect a clash of styles (both on and off the court).
About Alabama: Merely walking into Tuscaloosa in an Auburn t-shirt is an offense punishable by 30 lashings. It’s totally on the books. Trust me. Famous alums include Antonio McDyess, Gerald Wallace (not to be confused with George Wallace), Joe Namath (and six other NFL Hall of Famers) and Bernie Madoff (okay, infamous alums).
Fast fact: Alabama was 19-0 last season at Coleman Coliseum.
SOUTH FLORIDA (Nov. 30, 2011 – Verizon Wireless Arena)
2010-11 Record: 10-23 (3-15, Big East)
2010-11 RPI: 159
The skinny: If there’s any game from the 2010-11 season that made Ram fans want to punch a clown, it was VCU’s 60-59, overtime loss to South Florida. It didn’t make any sense at the time and makes less sense now. But that’s what happens when you shoot 31 percent in the first half and get outrebounded by 10.
The Bulls’ length bothered VCU last year and it could be a problem again in 2011. Augustus Gilchrist, a 6-10, 245-lb post is back after averaging 13.4 points and 6.0 rebounds last year.
About South Florida: Founded in 1956, South Florida has an enrollment of over 47,000, which makes it just the third largest university in the state of Florida. The school also produced current VCU President Dr. Michael Rao.
Fast fact: South Florida committed 150 more turnovers last season than its opponents.
GEORGE WASHINGTON (Dec. 4, 2011 – BB&T Classic – Washington, D.C.)
2010-11 Record: 17-14 (10-6 Atlantic 10)
2010-11 RPI: 149
Guy you’ll want to heckle: Tony Taylor, G, Sr. (15.0 ppg, 4.6 apg)
The skinny: Fans were so smitten with VCU’s opening-round CBI victory at George Washington two years ago that they demanded that these two teams meet again. Not really.
Do-everything guard Tony Taylor leads the Colonials. Taylor ranked 12th in the A-14 in scoring (15.0 ppg) and third in assists (4.6 apg) last year. Three other starters are also scheduled to return for new Coach Mike Lonergan, who joins GW after a successful six-year run at Vermont.
The Colonials expect to improve upon last season’s 17-14 record, which is good, considering that they were the real-life equivalent of Owen Wilson’s character in Idiocracy – staggeringly average. GW was 11th in the A-14 in scoring, fifth in scoring defense, 10th in field goal percentage, eighth in field goal defense, eighth in 3-point shooting, sixth in rebounding, etc., ect.
About George Washington: With tuition for 2011-12 at nearly $43,000, George Washington is the third-most expensive school in the United States. Upon reading this, the University of Richmond immediately passed a 15-percent tuition increase (okay, I made that last part up).
Fast fact: VCU last participated in the BB&T Classic during the 2007-08 season, when it defeated Maryland, 85-76.
RICHMOND (Dec. 10, 2011 – Verizon Wireless Arena)
2010-11 Record: 29-8 (13-3 Atlantic 10)
2010-11 RPI: 33
Guy you’ll want to heckle: Darien Brothers, Jr., G (7.6 ppg, 51 3-pt FG)
The skinny: The similarities between VCU and Richmond are quite interesting. Both are coming off exciting runs deep into the NCAA Tournament. Both teams’ coaches turned down overtures from BCS Conference schools to stay in Richmond. Both squads graduated three starters. Each will also rely heavily on a Benedictine graduate (Darien Brothers) this season.
Returning starters Brothers, a 6-3 sharpshooting guard, and Francis-Cedric Martel, a 6-6 forward (4.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg) will try to offset the loss of seniors Kevin Anderson, Justin Harper and Dan Geriot, who accounted for 63 percent of the Spiders’ scoring in 2010-11.
VCU fans hope the Rams remember every agonizing second of a 72-60 loss to the Spiders last season. Despite the 12-point final margin, anybody who watched the game knows it wasn’t even remotely that close.
About Richmond: The school opened a “disc golf” (read: Frisbee golf) course earlier this year, “to promote leisurely activity”. This is similar to my decision to open a horseshoe pit in the back yard and call it “equestrian studies”.
Fast fact: Harper, who was selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the 32nd overall pick in the NBA Draft in June (later traded to the Orlando Magic), ranked second in the A-14 last year in 3-point shooting (.448) – as a 6-10 forward.
UAB (Dec. 20, 2011 – Verizon Wireless Arena)
2010-11 Record: 22-9 (12-4 Conference USA)
2010-11 RPI: 37
Guy you’ll want to heckle: Cameron Moore, Sr., F (14.0 ppg, 9.3 rpg)
The skinny: Just think, VCU could’ve been UAB last March (or visa versa). The Blazers were similarly criticized by the talking heads at ESPN for their inclusion in the NCAA field. But while VCU was able to prove itself with a run to the Final Four, UAB was promptly rolled by Clemson in the First Four in Dayton, Ohio.
When coaches in future years want to emphasize the importance of playing 40 minutes of basketball and closing out teams, they’ll show their teams the tape from VCU’s 68-65 loss to UAB last year in Birmingham. The Rams led by 19 points with 13 minutes to go, and essentially dominated the game for 38 minutes, only to implode down the stretch. It was also the angriest I’ve ever been after a VCU Basketball game. I spent the next hour pacing around a Wal-Mart in Netcong, N.J. I’m not entirely sure why.
Forward Cameron Moore, a 6-10 senior, is a legitimate inside-outside threat, knocking down 24 3-pointers last year while blocking more than a shot per game.
About UAB: Although UAB has existed as an autonomous institution since 1969, the school did not have an intercollegiate athletics program until 1978. In just their second year, Coach Gene Bartow led the Blazers men’s basketball team to the NIT. Seven straight NCAA bids followed.
Fast fact: UAB leads the all-time series between these two former Sun Belt rivals, 22-16. The Blazers’ last trip to the Siegel Center came on March 13, 2008, when UAB topped the Rams, 80-77, in the first round of the NIT.
UNC GREENSBORO(Dec. 22, 2011 – Greensboro, N.C.)
2010-11 Record: 7-24 (6-12 Southern Conference)
2010-11 RPI: 294
Guy you’ll want to heckle: Trevis Simpson, So., G/F (11.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg)
The skinny: The good news for UNCG is that rising sophomore Trevis Simpson is an outstanding athlete with a 42-inch vertical leap. He leads four scheduled returning starters for a team that had just one senior last year.
The bad news for UNCG is that those returnees are the same guys that gave up 81 points a game last season. The Spartans ranked 331st in the country in scoring defense in 2010-11. If Coach Mike Dement can get these youngsters to guard somebody, they’ll be competitive in the Southern Conference. If not, the Spartans will fade faster than Crystal Pepsi (90’s reference alert).
About UNC Greensboro: UNC Greensboro was a women’s college from 1891 to 1963.
Fast fact: UNC Greensboro plays its home games at the 23,000-seat Greensboro Coliseum, although they do utilize a number of seating configurations, the Spartans averaged 4,261 fans per game last season.
AKRON (Dec. 29, 2011 – Akron, Ohio)
2010-11 Record: 23-13 (9-7 Mid American Conference)
2010-11 RPI: 106
Guy you’ll want to heckle: Nikola Cvetinovic, Sr., F (11.7 ppg, 6.9 rpg)
The skinny: In addition to the 6-8 Cvetinovic, seven-footer Zeke Marshall (8.5 ppg, 2.6 bpg) returns to an imposing frontcourt for the Zips, who won the MAC Tournament Championship last season. The Zips eventually put a scare into Notre Dame before falling in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Marshall scored five points, grabbed six rebounds and blocked four shots in that game, but was just 2-of-13 from the floor.
This will also be an emotional match-up for Shaka Smart, who will be facing former mentor Keith Dambrot for the second time in three years.
About Akron: Founded in 1870, Akron boasts an enrollment of more than 29,000. Akron is regarded as a world leader in polymer research.
Fast fact: This contest is the return game from the 2010 ESPNU BracketBusters. These schools once went 38 years between games, but this will be the fourth match-up between VCU and Akron in five seasons. VCU is 5-0 all-time against the Zips.