Will Wade begins his tenure as head coach of the Rams of Virginia Commonwealth but unlike other new coaches this year, his transition to the program will be relatively seamless. Wade was an assistant under Shaka Smart for four years before becoming the head coach at Chattanooga and bringing the HAVOC style of play with him from VCU. He knows the system, he knows the players and more importantly he knows the expectations that go along with VCU basketball.
The Rams are coming off a season in which they won 26 games, won the A10 championship and earned a trip to their fifth straight NCAA tournament appearance. Part of the reason for their success has involved a challenging non-conference schedule that helps prepare them for conference play and this year is no different.
The season starts with back-to-back home games against Prairie View A&M and Radford at the Seigel Center as part of the 2K Sports Classic. Prairie View is coming off a 15-18 record but turned it on late during conference play finishing the year winning 13 of their last 17 games. Radford achieved a 22-12 record last year with an impressive win against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. They do however lose their top two scorers from a team that went to the second round of the CBI.
The Rams then head to Madison Square Garden to take on the 2015 National Champion Duke Blue Devils in the 2K Sports Classic. Duke loses four starters from that championship team in Quinn Cook, Tyus Jones, Justice Winslow and Jahlil Okafor. However, they add the number one ranked recruiting class in the country according to ESPN. This will be Will Wade’s first real test as head coach at VCU and it will be interesting to see how he handles adversity against a team that is so well coached like Duke.
Two days later after their game against Duke, they either play 2015 National Runner-Up Wisconsin or a Georgetown team that lost in the third round of the NCAA tournament. Wisconsin loses the National Player of the year last year in Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker who was drafted 18th overall by the Houston Rockets. They return solid pieces in Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes. Georgetown loses largest paint presence in Joshua Smith and Mikael Hopkins but returns D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera who is one of the favorites for Big East Player of the Year.
After the 2K Sports Classic, VCU returns home for two more home games against American and Old Dominion. American lost in the Patriot League final last year and earning a spot in the NCAA tourney despite a 17-16 overall record. They return their leading scorer in Jesse Reed who averaged 14.1 points per game a year ago. Old Dominion is coming off a NIT semi-final appearance where they lost to Stanford at Madison Square Garden and a 24-6 regular season record. They return their top two scorers and other key pieces that will make them a very dangerous team. The Monarchs beat VCU on their home floor last year by a score of 73-67.
VCU then heads out of town to play a neutral site game against Florida State in Atlanta, sandwiched between two road games at Middle Tennessee and Georgia Tech respectively. Middle Tennessee finished the year 19-17 last year and one win away from winning the Conference USA Championship. They lost in the first round of the CIT to Kent State to end the year. Florida State returns five seniors from a 17-16 squad that went 8-10 in the ACC last year. They played tough against the likes of Duke and Virginia but never got any momentum throughout the season. The Rams then travel down to Atlanta to face off against a Georgia Tech squad that struggled to score the ball a season ago. The Yellow Jackets ranked 277th out of 345 teams in scoring offense which contributed to a 12-19 record and a 3-15 conference record in the ACC. Brian Gregory has to turn the program around or else this could be his last season in Atlanta.
Virginia Commonwealth then ends the non-conference with four straight home games against Cincinnati, Buffalo, Liberty and North Florida.
Cincinnati stayed with Kentucky in the third round of the NCAA Tournament last year and has potential to be a top-25 squad this year. This also could be one of the most interesting games of the non-conference as both teams are tremendous on defense but struggled to score the ball in the half-court a season ago. If both teams take care of the ball, don’t be surprised if the final score is in the high 40’s or low 50’s for both teams.
Buffalo went 23-10 last year and won the MAC Tournament Championship game before losing to West Virginia in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Justin Moss, the reigning MAC Player of the Year was expelled from school for theft from the dorms and their coach Bobby Hurley left for Arizona State. The Bulls are now led by Nate Oats. Liberty is coming off a rough year posting an 8-24 record and a 2-16 record in the Big South Conference. They are one of the youngest teams in the country with all but two of their players are freshmen and sophomores. They will rely heavily on senior Theo Johnson who is the only returning player who averaged double digits.
The Rams end the non-conference against a North Florida squad that is experienced and will be already tested by the time they face off against VCU. The Ospreys have non-conference games against Illinois, Louisville, LSU, Dayton and Arkansas before heading to Richmond. They return an all but two players and a remarkable 83.5% of their scoring. This is also a dangerous game for VCU because a lot of teams are looking ahead to conference play at this time of year. If they overlook North Florida, they will lose this game as the Ospreys should not be taken lightly.
It will be a transitional year of sorts for VCU as they lose their head coach Shaka Smart and two of the most influential players in program history, Briante Weber – 374 career steals, and Treveon Graham -1,882 career points. Although these are big losses, they return many key pieces from last year’s team and a new head coach that knows the system and is ready to pick up where Shaka Smart left off. A 10-3 non-conference record would be a great start to the season heading into conference play and set the stage for a sixth straight NCAA tournament berth.