Opponent Preview for 1/5/19: Chattanooga

On Saturday, January 5th the Bucs will face off against rival Chattanooga. The 7-9 Mocs are better than last year, but still probably no better than about 8th in the SoCon, ahead of only Western Carolina and VMI, both of whom they have beaten. They are ranked 289th in D1 by Kenpom. Only 4 of their victories are over D1 teams, the highest ranked being #314 Charlotte. The Bucs, now ranked 92nd with a defensive efficiency ranking of 45th, are favored by 16 points. 

Scoring for Chattanooga is low, 73.1 per game, 9th in Socon 212th in D1 (ahead of only Western Carolina @ 67.6 ppg, 305th in D1). Most stats are commensurate with their ratings – near the bottom of the conference. But they are slightly better than ETSU from 3 (.374 to .353; with 9.0 makes to 8.2 makes) although ETSU defends the 3 better. Everybody except Ramon Villa and Justin Brown shoots 3’s. And all who do hit .341 or better, except for Donovann Toatley with .256. Even 7 footer Thomas Smallwood (a Frenchman with the name and red headed looks of an Englishman) who hits .467 with 0.9 makes. 

They have a somewhat better FT% than the Bucs: 688 to .666.

The only player that we’ve played against before is 6-1 guard David Jean-Baptiste. Everyone else is new to the lineup. 9 guys get at least 10 minutes every game. 6 get 25 to 27 minutes, nobody gets more. 

Front Court:
34 6-6 232 Fr. Kevin Easley; 27.6 minutes, 14.6 ppg on .429 with 1.6 makes from 3, 6.1 rebounds
15 6-8 242 R-So. Ramon Vila; 19.7 minutes, 10.3 ppg, no 3’s, 3.7 rebounds 
1 6-4 200 Jr. Jonathan Scott; 27.7 minutes, 6.7 ppg on .417 from 3, 3.9 rebounds 
33 7-0 241 Sr. Thomas Smallwood; 18.0 minutes, 6.7 ppg on .467 from 3, 5.2 rebounds 
25 6-10 205 R-Fr. Justin Brown; 10.6 minutes, 3.6 ppg, no 3’s, 2.6 rebounds 
22 6-7 211 Fr. Keigan Kerby; 13.4 minutes, 3.0 ppg, 2.6 rebounds 

5 5-9 179 Fr. Donovann Toatley, 26.7 minutes, 11.2 ppg on .256 from 3 with 0.7 makes, 3.6 assists 
2 6-1 220 R-Jr. Jerry Johnson, Jr.; 26.3 minutes, 10.1 ppg on .341 from 3 with 1.6 makes, 3.3 rebounds 
3 6-1 191 R-So. David Jean-Baptiste; 25.7 minutes 9.4 ppg on .407 from 3 with 1.5 makes, 
4 6-0 167 Fr. Maurice Commander; (9 games only), 25.4 minutes, 6.7 ppg on .357 from 3 with 1.1 makes

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Opponent Preview for 1/3/19: Samford

On Thursday, January 3rd the Bucs take on the Samford Bulldogs, the most surprising team in the SoCon, at a solid 11-4, ranked 5th in the SoCon by Kenpom at 160th in D1. This after a 10-22 season last year followed by a mass transfer of players. None of their top 7 scorers returned and their leading returning rebounder is 5-10 Josh Sharkey who averaged 2.1 last year. 

But 7-0 240 Senior USF transfer Ruben Guerrero (15.1 ppg but no 3’s; 8.5 rebounds, 2.1 blocks) and 6-5 200 Alabama transfer Brandon Austin (11.8 ppg on .428 with 2.6 makes from 3 and 4.3 rebounds) have been big time performers. 6-8 200 true freshman Robert Allen, called a “junkyard dog” by Padgett, scores 8.5 ppg mostly from short range and grabs 7.5 rebounds. 5-10 Jr Josh Sharkey has doubled his scoring from 7.3 last year to 14.5 and has found a 3 point shot (.361 with 0.9 makes up from .173 last year) to go with his 2.86 steals. 

Samford took #75 Belmont to OT in Birmingham, came within 13 of #11 Tennessee in Knoxville and gave #99 UNCG (without Dickey) all they could handle being tied at 75-75 with about a minute left, also in Birmingham. But they almost got whipped at home by non D1 Miles in a schedule that has been fairly weak. Highest ranked D1 wins have been over #139 Jacksonville St at home, #197 Purdue Fort Wayne on the road and #256 Morehead St in OT at home. Conference will be a tougher challenge for the Bulldogs. Once they get tested in the SoCon they could wind up looking better than we think they are now. Or not so good. 

3 pt percentage is a fine .392 (22nd in D1), but with only 7.2 makes (222nd in D1). Shooters are Austin (.436 with 2.6 makes), Kevion Nolan (.538 with 1.9 makes), and Sharkey (.361 with 0.9 makes).

Rebounding margin is +3.0 with 7-0 240 Senior USF transfer Ruben Guerrero snatching 8.5 (to go with 15.1 points), and 6-8 200 true freshman Robert Allen getting 7.6. 

Junior Josh Sharkey is 8th in D1 with 2.86 steals. Turnover margin is a weak -1.3.

FG% defense is a strong .388 (37th in D1) with shot blockers Guerrero (2.1) and Allen (0.8) patrolling the middle

Rotation is heavily dependent on 6 guys: 4 get 29 to 33 minutes (Guerrero, Allen, Brandon Austin and Josh Sharkey). JUCO Jr G Myron Gordon gets 26 and Soph G Kevion Nolan gets 21. Others get 11 minutes (Fr G Deandre Thomas and Fr F Logan Dye) or less with very limited production. 

The ETSU bigs should get a more physical challenge from Guerrero (a fine low post scorer and rebounder) and “Junkyard Dog” Allen than from Furman. Sharkey is still about the quickest guy in the league, although he got schooled by Isaiah Miller – but Daivien shouldn’t try to make it a 1 on 1 matchup. They did play UNCG very tough at home, leading 48-36 at half, and being tied at 75-75 at the end. Kenpom has us a 9 point favorite, 73-64. 

This should be a fun game, and a challenge. ETSU needs to play the kind of consistent 40 minute game we did against Furman. It would be great if they could get the kind of fan support that they got against Furman. Take care of business. 

Samford Guards:
#0 6-5 200 R-Jr Alabama Transfer Brandon Austin, 29.1 minutes, 11.8 ppg on .436 with 2.6 makes from 3, 4.3 rebounds
#3 5-10 170 Jr Josh Sharkey, 33.6 minutes, 14.5 ppg on .361 with 0.9 makes from 3, 4.1 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 4.7 t.o.’s and 2.86 steals
#4 6-3 180 Jr Myron Gordon, 26.6 minutes, 11.2 ppg on .273 with 0.7 makes from 3, 2.5 rebounds
#1 6-2 170 So Kevion Nolan, 21.5 minutes, 8.7 ppg on .538 with 1.9 makes from 3, 2.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1 t.o., 0.9 steals
#5 6-4 190 Fr Deandre Thomas, 11.6 minutes, 2.9 ppg on .444 from 3 with 0. 6 makes, 1.5 rebounds

Samford Front Court:
#32 7-0 240 R-Sr USF Transfer Ruben Guerrero, 29.3 minutes, 15.1 ppg on .644 FG%, no 3’s, 8.5 rebounds, 2.0 t.o.’s, 2.1 blocks
#21 6-8 200 Fr Robert Allen, 30.7 minutes, 8.5 ppg on .250 with 0.5 makes from 3, 7.6 rebounds, 2.0 t.o.’s, 0.8 blocks
#22 6-8 235 Fr Logan Dye, 10.6 minutes, 3.5 ppg on .571 FG%, no 3’s, 2.1 rebounds, 1.0 t.o.’s
#15 6-7 220 Sr Stefan Lakic, 7.6 minutes, 1.4 ppg, 1.5 rebounds

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Opponent Preview: Stetson

Stetson Hatters

ETSU will be visiting the Edmunds Center on Saturday at 3:15PM to take on Stetson (10-13). The Bucs are on a 1 game losing streak and 1-3 in their last four. Stetson comes in on a 1 game winning streak and also 1-3 in their last four. The Bucs lost to the Hatters in Johnson City 72-70 on Jan. 10

ETSU will be looking to improve after a horrible game on Thursday night against FGCU where they lost 67-43. ETSU shot a season low of 22.7% and scored only 43 points, which was also a season low, against the Eagles. Stetson has only lost one conference game in the Edmunds Center this season and is currently tied for 3rd in the conference standings.

Versus ETSU:  ETSU leads series 10-8.  Last meeting ETSU 70 – Stetson 72 in Johnson City.(2013)

Last Season 9-20
Conference Record 6-12 (8th)
Coach Casey Alexander (Belmont University ’95)
Record At School 19–33 (2 years)
Career Record 19–33 (2 years)

A Quick Look at Stetson

Stetson has shown improvement this season over the last and has been a top 3 conference team for most of the year. They are led by senior guard Adam Pegg and junior guard Chris Perez. Last time the Bucs and Hatters met, Stetson shot 50% from the 3-point line with both Pegg and Perez scoring 17 points and hitting 4 three-point baskets between the two of them. Stetson has been strong at home this season with a 6-4 record in the Edmunds center with only one of those losses being a conference game.

A Quick Look at ETSU

The Bucs are coming off an embarrassing loss Thursday night where they looked completely lost on offense at times and had 13 blocked shots against them and probably about the same amount of dunks against them as well. Stetson has been a thorn in the Bucs side the last few years where they are only 5-5 against them in the last four seasons and that trend may continue on Saturday if the Bucs continue to struggle on offense.

Team Stats

Scoring Offense: ETSU 62.9, Stetson 70.4
Scoring Defense: ETSU 71.7 points allowed, Stetson 74.0
Field Goal%: ETSU 40.7%, Stetson 46.2%
Field Goal% Defense: ETSU 46.2%, Stetson 46.1%
3-Point Field Goal%: ETSU 33.4%, Stetson 33.4%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: ETSU 36.5%, Stetson 33.5%
Rebounding Margin: ETSU -4.9, Stetson +0.6
Turnover Margin: ETSU +0.4, Stetson -3.3

For ETSU to Win they will need to try something new on offense. Whatever that was on Thursday it simply did not work. The Bucs must also try to not give up so many easy shots like they against FGCU. In addition to the 2-point buckets, the Bucs must contain Stetson’s shooters as the last time the two teams played Stetson shot 11-22 from the 3-point line. The Bucs showed a lot of signs of frustration Thursday night with a couple of technical fouls in the second half against FGCU, this cannot continue if the Bucs want to win on Saturday.

You can catch the game live on A-sun.TV starting at 3:00PM

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Opponent Preview: Florida Gulf Coast

Florida Gulf Coast

The Bucs will be visiting the Eagles of Florida Gulf Coast (16-8) on Thursday night at 7:00PM. ETSU comes in on a 1 game winning streak and 2-2 in their last four, including an exciting overtime victory against Lipscomb. Florida Gulf Coast comes in on a 4 game winning streak and a 8-3 record in the conference that has them in 1st place.

The Bucs hope to pick up where they left off on Saturday, however ETSU has yet to win back-to-back games this season. Coming off their second highest scoring output of the season against Lipscomb, ETSU will look to continue that kind of pace but it will be difficult as FGCU is allowing only 69 points per game.

Versus ETSU:  ETSU leads series 8-2.  Last meeting ETSU 85 – Florida Gulf Coast 75 in Johnson City.(2013)

Last Season 15-17
Conference Record 8-10 (6th)
Coach Andy Enfield (Johns Hopkins University ’91)
Record At School 31–25 (2 years)
Career Record 31–25 (2 years)

A Quick Look at Florida Gulf Coast

FGCU is led by senior guard Sherwood Brown who is averaging close to 16 points per game and is shooting 41% from behind the 3-point line. The Eagles are currently sitting at the top of the Atlantic Sun standings and are 11-1 on their home court including a 12-point victory over The University of Miami back in November. Miami is currently the 8th ranked team in the nation. The Eagles only home loss was an overtime heartbreaker against Lipscomb 3 weeks ago.

A Quick Look at ETSU

While the Bucs have yet to win back-to-back games this season, they have to feel confident about this game despite FGCU’s current first place position in the standings. ETSU handed FGCU one of their only 3 losses in the conference back in January with a big come from behind victory after being down 19 points in the second half. In addition to that, Senior Jarvis Jones is coming off a career high of 36 points, including the game winning shot, against Lipscomb.

Team Stats

Scoring Offense: ETSU 63.7, Florida Gulf Coast 74.2
Scoring Defense: ETSU 71.9 points allowed, Florida Gulf Coast 69.0
Field Goal%: ETSU 41.6%, Florida Gulf Coast 46.8%
Field Goal% Defense: ETSU 46.2%, Florida Gulf Coast 41.9%
3-Point Field Goal%: ETSU 34.1%, Florida Gulf Coast 35.4%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: ETSU 37.0%, Florida Gulf Coast 31.5%
Rebounding Margin: ETSU -5.2, Florida Gulf Coast +1.8
Turnover Margin: ETSU +0.4, Florida Gulf Coast +0.1

For ETSU to Win they will need to contain FGCU’s leading scorer Sherwood Brown. In addition to containing Brown it is vital that ETSU play tough defense behind the 3-point line. The Eagles torched the Bucs with 14 3-pointers the last time the two teams met, even though ETSU still won the results may be different if they allow that many 3’s on the road against a team that is 11-1 on their home court. The Bucs have struggled on the road this season against the top teams in the conference, with double digit losses to both Mercer and USC-Upstate on the road. ETSU can’t afford to go down big in the first half in this game, like they did in the previous game. The Bucs must come out strong and not have to play from behind if they want a chance to win.

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Opponent Preview: Jacksonville

Jacksonville Dolphins

The Bucs will be hosting the Dolphins of Jacksonville (10-10) on Thursday night at 7:00PM. ETSU comes winning 2 of their last 3 including a 10-point victory at KSU on Saturday. Jacksonville comes in hot with a 3 game winning streak and a 5-2 record in the conference that has them in 2nd place.

ETSU hopes to pick up where they left off on Saturday. The Bucs had their best shooting game of the season against KSU on Saturday. ETSU has struggled at home this year with only winning two games on their home court while Jacksonville has struggled on the road.

Versus ETSU:  ETSU leads series 11-5.  Last meeting ETSU 55 – Jacksonville 61 in Johnson City.(2012)

Last Season 8-22
Conference Record 6-12 (9th)
Coach Cliff Warren (Mount St. Mary’s ’90)
Record At School 110–124 (8 years)
Career Record 110–124 (8 years)

A Quick Look at Jacksonville

After a disappointing season last year Jacksonville has started out strong in conference play. Jacksonville is lead by guards Keith McDougald and Jarvis Haywood. The Dolphins are somewhat hard to figure out as they go blown at home earlier this season to Wofford by 42 points but have been playing very well since starting conference play. Jacksonville puts up very similar stats to ETSU which should make for an evenly matched game.

A Quick Look at ETSU

ETSU is coming off their best shooting output of the season. The Bucs shot 63% from the field and 69% from the 3-point line on Saturday. Both Jarvis Jones and Lester Wilson had strong games, with both combined going 7-8 from the 3-point line. In addition to that, KGC has also played a very important role the last two games.

Team Stats

Scoring Offense: ETSU 59.5, Jacksonville 68.0
Scoring Defense: ETSU 69.5 points allowed, Jacksonville 71.8
Field Goal%: ETSU 40.4%, Jacksonville 41.4%
Field Goal% Defense: ETSU 44.9%, Jacksonville 45.1%
3-Point Field Goal%: ETSU 32.2%, Jacksonville 30.8%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: ETSU 35.6%, Jacksonville 34.5%
Rebounding Margin: ETSU -6.5, Jacksonville -0.4
Turnover Margin: ETSU 0.0, Jacksonville +0.7

For ETSU to Win they will need strong play from their top two scorers Wilson and Jones. It is also vital that KGC and Hunter Harris play well on both sides of the ball. Good shooting and limiting their turnovers is also vital for the Bucs success. This is defiantly a winnable game for ETSU as both teams are fairly evenly matched. A win will put ETSU right back in the mix of things in conference play.

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Opponent Preview: Kennesaw State

kennesaw state
Kennesaw State

The Bucs will be visiting the Owls of Kennesaw State (2-16) on Saturday at 2:30PM. ETSU comes in on a one game losing streak after losing on Thursday night to Mercer 59-78. KSU has dropped their last 3, but they did have an 8-point victory against Mercer at home two weeks ago, a team that outplayed ETSU in all aspects of the game Thursday night.

The Bucs look to get back on track against the current last place team in the A-Sun. KSU won their lone conference home game this year against Mercer. While ETSU is 1-2 on the road in A-Sun conference games this season. ETSU will get a look at where they truly stand in the A-Sun Saturday afternoon against Kennesaw State. If ETSU cannot win this game then the rest of the season may look bleak for the Bucs.

Versus ETSU:  ETSU leads series 13-1.  Last meeting ETSU 64 – Kennesaw State 59 in Kennesaw, GA (2012)

Last Season 3-28
Conference Record 0-18 (10th)
Coach Lewis Preston (VMI ’93)
Record At School 5–44 (2 years)
Career Record 5–44 (2 years)

A Quick Look at Kennesaw State

Kennesaw State is picked last in the A-Sun this season and is currently at the bottom spot with a 1-5 conference record. KSU is lead by Senior forward Markeith Cummings who is averaging 18 points and 4 rebounds per game. Like ETSU they give up around 70 points per game and only score around 60 point per game. Even though KSU has only won two games this season I still expect this to be a tough game for ETSU.

A Quick Look at ETSU

ETSU is coming off their worst played conference game of the season against Mercer. This should be a concern for the Bucs as the lone conference game KSU won this season was against that same Mercer team in the KSU Convocation Center. ETSU is 9-0 against KSU over the last four years and will look to continue that streak.

Team Stats

Scoring Offense: ETSU 58.9, KSU 61.4
Scoring Defense: ETSU 70.1 points allowed, KSU 71.8
Field Goal%: ETSU 39.5%, KSU 41.2%
Field Goal% Defense: ETSU 45.2%, KSU 49.9%
3-Point Field Goal%: ETSU 30.9%, KSU 29.5%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: ETSU 36.7%, KSU 37.2%
Rebounding Margin: ETSU -6.6, KSU -4.9
Turnover Margin: ETSU +0.4, v +0.4

For ETSU to Win they will need to limit their turnovers and have strong play from both Lester Wilson and Jarvis Jones. In addition to that ETSU will need to shoot well from both the field and free throw line, two area’s they struggled with in the Mercer game. The Bucs will also need to play hard on defense especially when defending the 3-point shot. I also think it’s key that ETSU comes out strong in the first 10 minutes, while ETSU has played from behind for most of the season I believe a strong start will help their chances in this game.

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Opponent Preview: Mercer


The Bucs will be visiting the Bears of Mercer (10-8) on Thursday at 7PM. ETSU comes in winners of 2 of their last 3, including a ten-point win against league leader Florida Gulf Coast this past Saturday. Mercer has dropped 2 of their last 3, but will be playing their first game at home since January 2nd where they are unbeaten this year.

The Bucs look to continue to stay on track Thursday night in Macon against pre-season favorite Mercer. ETSU will be tested against a tough Mercer team that usually plays well at home. Mercer has won their lone conference home game this year against Stetson (70 – 64). While ETSU is 1-1 on the road in A-Sun conference games this season.

Versus ETSU:  ETSU leads series 12-3.  Last meeting ETSU 46 – VCU 54 in Macon, GA (2012)

Last Season 27-11
Conference Record 13-5 (2nd)
Coach Bob Hoffman (Oklahoma Baptist ’79)
Record At School 95–77 (5 years)
Career Record 163–154 (10 years)

A Quick Look at Mercer

Mercer the preseason favorites in the A-Sun this season is lead by Senior guard Travis Smith averaging 12 points per game. They are an experienced team led by several upperclassmen and one of the better defensive teams in the league allowing on 57 points per game. Mercer expects to be a tough outing for the Bucs despite being only 10-8 so far this season. The Bears have two big non-conference victories with wins both at Alabama and Florida State earlier in the season.

A Quick Look at ETSU

ETSU is coming off perhaps their biggest win of the season on Saturday night when they beat league leader Florida Gulf Coast 85-75 in Johnson City. The Bucs hope to continue their strong play against Mercer. ETSU’s 85 points in Saturday’s win is the second most of the season and their 52% shooting percentage was also the second highest shooting percentage of the season.

Team Stats

Scoring Offense: ETSU 58.9, Mercer 61.2
Scoring Defense: ETSU 69.6 points allowed, Mercer 56.9
Field Goal%: ETSU 39.3%, Mercer 40.6%
Field Goal% Defense: ETSU 45%, Mercer 39.8%
3-Point Field Goal%: ETSU 30.3%, Mercer 33.3%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: ETSU 36.9%, Mercer 33.4%
Rebounding Margin: ETSU -4.8, Mercer +0.1
Turnover Margin: ETSU +0.4, Mercer +2.1

For ETSU to Win they will need to shoot well from the field. ETSU is 4-1 this year in games where they have shot over 43% from the field. In addition to shooting well the Bucs will also need to control the boards and have a strong defensive effort, especially from the 3-point line.

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Opponent Preview: VCU


Versus ETSU:  VCU leads series 9-0.  Last meeting ETSU 71 – VCU 79 in Richmond (2001)

Last Season 29-7
Conference Record 15-3 (2nd)
Coach Shaka Smart (Kenyon College ’99)
Record At School 94–31 (3 years)
Career Record 94–31 (3 years)

On Wednesday night (7PM ET) the Bucs take on the 10-3 VCU Rams in the Dome. VCU is ranked just outside of the top 25 (26th in Coaches Poll). This VCU team is the highest ranked team to play ETSU inside of the dome since the 1998-1999 season when ETSU hosted two top 25 teams. Michigan State who was ranked 14th at the time and the College of Charleston who came to Johnson City ranked 20th in the nation.

Coming off an enthralling Final Four run, VCU held mixed expectations last year. Four seniors were gone and head coach Shaka Smart had the ninth-youngest team in the country.


If there was ever a validation of a program on the rise and not a one-hit wonder, or fluke, it’s what VCU accomplished. The Rams won the CAA championship, beat Wichita State in the second round of the NCAA tournament, and had a game-winning shot to put them into the Sweet 16 bound off the front rim.It was a wild, havoc-fueled ride. VCU led the country in steals (381) and steals per game (10.6). The 381 steals is the highest single-season total in college basketball the last four seasons. VCU also led the country in opponent turnover rate (27.3), steal percentage (16.0), turnover margin (+6.5), and turnovers forced (17.9 per game).

Think havoc is a fast paced game? The Rams also held 17 opponents to 60 points or less, the highest such total in school history. Success indeed begins at the defensive end. “Briante saved us,” recalls Smart, speaking of freshman guard Briante Weber. “Briante gave us swagger. [Senior] Brad [Burgess] was great, but he was a businessman. Our two 757 guys (Weber and Darius Theus, who hail from Virginia Beach area code 757) brought that attitude, that swagger. We needed it to win.” And when it all ended, VCU announced over the summer that it would join the Atlantic 10 conference, moving out of a CAA it had called home since 1996.

There’s even more good news for a program on the rise. The Rams return 84 percent of their minutes played, 80 percent of their scoring and 85 percent of their rebounding next season. Nobody answered the bell better last year than senior Darius Theus (8.5 ppg, 4.7 apg). Theus was charged with replacing Final Four sparkplug Joey Rodriguez as both a producer and a general. Theus hit the mark, handing out 170 assists, grabbing 71 steals and finishing second in assist-to-turnover ratio in the CAA. The 6-4 Theus is a strong defender and the consummate point guard — he isn’t a scorer but scores in big moments, when the team needs him. In fact, Smart could be heard yelling randomly at VCU practices that “the team equals Darius, Darius equals the team!” Still, his shooting could improve. Theus was 15 of 62 (.24.2) from 3. “He’s not known for his scoring, but he’s a maker of big baskets,” Smart said. “He really asserted himself as a vocal leader. That’s a comforting feeling as a coach, having that, especially from your point guard. He just has to maintain and get better.”

Troy Daniels

Troy Daniels (10.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg) is a deadeye shooter who will stretch a defense — he broke a school record with 94 3s made last year. In fact, 94 of his 112 field goal made were 3s — some very long 3s. The 6-3 senior was 94 of 247 (.381) from behind the arc and 18 of 52 inside. It isn’t surprising Smart frequently calls Daniels the best shooter he’s ever coached, but the scary part is that the coach says if you haven’t seen a VCU practice, you haven’t yet seen Daniels at his best.”When you add up what he can do, he should be the best scorer on the team,” Smart said. “We need him to be more assertive. He has to grow from a confidence standpoint, to take how he plays in practice into the game.”

A pair of sophomores give Smart a dynamic offense/defense duo. Treveon Graham (7.0 ppg, 3.2 rpg) is a pure scorer who can shoot the 3 (26 of 83, .313) but has a big body that guides him through traffic to the rim. The 6-6 Graham shot 120 free throws, second most on the team despite playing less than 17 minutes per game. Graham hit UAB and James Madison for 18 points each in his initial season, and scored 13 points against Drexel in the CAA championship game. For Graham, it’s learning how to best exploit opportunities. “We’ve set ambitious benchmarks for him,” Smart said. “But with Tre it’s not about stats. It’s about productivity because he is a scorer. We’re raising his alertness level, getting a better understanding of how to better take advantage of what a defense gives him.”

Juvonte Reddic

Briante Weber (3.5 ppg, 1.9 apg) is a joy to watch play — high energy doesn’t even begin to describe the 6-3 sophomore, who led the CAA with 77 steals and led the country in steal percentage (7.01) and steals per 40 minutes (4.6). “When he is at his best he is havoc,” Smart said. Weber has more than just defensive gifts with his length and instincts. He posted a freshman-unusual 1.3-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Like Graham, Weber has room to grow. “He has unbelievable potential, but until he falls in love with the game, he’s going to be a role player,” Smart said. “He has to get much more serious about the craft — attempt to master ball handling and shooting.” Smart has an eye-catching big man in Juvonte Reddic (10.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg). The 6-9 junior dominated games last season, showing off an array of moves from baseline to free-throw line. Reddic posted 10 double-doubles and handles the ball well for a man his size. He dropped 28 points on William & Mary by scoring on steal/length-of-court drives, jump hooks, and smooth drop steps.

VCU won its final three regular season games and Reddic led the team in rebounding in all three, posting a 10.3 average. The issue: there were games Reddic disappeared. In five of VCUs seven losses Reddic fell short of double figures. Smart’s job is to instill some rattlesnake in the unflappable Reddic. A name to watch this year is combo guard Rob Brandenberg (9.0 ppg, 2.7 rpg). The 6-2 junior plays high-energy and exciting basketball and was second on the team in assists (65). But he struggled much of the season. There was an eight-game stretch in January where Brandenberg averaged just 4.0 points and it was evident he lost a lot of the swagger that is key to his style of play. Brandenberg shot below average, and off from his freshman season (109 of 308, .354) and just 29 percent from 3 (41 of 140). Brandenberg scored in double figures in four of VCU’s final six games, including 13 against Indiana in the NCAA tournament. “He had the sophomore slump of ‘who am I?’ ” Smart said. “We worked with him and let him know that he can’t become great until he becomes consistently good.”

Fellow junior D.J. Haley (3.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg) stands a full 7-feet tall and is a rock solid 260 pounds, but he can move for a man his size. Haley is a bit of a renaissance man, sporting a full beard, quoting Thoreau, and playing piano. On the court he does everything that allows the stars to be stars — set screens, crash the boards, and distribute the basketball. Haley’s ability to play more than short bursts — he battles asthma — could make him dangerous.

Teddy Okereafor (0.8 ppg, 0.5 apg) played sparingly into the middle of the season but more as March drew near. The 6-4 sophomore played his best game of the season — eight points and two assists in 14 minutes — against Northeastern in the CAA quarterfinals. Okereafor is the primary backup at point guard and played well during the team’s trip to Italy over the summer.

Two 6-8 players, sophomore Jarred Guest (0.9 ppg, 0.6 rpg) and senior David Hinton (0.2 ppg, 0.3 rpg) will battle for frontcourt time. A sure sign that VCUs success is gaining national attention: Smart landed two top 100 recruits in his freshman class. Melvin Johnson, a 6-3 combo guard with silly range, committed in late July. Johnson is a smooth scorer who averaged 20.8 points and knocked down 82 3-point field goals in his senior high school season. ESPN rated him the No. 14 shooting guard in the nation and a four-star recruit. “He can put the ball in the basket at a high rate,” Smart said.

A familiar name is 6-5 wing Jordan Burgess, the younger brother of just-graduated Bradford Burgess. Jordan steps onto campus with a college body and a mean streak that won’t allow him to be intimidated. “He will play but he’s got to go take someone’s minutes,” Smart said. “There is a relentlessness to him.”ESPN rated Burgess a four-star prospect and also the No. 24 small forward in the country. Justin Tuoyo is the third member of the freshman class. The 6-8 Tuoyo has the farthest to go from a strength perspective, but Smart notes “he is a sponge and a quick learner.” Those attributes lend well to a redshirt season.


Shaka Smart

Smart is undaunted by moving to the Atlantic 10. “We could play on Mars and it wouldn’t change our personnel or style of play,” he says. “There’s certainly an element of preparing for a season that will be new and different, but for us it’s giving the players the best understanding of what it takes to win one game, a stretch of games. It takes playing hard, playing smart, and playing as a team.” VCU got a jump on its season with a summer tour of Italy in which the Rams beat four teams by an average of 54.5 points. Smart points to the camaraderie and 10 practices as very important, perhaps more important than the actual games in Italy. “The important thing for us is that we need to get our guys in the right frame of mind where they set aside any personal agenda and focus on the common goal of winning,” he said. Winning isn’t a foreign concept. VCU is one of four programs in the country to post at least 24 wins each of the last six seasons (Kansas, Memphis and BYU are the others). Considering VCU has gone 15-5 over the past 10 seasons against current A-10 teams, the winning appears to be here to stay.

It’s hard to poke holes in VCU: they score often (36th in the nation) and efficiently, and force more turnovers than any other team in the nation. They manhandled FGCU and Stetson, beat Belmont by 10, and lost to no.1 Duke by 9.

Led by Juvonte Reddic, the 6’9″, 235 lb energetic, jumping jack, VCU has 3 more double-digit scorers: Graham, Daniels, and Brandenburg. The 6’4″ Daniels has hit 50-3’s this year at a scary 43% clip.

As in most games this season ETSU will have to play tough defense if they want any chance at all to win this game. The Bucs will also need to find a way to get out of their shooting slump. ETSU is currently 335th in the nation in scoring and 339th in FG%.

This will be the first game of the season with the new lighting rig in the dome.

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