RICHMOND, Va. — VCU basketball coach Shaka Smart comes into this season poised to join Florida, Kansas State, and San Diego State University with five consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. Coach Smart is entering his sixth season with VCU and with a loss to Stephen F. Austin in the first round of last year’s tournament on his mind, Smart is looking to make a run with seniors Briante Weber and Treveon Graham leading the Rams.
Power Forward Jarred Guest will also be entering his senior season at VCU, but with three other power forwards on VCU’s roster, Guest will be in a serious battle for playing time this season. Coach Smart does tend to play his seniors consistently, so expect Guest to at least have consistent playing time off the bench, with a possibility of starting the season for VCU.
With the Rams expected to be considered for the preseason top 25 poll, coach Smart will certainly start his five strongest players in his Havoc defense this season. Senior
guard Briante Weber will be the key to VCU’s Havoc defense after leading the nation in steals last season with 3.5 per game. The stat helped him earn Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the year for the second consecutive season. Shaka Smart’s Havoc defense helped VCU also lead the nation as a team in steals with 11.2 per game; an average of 1.2 steals more than Louisville, which had 10.0 per game and ranked second.
Coach Smart’s defense should continue to wreak havoc this season with power forward Mo Alie-Cox expected to see the court a lot more after the graduation of ex-VCU power forward Juvonte Reddic. Alie-Cox was a substantial bench player for VCU last year with 3.6 rebounds per game and plenty of ability to get up and block shots for the Rams. “Mo says NO,” can be heard at the Stuart Siegel Center (The Stu) every time Alie-Cox blocks a shot. It’s almost as if the redshirt sophomore practices his volleyball skills before basketball practice.
Coach Shaka Smart also has his young shooters to aid in the scoring attack for VCU this season. With the graduation of guard Rob Brandenberg, expect VCU’s Melvin Johnson and Jequan Lewis to take more shots beyond the arc this season. Johnson, named the Atlantic 10 Conference Sixth Man of the Year, comes into his junior season a favorite to land Brandenberg’s old starting job but looks to have some competition with four-star freshman Terry Larrier expected to battle for both shooting guard and small forward positions. Smart will probably start Johnson, but expect Larrier to see substantial minutes off the bench for VCU this season.
VCU’s basketball team hasn’t looked this promising since the 2010-11 campaign which ended with the Rams’ first Final Four appearance. With five seasons behind him, coach Smart is now a familiar face around the NCAA and has built VCU basketball to be one of the upcoming premier basketball universities in the nation. An NCAA championship just might be VCU’s key to a stronger national following and coach Shaka Smart looks to deliver just that to VCU this season.