The most pressing question on VCU fans’ minds shortly after the third-round loss to Michigan in the NCAA tournament was whether head coach Shaka Smart would return next season. There was rampant speculation that Smart might take head coaching gigs at UCLA or Minnesota. The annual “Shaka Watch” ended when Smart agreed to an extension until 2023. Since the head coaching situation was resolved, Rams fans turn their attention to the 2013-14 season.
As with any offseason, the majority of questions revolve around how to replace the production and leadership of the departed seniors. The class of 2013 trio of Darius Theus, Troy Daniels and David Hinton leave VCU as arguably the best class in VCU history. They leave with the most wins as a class (111) and NCAA tournament wins (7).
Since fans follow VCU basketball all year, here are three burning questions to ponder during the offseason.
1. Who will be the starting point guard?
Theus was the leader of the team who was in control of running the offense as well as being a disruptive force on the defensive end. He was like a coach on the floor, who Smart trusted completely. Theus knew how to control the game and had a calming effect on the team.
This was especially evident in the NCAA tournament game against Michigan when he was in foul trouble. The offense became stagnant and lost its flow and rhythm when he left the game. An underrated player by many because he was not a big scorer, he was a steady point guard who came up with many big shots for the Rams when they needed it most.
Look for the primary point guard to be rising junior Briante Weber. The Defensive Player of the Year in the Atlantic 10 was excellent in the sixth man role last year.
He was primarily focused on the defensive side of the ball, but this year he may be asked to be the main ball handler and direct the offense. An ESPN magazine article in January compared him to Rajon Rondo, citing their similarities in athletic ability and their ability to stuff the stat sheet. Weber has the talent to be a top flight conference point guard as well as becoming a more threatening offensive player.
The only senior who will be a member of the backcourt is Rob Brandenberg, who is more of a slasher and scorer than a pure point guard.
2. Who will make up for Daniels’ 3-point shooting?
Troy Daniels ended his career at VCU second in career 3-point field goals made with 251. He was an exceptional 40 percent 3-point shooter in last season, breaking the single season record by making 124. On multiple occasions Smart referred to him as the best shooter he has ever coached. He backed up that statement by winning the 2013 3-point shootout in Atlanta the weekend of the Final Four.
Despite the fact that he was a great shooter, Daniels was considered by some experts to be one dimensional because 308 of 357 shots were 3-point attempts, an astounding 86 percent.
There is not a 3-point specialist like Daniels on the roster, so it most likely will be a collective effort. At times Brandenburg, rising sophomore Melvin Johnson and rising junior Treveon Graham all made 3-point shots throughout the year, but not as consistently as Daniels. 2011 Top 150 recruit Jordan Burgess and freshman JeQuan Lewis are considered to be good 3-point shooters.
The threat of 3-point shooters will be a key to next season to make sure opposing defenses don’t pack the paint.
3. Which young big man will step up?
Rising senior Juvonte Reddic will be a top candidate for first team preseason all Atlantic 10 next year. Reddic had a strong year last year, averaging 14.6 points and 8.1 boards a game.
When DJ Haley left the team in March, he was the only experienced big man on the roster. This proved to be a problem in games where he got into foul trouble. This limited the offense because the team became entirely perimeter oriented with no one with a strong inside game to throw the ball into. In games against teams who play larger lineups, it will be critical for at least another forward to develop potent threat offensively.
There will be many options. Rising junior Jared Guest and rising sophomore Justin Tuoyo both saw their minutes increase in Haley’s absence and gained valuable experience in the Atlantic 10 and NCAA tournaments. Mo Alie-Cox and 6’9 freshman Antravious Simmons will look to contribute as well.
At first glance the Atlantic 10 appears to be less difficult than in 2013 when five teams received NCAA tournament bids.
Temple, Charlotte, Butler and Xavier all are departing while George Mason is joining the league Aug. 1. Defending A-10 regular season and tournament champion St. Louis returns key players as does LaSalle from their Sweet 16 run.
The Rams, however, return their top two scorers in Graham and Reddic and welcome in a strong recruiting class led by Burgess.
If these questions get answered, then VCU can challenge for the A-10 title and make a deep NCAA tournament run in 2014.