Top 68 Team Previews: #29 Belmont Bruins
Rick Byrd's Bruins are the heavy favorites in the Atlantic Sun this season.
By Mark Cunningham
Sunday, September 25, 2011
Last Season: 28-12 (12-6 CAA)
Key Losses: Jamie Skeen, Joey Rodriguez, Brandon Rozell
Head Coach: Shaka Smart
PG: Darius Theus 6-3 Jr.
SG: Rob Brandenberg 6-2 So.
SF: Bradford Burgess 6-6 Sr.
PF: Juvonte Reddic 6-9 So.
C: D.J. Haley 7-0 So.
Key Reserves: Troy Daniels 6-4 Jr. SG, Reco McCarter 6-7 Fr. PF, Teddy Okereafor 6-3 Fr. SG, Briante Weber 6-3 Fr. SG, Jared Guest 6-8 Fr. PF, Treveon Graham 6-4 Fr. SG
Before last March, the Virginia Commonwealth Rams were not considered by most to be a worthy member of the NCAA tournament's field of 68. Less than a month later, VCU was making a shocking trip to the Final Four. The Rams thrashed two teams ranked in the top 15 in college basketball, Kansas and Purdue, by at least 10 points. Everyone knows about VCU and most people fell in love with their Cinderella story, but can the Rams do it again this season?
It will be a major challenge, since VCU graduated four out of its top five scorers, but with Shaka Smart still at the helm, anything appears possible. Somehow they will have to replace Joey Rodriguez's passing (208 assists in 2010-11) and experience, and Jamie Skeen's scoring (15.7 points per game) and rebounding (7.3 rebounds per game).
Fortunately for them, the Rams return one key player from last year's Final Four run, Bradford Burgess. Burgess scored 26 points in VCU's Sweet 16 win over Florida State, 23 against Purdue, and 12 against Georgetown. Last year he was second on the team behind Skeen in scoring (14.3 ppg) and rebounds per game (6.3 rpg). The 6-foot-6 senior can play in the post but is a tremendous 3-point shooter as well. Last year Burgess knocked down an incredible 43.4 percent of his shots from long range.
Much of VCU's success will rely on its sophomore class. As freshmen, most of these players were crucial bench players, but they will now have to step into starting roles. D.J. Haley saw limited action last season but started each of VCU's final nine games including each game of the NCAA tournament. Haley averaged 1.5 rebounds per game and 2.0 points per game last season. The sophomore 7-footer will have to pick up his productivity this season.
Rob Brandenberg was a decent scorer in 2010-11, tallying 4.9 points per game, but needs to become a better scorer this season. Brandenberg has a chance to become a breakout player for the Rams this season. When VCU's top scorer, Brandon Rozell, injured his hand in January, Brandenberg posted two 20-point games and averaged 10.7 over the next eight games.
Juvonte Reddic started 12 games last year and scored 3.5 points per game and should be a starter this season. Darius Theus will take over the starting point guard spot in place of Joey Rodriguez. Last year, Theus was second on the squad in assists with 84.
After redshirting his freshman year, Reco McCarter should make an impact on the boards and be a solid scorer this winter. McCarter was a highly touted recruit coming out of high school in 2010, but it may be difficult for him to fit into the lineup with Burgess in his spot.
Shaka Smart also signed four solid freshmen recruits who all should factor into the team this year. Teddy Okereafor, an ESPN.com three-star recruit, could compete with Theus and Brandenberg for a starting spot.
After losing so many seniors, the upcoming season could be construed as primarily a rebuilding year for the Rams, but, as everyone learned last March, never sleep on VCU. Shaka Smart and Bradford Burgess could have another magical run up their sleeves.