VCU could be your Atlantic 10 sleeper, here’s why

Following the departure of head Coach Will Wade and 4 year stars JeQuan Lewis and Mo Alie-Cox, VCU was inevitably going to take a step back. Though Justin Tillman would break out as a first-team all Atlantic 10 Player, the Rams finished tied for 5th in the league and got the 8 seed in D.C. last season. VCU would miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time in seemingly forever.

Next season hasn’t brought too much optimism from college basketball analysts and bloggers. The Rams seem to be a consensus pick to finish 8th or 9th in the conference and likely miss the Big Dance yet again. Jonathan Williams and Justin Tillman have been lost to graduation, but the big kicker is losing up-and-coming point guard and Rice transfer Marcus Evans to an achilles injury. The rising junior has two years of eligibility remaining and has a career average of more than 20 PPG. Needless to say, he’s a big addition that Mike Rhoades brought over from Rice.

Evans underwent successful surgery in June and is currently in the process of rehabbing. There’s seemingly a solid chance he’ll be back by January for the start of conference play — maybe even earlier. This ball club with the addition of Evans becomes a completely different team. You immediately add an experienced point guard to replace Jonathan Williams as well as a guy that could easily lead VCU in scoring these next two seasons.

Put Evans on the court with Issac Vann and De’Riante Jenkins, and you have a talented core of long, lethal guards and wings that can shoot the three ball. You’ll also have Malik Crowfield as a sharpshooter off the bench and 2 freshmen point guards that will get valuable experience before Marcus Evans makes his return.

The questions then become clear. Can VCU survive at the PG position before Evans is back in the lineup? Crowfield hasn’t played the position, but Rhoades has expressed that he’ll likely get some time at the 1. The rising junior likes to play as a catch-and-shoot guard, but he may have to work on his ball-handling and step up in non-conference play. KeShawn Curry and P.J. Byrd will have to be big as well, though they’re only freshmen and will be thrown into the mix immediately without any collegiate experience.

Next, can VCU successfully bring Evans back into the mix once he is healthy? Like I mentioned above, this could be a completely different team with Evans, Jenkins, and Vann on the floor at the same time, but can Evans return to the floor following his injury and be the 20+ PPG scorer a lot of us are expecting? Well, we have to keep in mind that Rice is not VCU, and the level of competition will be much more difficult. Not to mention, it’s been quite some time since Evans has seen the court, as he sat out last year due to transfer rules. If he makes a loud and successful return, VCU could be a dangerous bunch in A-10 conference play.

The other concerns for this club stem in the frontcourt and off the bench. Sean Mobley and Marcus Santos-Silva will have to take big steps forward, and Michael Gilmore is back for one more season as a Ram. VCU will, for the first time in awhile, be more reliant on its backcourt than it’s frontcourt. With guys like Alie-Cox and Tillman, the Rams were used to having the biggest and most physical players on the court. Now, they might have to sink the three ball with consistency rather than pounding the rock inside. Evans will be key in that metric.

At this point, there are certainly more questions than answers for the Rams, but we have to keep in mind that they have 3 of the more talented players in the league, once they’re all healthy. I think Issac Vann has a chance to be one of the best wings in the league — we didn’t see him rise up to his full potential last season. Not to mention, Jenkins continues to grow as a scorer and has always been deadly from three. VCU has been flying under the radar for sure, but Mike Rhoades certainly has a talented ball club that’s capable of making a splash.

Grant Labedz is a college basketball superfan who loves the entire sport but definitely has favorites in the A-10 and the Big Ten. He has written for ...