As we count down the days to the start of the 2018-19 season, A10 Talk will be brining you its preseason power rankings, as voted on by its team of writers. We continue the countdown with #9 VCU Rams.
Returnees to Watch
While the Rams lose their most dominant player in Justin Tillman, they keep quite a bit of talent that shouldn’t be discounted heading into 2018-19. Junior De’Riante Jenkins is poised for a big year. He made the jump from 4.3 to 12.9 PPG going from freshman to sophomore year while averaging 2 more rebounds and assists per contest. Cooling down slightly from 3, Jenkins was still able to exceed the 40% mark from long range, even while averaging 5.7 attempts per game as a sophomore. Look for Jenkins to be VCU’s X-Factor. Injury kept Issac Vann from reaching his full potential last season; I’d expect that to change, as the rising junior has proven to be one of the more dominant players off the dribble and a key defender as well. Malik Crowfield, Mike’l Simms, Sean Mobley, and Marcus Santos-Silva are all guys that need to take a step up this season; they were role players last year who all averaged less than 6 points per game. Particularly, I’m looking at the latter 2 as guys that need to pick up the slack in the paint in the absence of Tillman. In addition, VCU’s struggling defense is going to need fixing, and locking down in the post will be a serious need. The Rams allowed teams to shoot nearly 51% from two-point range this past season.
Newcomers to Watch
VCU is such a difficult team to rank due to the uncertainty of Marcus Evans. There is no set timetable for his return, and the Rice transfer is expected to make a major impact on the VCU program, having averaged more than 20 PPG in his young collegiate career. It seems P.J. Byrd will see a lot of time at the point prior to Evans’ return; another freshman guard that’s likely to make a big impact is KeShawn Curry. He had a game-high 15 points for the Rams in their opening exhibition win against UVA-Wise. Freshman Vince Williams should make a major impact, and additions of Corey Douglas and Michael Gilmore as transfers should help the Rams make up for the loss of size in Justin Tillman.
Games to Watch
VCU will have a tough non-conference schedule with some fun road games for Ram fans to tune in to. The return of two home-and-homes will feature road games against Virginia and Texas, two matchups that will serve as very difficult tests for Mike Rhoades’ bunch. VCU will face Temple at the all-too-familiar Barclays Center for the Legends Classic followed by a game against either California or St. John’s. VCU also gets Wichita St. at home, serving as a very fun rematch from the NCAA Tournament a few seasons ago. VCU has quite the work cut out for it prior to entering conference play, and the sooner Marcus Evans is able to make his return into the starting lineup, the better off the Rams will be.
VCU has more questions than answers at this point, but when healthy, the 3 player core of Marcus Evans, De’Riante Jenkins, and Issac Vann could be the best in the league. VCU’s success will ultimately come down to defense. Last year was one of the first in a long time where the Rams diverged significantly from their feisty, lockdown ways on that end of the floor. This year will need to be different. Long are we from the Havoc days of Briante Weber and co., but that doesn’t mean this Rams team can’t get stops and use that momentum to create offense. While Evans is going to be crucial for points, everyone needs to lockdown.