Having lost two head coaches in just three years time, VCU headed into the 2017-18 season with a decent amount of questions and a brutal OOC schedule staring them in the face. The Rams lost eight players from the previous year’s NCAA tournament team and two scheduled incoming top-100 recruits, a mass exodus that included all-conference seniors Mo Alie-Cox and JeQuan Lewis. With a patchwork rebuild of late signees and two early key injuries, VCU has played admirably against a schedule that has been majority top-100 opponents.
The Rams certainly weren’t lacking in opportunities, but for the most part came up just short of prime resume-boosters in the non-conference. VCU led top-50 Michigan and Texas teams with under two minutes to play, but failed to close both contests, meaning the Rams’ two biggest OOC trophies come in the form of home wins over current kenpom No.68 Old Dominion and No.97 Bucknell. Both wins have the potential to look better toward the end of the season, as both teams are capable of winning titles in their respective conferences. Considering VCU’s top OOC wins last season were home victories over Middle Tennessee State and Princeton, don’t jump to the conclusion that VCU’s non-conference finish is an NCAA tournament deal-breaker.
VCU’s worst loss came in the form of a 23-point road beatdown at the hands of Seton Hall, the silver lining there being Seton Hall is currently ranked 21st by kenpom and 14th in the RPI. All five of VCU’s losses came to teams ranked 52nd or higher currently by kenpom, four of which were to teams ranked in the top-35. There’s no actual bad loss on the Rams’ current record outside of getting beaten soundly by a very good team, a loss that came without the help of two of VCU’s top-5 players in Malik Crowfield and Issac Vann.
Non-Conference Grade: C+
Considering the turnover, the injuries and the schedule, the Rams have actually played very well. If you grade VCU on how they’ve played with the hand they were dealt, they fall in the B to A range. But judging them on results alone, it’s been a C+ start for a team who’s goal is an eighth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. A 2-5 record against the top-100 with just three current top-100s left on the schedule means VCU will need to turn that solid play into a huge win total in Atlantic 10 action and quite possibly a regular season A-10 title to get themselves on the tourney bubble heading into this year’s tournament in DC. Possible? Maybe. But there is next to no room for error or it’s tourney championship or bust for the Rams.