RICHMOND, Va. – There are a number of holdovers from VCU’s 2011 NCAA Tournament victory over Florida State on this year’s team, including Coach Shaka Smart, Associate Head Coach Mike Rhoades, and players Rob Brandenberg and Juvonte Reddic. But none of them will be able to offer the perspective of Terrance Shannon.
When VCU and Florida State meet Thursday at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in San Juan, Shannon will be the only participant to have stood on both sidelines in this “series”. Following a four-year stint in Tallahassee, Shannon transferred to VCU this summer. Shannon played five minutes for the Seminoles in that 72-71 VCU overtime win in San Antonio in 2011.
Ten of Shannon’s teammates return from last season’s 18-16 Florida State squad; ten guys he still calls his “brothers.” The experience, Shannon imagines, will be strange.
“It’s going to be bittersweet,” said Shannon, who averaged 5.2 points and 3.3 rebounds in 72 games for FSU. “I get to see my former team again. I talk to the guys a lot, so the bond is still there. I still look at them as like brothers to me. It’s going to be weird playing against each other, but it’s going to be nice to see them again.”
Shannon says he talks the most with senior forward Okaro White, but that he keeps up with his former teammates as much as he can manage. He says they haven’t really talked about Thursday’s game.
Florida State is 3-0 this season after wins over Jacksonville, Central Florida and Tennessee-Martin. Although the Seminoles were picked ninth in the new 15-team ACC, Shannon believes FSU is going to be a “scary team” this season.
Not that Florida State wasn’t a scary team in the past. Under Leonard Hamilton, the Seminoles have typically assembled a roster full of long, rugged defenders. The last time VCU met Florida State, the Rams needed a Bradford Burgess layup with seven seconds left and a blocked shot by Brandenberg at the horn to escape with a win. Two days later, VCU upset top-seeded Kansas to reach the Final Four. Weeks later, Assistant Coach Will Wade – now the head coach at Chattanooga – said Florida State, not Kansas, was the Rams’ toughest matchup during the NCAA Tournament.
“I thought the most improbable of the wins was Florida State,” Wade would say. “I had the scout going into that game, and Coach Smart looked at me and said, ‘What are we going to do to beat them?’ I said, ‘It’s going to be tough.’”
Florida State is, once again, one of the biggest, longest teams in the country. According to KenPom.com, the Seminoles’ roster is the fifth-tallest in the country, and the Rams will give up, on average, two inches at every position.
In order to prepare for a team as difficult as Florida State, the Rams will need all the help they can get, which means Shannon’s most valuable contributions might come off the court. But VCU Coach Shaka Smart says it’s not that simple.
“He’s obviously spent a lot of time there and was a really good player for them,” Smart said. “I think he’s a guy that can be helpful in game planning against a lot of teams because he’s a senior and he’s been around. I don’t think it’s necessarily something where we’re going to benefit from knowing all these deep secrets about what they do. They’re not a team like that, that thrives on a lot of trickery. They’re kind of like UVA, they are who they are. But certainly, we’ll ask Terrance what he can provide from a scouting standpoint, and [he can be] as involved as he wants to be in the scouting report and the preparation. We would love that.”
Shannon says he’ll help where he can, but after watching two of the Seminoles’ games this season, he believes FSU has evolved, and being an “insider” might not be as valuable as some believe.
“They’ve been more of an up-tempo style of team more this year than in the past,” he said. “Actually the team is kind of different from what the team used to be, so it’s hard to say. I feel like they’re a better team now than they have been, then we were last year, but preparing for them won’t be as easy as people think it will be.”
Through three games, the Seminoles are averaging 86.7 points per game, up nearly 20 points per game over last season, and are ranked 30th nationally in adjusted tempo, up from 222nd. Four players, including White (16.0 ppg), are averaging double figures.
“They’re a completely different team than what they were the previous year,” Shannon added. “They’re more versatile now. Their bigs run the floor better. They have a good group of guards. They have a good group of bigs.”
But while he expects a tough game from his former team, and he expects the experience to be somewhat uncomfortable, Shannon is ready.
“I don’t think it’ll be bad,” he said. “I feel like once the ball is tossed up in the air, and it’s time to go, I’m all about trying to help my team win, so I don’t think it’ll be bad. But everything leading up to it will be weird.”