Up until now, you either needed CIA-level clearance from Shaka Smart or a grappling hook and a glass cutter to see the 2014-15 VCU Men’s Basketball team in action.
That changes on Sunday, Oct. 26 when VCU opens up the Verizon Wireless Arena at the Stuart C. Siegel Center for the Black and Gold Game, a sort-of annual intrasquad scrimmage open to the public.
Here are six things to look for.
1-THE NEW GUYS: Remember the last time an incoming VCU recruiting class generated as much attention as this year’s freshman class? Yeah, me neither. The quartet of Terry Larrier, Justin Tillman, Michael Gilmore and Johnny Williams has received plenty of attention, and for good reason. ESPN ranked this group one of the 15 best in the country, so forgive us if we’re a little excited. Like, Briante Weber excited. Is Larrier rotation ready? Can Gilmore and Tillman solidify VCU’s frontcourt? Can Johnny Williams shoulder some of the point guard duties this season? The Black and Gold Game won’t answer those questions, but it’ll help us begin to form a picture.
2-MICROWAVE MELVIN: According to this recent feature in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, junior guard Melvin Johnson, who plays style of made-for-TV basketball, put some serious hours in at Franklin Street Gym this summer. Johnson says he was hoisting up about 500 three-pointers on most days, sometimes more. The Rams will need to replace the scoring punch of Juvonte Reddic and Rob Brandenberg. Johnson is a safe bet to pick up some of that slack.
3-OVERREACTIONS: Hey kids. I know none of us like to talk about this, but sometimes we tend to overemphasize the importance of things like an intra-squad scrimmage in October. Just because somebody blows up in an exhibition is no guarantee of a big season. Sure, Melvin Johnson hit five 3-pointers in last year’s Black and Gold Scrimmage, but I also gushed over Terrance Shannon’s heady performance and expected big things out of the Florida State transfer. While Shannon certainly provided some big plays for the Rams – plus one of the cooler put-back dunks I’ve ever seen – he never got entirely comfortable. I also loved Jairus Lyes quickness and playmaking in last year’s game, but he never could wrestle many minutes away from Briante Weber or JeQuan Lewis. Let the scrimmage serve as a piece of the bigger picture, not a predictor of greatness.
4-POINT GUARD: Listening to Shaka Smart talk this fall, it’s clear he’s seen some good things out of Williams. Additionally, VCU’s point guard situation is a good bit different from last year, when Weber was taking over the starting role for the first time and then-freshman Lewis was slated as his backup. The growth of Weber and Lewis, as well as Williams’ ability to push for minutes, will go a long way towards determining the course of this season.
5-FRONTCOURT: Juvonte Reddic will be the most difficult piece for VCU to replace from last season. Both Mo Alie-Cox and Jared Guest are quality rebounders, but the Rams will need to find out where the low-post scoring is going to come from in 2014-15. This would be a good opportunity for Gilmore, Tillman and redshirt Antravious Simmons to impress. The Rams are pretty settled on the wings, but there are still a lot of rotation minutes to be won in the blocks.
6-SCOREBOARD: Hey, we installed a new scoreboard and sound system this summer. You might have heard about it. We only released about 17 updates and 300 tweets. Perhaps you stumbled on one or two. Regardless, the Siegel Center upgrades will be a really nice addition to the gameday atmosphere. I’m a little nervous about the Robby Robinson and I airing the Fleming’s Steakhouse “What’s at Steak?” segment in 11’ x 15’ HD.
BONUS: Justin Tillman’s hair is going to be a local treasure by the end of this season. When you pair him with Alie-Cox and the various lengths of Lewis’ flattop, this team is starting to resemble a new-age version of Charlie Finley’s 1972 Oakland Athletics. That reference may be a tad esoteric for the younger crowd, but it’s my blog, so whatever.