VCU turned things around quickly in the 2015-16 season. Following a 5-5 record and a plethora of boos in the Siegel Center after a home loss to Cincinnati, something clicked, and Will Wade turned a shaky start into a very respectable first season as the Rams’ head coach. VCU would finish the season 25-11 (14-4 A-10) which was good enough for a share of the regular season Atlantic 10 Title and a trip back to the NCAA Tournament. There, the Rams would take down Oregon St. in the first round and fall just short to Oklahoma in the Round of 32. Though a lot of talent is leaving Richmond this offseason, here are 5 reasons that the Rams will be back in the NCAA Tournament in 2017.
1. History repeats itself
If history is any indicator, the Rams will be back in the NCAA Tournament come 2017. VCU has been in the Big Dance for the past 6 seasons, and the Rams have gotten at least 1 win in 4 of their last 6 tourneys. Some thought that it was Shaka Smart’s will that got the Rams back in the tournament year after year, but Will Wade stepped in last season and showed that he has what it takes to keep this program dancing. It would not be surprising to see the Rams get yet another bid simply because they’ve gotten one in the last 6 seasons, and to say they won’t get one is betting against history, and who would do that?
2. JeQuan Lewis is fit to lead this team
Melvin Johnson has moved on from the program, meaning it’s time for someone else to step up and lead this Ram team back into the postseason. Judging from what we saw last season, it looks as if JeQuan Lewis may be that guy. Lewis was a scoring machine in the second half of the season and had some career performances that helped VCU win some tight games. His 29 point night against Richmond helped the Rams win an overtime battle on the road. Lewis’ postseason play was outstanding, going for 21 points, 8 assists, and 7 rebounds against Oregon St. and then for 22 points, 9 assists, and 4 rebounds against Oklahoma. His ability to score and distribute at a high-level is just what head coach Will Wade needs to get back to the Big Dance. Lewis certainly had his off nights last season, but I’d expect him to step up his game, even on his worst nights, in the 2016-17 season.
3. VCU can go on a hot streak
The Rams are no strangers to long winning streaks. Despite a 5-5 start to the 2015-16 season, VCU would go on to win its next 12 games before losing a tight home contest against George Washington. That ability to win 12 games in a row put the Rams right back into the NCAA Tournament conversation. But that winning streak is not an isolated case. VCU went on a 12 game winning streak back in 2015 and even managed to win 13 in a row back in 2013. Even if this team has a rough patch where it loses a couple of games, it has the ability and experience of winning multiple games in a row to reassert itself with the best teams in the league. So if you think at any point VCU is out of the tourney picture, you may want to think again.
4. Havoc, Havoc, Havoc
Though Shaka Smart may have left the Rams, the defensive intensity that he brought surely did not. The Rams were 18th in the nation in defensive turnover percentage and 7th in the nation in steal percentage. Though they don’t necessarily implement the full-court press with as much regularity, they’re still finding ways to force turnovers. JeQuan Lewis is a very underrated defender who is rising to the likes of Briante Weber. His steal percentage of 3.2% ranked 107th in the nation and will likely only go up next year. Most notably, the nation’s leader in that category will be back for his final season with the Rams. Doug Brooks had an incredible 6.8% steal percentage on the year, and more playing time for him means more Havoc for the Rams.
5. The big men on campus
I would not want to get in the way of VCU’s big men. Between Mo Alie-Cox, Justin Tillman, and Ahmed Hamdy-Mohamed last season, there were way too many highlight reel dunks and blocks to count. And the good news for the Rams? All three of those players will be back next season. Mo Alie-Cox has been an X-factor throughout his entire career as a Ram. His ability to affect the game on both ends of the floor is going to be huge for the Rams next year. Tillman is another player who I’d expect to make a serious impact in the coming season. Though he didn’t see a ton of court time in 2015-16, there are going to be plenty of opportunities for him to make his mark as a junior. Hamdy-Mohamed had a 16 point and 8 rebound performance earlier this year against George Mason. If he can put up numbers like those for the Rams, there’s no doubt they’ll be dancing once again next season.
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