With the 2015-16 season on the horizon, a few members of the Mid Major Madness staff got together to chat about the upcoming season for the Atlantic 10 conference and how things might shake out. The conference has experienced a great deal of success over the last few years and looks like it could have even more this year.
Due to the length of the conversation, the comments have been split up into a series of posts that will be on the site over the next week. Today, we start with the outlook for VCU's program going forward.
Q: The biggest story over the offseason in the Atlantic 10 was clearly the exit of Shaka Smart at VCU to take the head gig at Texas. Where does this leave the status of VCU's program?
Thomas Beindit: Not to state the obvious, but this is when VCU fans are finally going to get a look at the true nature of their program. This was not a terrible program before Smart arrived by any means, but there's no debating that he was the program's best and most successful coach at the program in its history. Now, fans will get a look at whether VCU is a mid-major power that's here to stay, or will regress closer to what it was before Smart arrived. Having said that, there is a clear base and reputation for success at VCU for Will Wade to work with going forward. With players like Melvin Johnson and JeQuan Lewis and some incoming depth, the Rams should still be a solid team for the foreseeable future. The question is just whether Wade can keep the ball rolling. As of now, it certainly looks that way, especially with the recent commitment of four-star De'Riante Jenkins for next season.
Andrew Padyk: This is an interesting time to be a VCU fan to say the least as the program is coming off of a six season stretch of reaching new heights under the tenure of Shaka Smart and entering into the Will Wade era of Rams basketball. While the loss of Smart is a blow to VCU having been the best coach so far in the history of the program it is a manageable one as VCU with Wade coming on board as head coach.
Wade served on Smart's bench as an assistant from 2009 to 2013, before taking over Chattanooga's head coaching position where he led to Mocs to two near runs to the top in the SoCon Conference. He was one of the first hires as well for Smart when he took over as a head coach at VCU. He also believes in the principles of the Havoc style of play that VCU has become known for, but is inserting his own tweaks into the system for a fresh approach by making the Rams bigger and more physically imposing. The other good news for VCU is that there is a good core on this team that can provide flexibility with Melvin Johnson and Mo Alie-Cox being a part of that core. It is a new look VCU and while there will be a lot of changes on the Rams they should be still in the relevant mix for this season.
Parks: This biggest departure on Broad Street might not have been Shaka Smart. Briante Weber was the offensive catalyst for the Rams over the past four years and now he's gone. Weber was HAVOC and could get the Rams easy transition baskets. Last year VCU could lean on Traveon Graham but he's gone as well, along with Terry Larrier. We saw VCU struggle with halfcourt sets last year and I think that's where we'll see the biggest change.
Will Wade has promised to continue on with HAVOC but his recruiting speaks otherwise. I expect VCU to be more proficient in the halfcourt, but I also think it will come at a cost and, over time, the Rams recruiting draw of HAVOC will wear off. Wade lost some BIG recruits and has instead seemingly focused on big men who don't fit the traditional HAVOC role. Jonathan Nwankwo was a nice steal from Minnesota but he's certainly not a guy that's going to run the floor and neither is Ahmed Hamdy-Mohamed.
Wade does have pieces to be successful this year. I think Jonathan Williams is more suited for what Wade will want to do rather than JeQuan Lewis. Melvin Johnson and newcomer Korey Billbury will be should be good scoring threats at the two and Jordan Burgess is among the best forwards in the A10. Of course finally there is big man and sparkplug Mo Alie-Cox anchoring the paint.
Wade does have the luxury of versatility because his roster is made up of guys that could succeed in HAVOC (Lewis/Cox) and guys that are more well suited for halfcourt sets. The question is how versatile Wade will be himself and if VCU fans can stomach a different brand of basketball after watching primarily full court pressure teams with Anthony Grant and Shaka Smart.
McFarland: I was going to agree with Parks but the recent commitment of De'Riante Jenkins makes me think that Wade can be successful with HAVOC if he can continually land these types of recruits. VCU will be fine this year because the roster was built for HAVOC and Wade knows the system but down the road who knows. Wade hasn't had an opportunity to see what kind of team that he can build as he was only at Chattanooga for two years. It will be interesting to see what Wade does once he faces adversity. Will he trust the system or switch to a more half court approach. I think VCU will be okay but it may be more of a transition than fans will think.
Let us know your thoughts on the VCU program going forward below. The Atlantic 10 roundtable series will continue on Thursday with a look at the Dayton Flyers and the direction of the program under Archie Miller.