AROUND THE HORNS BREAKS DOWN VCU’S NON-CONFERENCE SLATE
By Chris Kowalczyk
UNC GREENSBORO (Nov. 12, 2010 – Verizon Wireless Arena)
2009-10 Record: 8-23 (6-12 Southern Conference)
2009-10 RPI: 250
Top returnee to heckle: Kyle Randall, G, So. (9.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg).
Comments: Who says you can’t go home again? This is Head Coach Mike Dement’s second rodeo with UNCG. Back in the early 90’s, Mike Dement led UNCG into Division I play in 1991. Dement eventually directed the Spartans to a 23-6 campaign in 1994-95 and spun that into the SMU job. After nine so-so seasons with the Mustangs, Dement is back in Greensboro.
Unfortunately for him, this trip down memory lane has been a little bit of Nightmare on Elm Street. UNCG is 13-48 the last two seasons its leading returning scorer, Randall, shot .334 from the field. Actually, the Spartans ranked 324th in the nation last year field goal percentage. That’s a lot of bricks.
Fun with facts: Founded in 1891 as the State Normal and Industrial School, UNC Greensboro first began admitting male students in 1963. Currently, the student body is 68 percent female. Sixty-eight percent? Clearly, I went to the wrong college.
PRESEASON NIT: WINTHROP (Nov. 15 or Nov. 16, 2010 – Winston-Salem, N.C.)
2009-10 Record: 19-14 (12-6 Big South)
2009-10 RPI: 173
Top returnee to heckle: Reggie Middleton, G, Jr. (10.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg).
Comments: If you’re a Ram fan, you’ve got to wonder if this is a classic “trap” game. A win over Winthrop advances VCU to a likely matchup with Wake Forest. However, there are plenty of reasons not to overlook the Eagles. Winthrop has a lot of things going for it right now. The Eagles return four of the top five scorers from a team that won the Big South Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament in 2009-10.
This game will also be one of those immovable object, unstoppable force-type games. Winthrop ranked 31st nationally in scoring defense (61.4 ppg) and 26th in field goal percentage defense (.397).
I don’t think you can overlook a roster full of clutch names like this, either. Joey Jerome and Gideon Gamble sound like deejays for HOT 95, while freshman Martaveous Smith absolutely has to go by “Marvelous Martaveous.” I defy you to find a better nickname. If he doesn’t end up in pro wrestling within the next eight years, there is no justice.
Fun with facts: Winthrop has reached the NCAA Tournament 10 times since 1999. Also, actress Andie MacDowell attended the school for two years before dropping out. She later starred in 1999’s Muppets from Space.
PRESEASON NIT: (Nov. 16 or Nov. 17, 2010 – Winston-Salem, N.C.)
2009-10 Record: 20-11 (9-7 ACC)
2009-10 RPI: 31
Top returnee to heckle: C.J. Harris, G, So. (9.9 ppg, 1.8 rpg).
Comments: Despite an NCAA Tournament berth in 2009-10, Wake Forest fired Head Coach Dino Gaudio and replaced him with Colorado Coach Jeff Bzdelik. The Demon Deacons with have four new starters in 2010-11, but Wake is 30-2 in non-conference home games the last four years.
This game would likely have special meaning to senior forward Jamie Skeen, who played two years with the Demon Deacons before transferring to VCU. Additionally, junior Toby Veal once played for Bzdelik at Colorado before he transferred to a junior college.
Fun with facts: Wake Forest used to be known as the Fighting Baptists. Truly terrifying.
2009-10 Record: 14-18 (8-8 MEAC)
2009-10 RPI: 280
Top returnee to heckle: Darrion Pellum, G, Jr. (11.5 ppg, 3.6 rpg).
Comments: No offense to Hampton, but if VCU ends up playing the Pirates, people are going to be angry. That means that either the Rams lost to Winthrop or Wake Forest dropped a home game they should never lose. However, if the latter is true, at least VCU would be playing to punch its ticket to Madison Square Garden.
Traditionally, Hampton is scrappy, defensively-oriented and in love with the idea of beating VCU.
Fun with facts: Booker T. Washington was one of the earliest Hampton University students, and we don’t mean the wrestler.
PRESEASON NIT: TWO OTHER GAMES (Nov. 22-23 or Nov. 24-26)
Comments: If you think I’m writing capsules on every preseason NIT team, you’re nuttier than Saved by the Bell’s Jesse Spano on caffeine pills. I’m so excited…I’m so scared!
If VCU wins two games in Winston-Salem, it will play two games at Madison Square Garden in New York. If the Rams lose one or both games at Wake Forest, VCU could play as many as two home contests.
SOUTH FLORIDA (Dec. 1, 2010 – Tampa, Fla.)
2009-10 Record: 20-13 (9-9 BIG EAST)
2009-10 RPI: 83
Top returnee to heckle: Augustus Gilchrist (13.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg).
Comments: Let by former Arkansas and Kent State Head Coach Stan Heath, South Florida shocked BIG EAST observers last season with wins over UCONN, Pitt and Georgetown on the way to an NIT bid. The Bulls will have to replace NBA Draftee Dominique Jones’ 21 points and six rebounds per night, but still have skilled forwards Augustus Gilchrist and Jarrid Famous (10.4 ppg, 7.5 rpg). Post play, which is a bit of a question mark for VCU, will be critical in this matchup.
Many of the Rams’ longtime fans are familiar with South Florida. The two teams were conference-mates in the Sun Belt and Metro and met 36 times from 1980-97. VCU owns a 25-11 record in this series
Fun with facts: South Florida alums include current VCU President Michael Rao, Tony LaRussa, model Lauren Hutton, comedian Gallagher and…wait for it…Hulk Hogan, who makes a cameo appearance in Muppets from Space.
VMI (Dec. 8, 2010 – Verizon Wireless Arena)
2009-10 Record: 10-19 (5-13 Big South)
2009-10 RPI: 310
Top returnee to heckle: Austin Kenon, G, Sr. (18.4 ppg, 3.5 apg).
Comments: This might be the most fun you have at a basketball game this season. VMI does nothing but run and press and VCU wants nothing more than to… run and press. The Keydets led the nation in scoring last year (88.6 ppg) and ranked last in points allowed (96.5 ppg). That’s not a typo.
I’m dead serious when I say that this is the game I’m looking forward to the most - against a team that had exactly six wins over Division I opponents last year. VMI also returns its top six scorers from 2009-10, so expect statisticians to openly weep.
Fun with facts: VMI became the first school to lead the nation in scoring four straight seasons last year. Seriously, how fun is this going to be? The Keydets also ranked first in 3-pointers (11.6) and third in steals (10.4) per game. By comparison, VCU ranked 35th in scoring (76.0 ppg) an 15th in steals (8.8 spg).
RICHMOND (Dec. 11, 2010 – The Robins Center)
2009-10 Record: 26-9 (13-3 A-10)
2009-10 RPI: 26
Top returnee to heckle: Kevin Anderson, G, Sr. (18.4 ppg)
Comments: VCU fans may want to skip over this paragraph to avoid reading anything positive about the University of Richmond. After their 2010 NCAA run, the Spiders are getting a lot of attention ahead of the 2010-11 season. Jeff Goodman of FoxSports.com tabbed Richmond 21st nationally, Gary Parrish of CBS Sports picked them 26th and Dick Vitale selected the Spiders as his 29th-best squad. Actually, you may have actually heard Vitale make that pick. From Florida. With the doors closed. Into a pillow. Underwater. His voice carries a bit.
Point guard Kevin Anderson may be generously listed at 6-0, but he’s still a beast on the floor. Anderson is 0-3 against VCU in his college career, including last year’s 65-57 VCU victory at the Siegel Center, and the Spiders have dropped six straight to the Rams. Don’t think for a second that Anderson isn’t aware of that fact.
Fun with facts: CollegeHumor.com Co-Founder Josh Abramson is a 2003 Richmond grad. Attempts to have this series named the CollegeHumor.com Bowl have fallen on deaf ears.
TULANE (Dec. 18, 2010 – Verizon Wireless Arena)
2009-10 Record: 8-22 (3-13 Conference USA)
2009-10 RPI: 284
Top returnee to heckle: Kris Richard, G, Jr. (11.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.6 spg)
Comments: This is a rematch of last year’s 78-77 VCU win in New Orleans, a game which marked the arrival of Jamie Skeen.
A once-proud program during its Metro Conference days, Tulane bottomed out last year and finished 8-22. Former Citadel Coach Ed Conroy has been tapped to clean up the mess. Conroy led The Citadel to a 36-29 record over the last two seasons, which is saying something.
Fun with facts: Tulane has produced an impressive number of mediocre NFL quarterbacks. Bubby Brister (I admit that I once owned a Bubby Brister Steelers jacket), Shaun King, J.P. Losman and Patrick Ramsey are all Tulane alums.
UAB (Dec. 21, 2010 – Birmingham, Ala.)
2009-10 Record: 25-9 (11-5 Conference USA)
2009-10 RPI: 48
Top returnee to heckle: Jamarr Sanders, G, Sr. (10.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg)
Comments: UAB, led by excitable coach Mike Davis, has reached the postseason in three straight seasons, including last year’s NIT Quarterfinal berth. Ram fans might also remember the Blazers’ 80-77 NIT victory at the Siegel Center in 2007-08.
With potential road games at Wake Forest, Richmond and UAB, the Rams have no one to blame but themselves if they’re not in a position for an NCAA at-large bid in March. VCU needs quality road victories if it wants to catch the committee’s eye. This game is no exception.
Fun with facts: VCU has never won at UAB’s Bartow Arena in six tries. The Blazers are 250-53 in the building since it opened in 1988-89.
VCU TOURNAMENT: WOFFORD (Dec. 29, 2010 – Verizon Wireless Arena)
2009-10 Record: 26-9 (15-3 Southern Conference)
2009-10 RPI: 73
Top returnee to heckle: Noah Dahlman, Sr., F (16.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg)
Comments: Sure, this game takes place the week of Christmas against a team you pull a Houdini on this one, you might miss one of the best home games of the season. Wofford is kind of like Susan Boyle. On the outside, she looks like the bag lady outside the flea market, until she starts singing.
The Terriers captured the SoCon title last year and came within five points of upsetting Wisconsin in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Terriers also beat Georgia and South Carolina, while losing close games at Pitt and Bradley. Five of Wofford’s six top scorers return in 2010-11.
Fun with facts: Wofford, with an enrollment of about 1,500, is the second smallest Division I school in the country. My high school was bigger. I’m dead serious.
VCU TOURNAMENT (Dec. 30, 2010)
2009-10 Record: 29-5 (13-1 Ivy)
2009-10 RPI: 37
Top returnee to heckle: Chris Wroblewski, Jr. G (8.9 ppg, .454 3pt FG).
Comments: Cornell is coming off the best season in school history, one that included a Sweet 16 berth and a third straight Ivy League championship.
That’s nice and all, but the 2010-11 Big Red are something else entirely. Cornell lost eight lettermen, including four starters, as well as Coach Steve Donahue, who took the Boston College job. Bill Courtney, who was a VCU assistant coach for all of a month last year, and happened to be the subject of my very first Around The Horns feature, has taken over for Donahue.
Fun with facts: The character Andy Bernard from the Office, played by Ed Helms, is a Cornell graduate. So are Robert Atkins, creator of the Atkins Diet, Dick Schaap, Jimmy Smits, Bill Maher, Bill Nye the Science Guy, Christopher Reeve and a gaggle of U.S. senators and judges. Both Ann Coulter and Keith Olberman attended Cornell, although not at the same time, or the universe would have imploded.
NEW HAMPSHIRE (Dec. 30, 2010 – Verizon Wireless Arena)
2009-10 Record: 13-17 (6-10 America East)
2009-10 RPI: 244
Top returnee to heckle: Alvin Abreu Sr., G (14.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg).
Comments: The Wildcats didn’t have a great 2009-10, but they do return their top four scorers, including the 1-2 backcourt punch of Alvin Abreu and Tyrone Conley. That duo combined for 26.1 points and 106 3-pointers last year. They’ll need an improvement on that offensive effort in 2010-11. New Hampshire ranked next to last in the nation in field goal percentage last year (.375).
Fun with facts: According to Wikipedia, New Hampshire offers “themed housing options for students interested in choosing a living environment that best suits their personality.” Great, which way to the happy hour, Sportscenter, Atlantic City road trip dorm?
ESPN BRACKETBUSTERS (Feb. 19, 2010 – TBA)
Comments: BracketBusters is starting to feel a little like Sly Stallone’s career. He jumps out of the gate with a great picture like Rocky then follows up with decent movies like Rocky II and Rambo. Everything is cool. Eventually, he throws out so-so flicks Over the Top, Rambo III and Tango and Cash. You try to remain enthusiastic, but you’re concerned. By the time Rocky V, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot and Oscar hit the theaters, you’re looking for the escape hatch. However, as disenfranchised as you are, you’re still optimistic when you hear about The Expendables.
Basically, that’s how I feel about BracketBusters. It started strong, had a decent middle and then pulled out a 48-hour cross country road trip in 2009, followed by last year’s clunker match-up with Akron. However, as I look ahead to February, I still see plenty of potential in the event. Will this year’s game be an Over the Top, or a Cop Land? We’ll see.
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