With both the experience of coaching at VCU and the talent to lead a successful basketball program at Rice, Mike Rhoades is looking like the perfect head coaching fit for the Rams. After Will Wade’s prompt departure for LSU, Rhoades was hired as the next head coach of VCU. The 44 year old head coach is no stranger to VCU’s culture of winning. After being hired as an assistant coach under Shaka Smart in 2009, Rhoades helped lead the Rams to a Final Four in 2011, and he was a part of 4 straight NCAA Tournament teams. The VCU Rams were 137-46 during Rhoades’ time as associate head coach and assistant coach.
After replacing Ben Braun in 2014 and inheriting a Rice team that had won just 7 games the previous season, Rhoades began to make strides with the Owls. He went on to win 6 more games in Conference USA play the next season and 5 more games overall. Under Mike Rhoades, the Owls finished 210th overall in Kenpom’s 2015 rankings after finishing 300th in Braun’s final season as head coach. The 2015-16 season didn’t feature much improvement, but Rhoades made an enormous jump in 2016-17, winning 11 Conference USA games and winning 23 games overall. Rhoades’ ability to take a team like Rice from rags to riches in a matter of 3 seasons is what got him the opportunity to coach at VCU. It’s that kind of leadership that teams search for constantly.
While Mike Rhoades has proved to be an efficient coach with the know-how to make a turnaround at the mid-major level, it’s his general understanding of the VCU culture that makes him such a good fit for the Rams. Rhoades knows that this program is not centered around him; it’s centered around the players, the fanbase, and the commitment to excellence. VCU expects a lot from its team, and Rhoades comes ready to deliver. He’s already secured the commitments of two incoming freshmen who have decided not to transfer. They believe in Coach Rhoades, and more importantly, they believe in the VCU culture that Rhoades will look to continue. As a result, Sean Mobley and Marcus Santos-Silva will both be playing for VCU next season.
It’s all about winning at VCU. Mike Rhoades knows that. He’s been around to witness an inconceivably impressive run to the Final Four. He’s also been around to see more than 1 one VCU trip to the NCAA Tournament. As far as getting a coach who understands the program, VCU hit this one spot on.
I will say that I’m a bit concerned about the future of VCU’s defense under Mike Rhoades. Rice’s former head coach led a team that allowed opposing teams to shoot an abysmal 41.8% from three point range just two seasons ago. That ranked 2nd to last in the nation. While the Owls cleaned that up this past season, they still ranked 219th nationally in defensive efficiency. Mike Rhoades hasn’t always been known as a coach who teaches egregiously aggressive defense, unlike Shaka Smart and Will Wade, and VCU’s best defenders in Doug Brooks, JeQuan Lewis, and Mo Alie-Cox will all be graduating. Mike Rhoades is going to have to work extremely hard to make sure his team keeps that kind of defensive intensity that’s been a staple of the Rams’ culture.
I love the fact that the players, coaches, and VCU fanbase believe in Mike Rhoades like they do. There’s always skepticism when a new head coach is hired, but Mike Rhoades has been nothing but celebrated since accepting the job offer as VCU’s head coach. The Atlantic 10 will look entirely different next year with new head coaches at VCU, Dayton, Massachusetts, Duquesne, and maybe more. At the end of the day, the league should be pretty wide open, and whether or not VCU can make an 8th straight NCAA Tournament appearance is a question Mike Rhoades is hoping to answer affirmatively when the 2017-18 season rolls around.