The Opponent: VCU Rams
Date: November 17, 2021
Last season: 19-7 (10-4 Atlantic 10), 48th in KenPom
Mike Rhoades was a successful head coach at Randolph-Macon of the Division III Old Dominion Athletic Conference, going 197-76 over ten seasons, before becoming Shaka Smart’s associate head coach at VCU. Five years later, he jumped off to become the head coach at Rice, where he went 47-52 over three years and went 23-12 in his last year, Rice’s highest win total since going 23-5 in 1954. That got him a call to come back to VCU when Will Wade left for LSU, and he’s gone 80-43 with two NCAA Tournament appearances in four years. The Rams made the tournament in 2021, though they were eliminated without playing a game thanks to a COVID-19 outbreak. Unlike his predecessors (Jeff Capel, Anthony Grant, Shaka Smart, and Will Wade), he doesn’t appear to have any ambitions beyond the VCU job, which can be both a good and bad thing.
VCU lost 6’8” Corey Douglas (4.5 ppg/3.4 rpg) to graduation, and lost reserves Jimmy Clark (5.9 ppg/1.8 apg) and 7’1” Brendan Medley-Bacon (0.5 ppg/0.7 rpg) to the transfer portal. That’s not the big loss, though: leading scorer Nah’Shon Hyland (19.5 ppg/4.7 rpg) left for the NBA Draft, where he was the first-round pick of the Denver Nuggets. Hyland was by a pretty wide margin VCU’s best offensive player last year, and it remains to be seen whether they’ll have another player of that caliber.
The good news is that three starters return for VCU; the bad news is that all three of them, to some degree, probably depended a lot on Hyland to draw the attention of defenses. 6’6” senior Vince Williams (10.6 ppg/5.2 rpg) shot 41 percent from three as a junior and has value as a second scorer. 6’0” sophomore Adrian Baldwin (6.7 ppg/4.4 apg) has value as an on-ball defender, though his shooting percentages (42 percent on twos, 26 percent on threes) were pretty ghastly as a freshman. 6’8” super senior Levi Stockard (6.5 ppg/2.3 rpg) came last year as a grad transfer from Kansas State and started 25 games.
What’s more, the Rams return 6’9” junior Hason Ward (6.4 ppg/5.1 rpg), who started 11 games last season and ranked 9th in the country in block percentage. 6’7” sophomore Jamir Watkins only started two games last season, but was the team’s third leading scorer at 7.2 ppg, though he wasn’t particularly efficient. Three more reserves — 6’4” senior KeShawn Curry (5.8 ppg/2.3 rpg), 6’5” sophomore Josh Banks (3.1 ppg/0.9 rpg), and 6’8” sophomore Mikeal Brown-Jones (2.3 ppg/2.1 rpg) — are also back.
The hope is that 6’3” junior Marcus Tsohonis, who averaged 10.4 ppg and shot 37 percent from three while only playing 20 minutes a game at Washington last season, will be able to replace some of what VCU lost in Nah’Shon Hyland. VCU also added some size in the form of 6’8” Providence transfer Jimmy Nichols Jr. (6.1 ppg/2.4 rpg), who started 27 games for the Friars over the last three years.
Also in are three freshmen — 6’6” Nick Kern out of St. Louis (#188 in the 247 composite), 6’9” Jalen DeLoach out of Savannah, Georgia (#249 in the 247 composite), and 6’4” Jayden Nunn out of Flint, Michigan (unranked) — though it’s not clear if any will have an immediate impact.
I said when Vanderbilt’s nonconference schedule was released that you can kind of tell that Jerry Stackhouse thinks a bit highly of his team, and this is what I mean: you don’t schedule VCU unless you think your strength of schedule might be a concern (read: you might be in play for an NCAA Tournament bid.) Because, there really isn’t much reason to schedule this game, the front end of a home-and-home with Vanderbilt visiting Richmond next year, unless you think that.
Mike Rhoades hasn’t been quite as consistent as Shaka Smart or Will Wade, but VCU has generally been a strong, NCAA Tournament-level program for about a decade, and they’ve now posted 21 consecutive winning seasons including 15 20-win seasons. In other words, you pretty much know what you’re getting when you put them on the schedule: a game that will look impressive if you win and won’t hurt you too much if you lose, even at home.