The strength of the 2014-2015 Rams will be decided by the improvement and contribution of the sophomore class.
The 2013-2014 Rams were supposed to be the phoenix of HAVOC!–risen from the ashes of the 53-78 beat-down at the hands of the Michigan Wolverines. Behind an experienced core and talented supporting cast, VCU quickly soared to #10 in the nation last year before injuries, defections, and regression left the Rams short of the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season.
Buried in the misery of the unexplainable 77-75 loss to #12 Stephen F. Austin last March was a sign of things to come from VCU’s youngest talent. Mo Alie-Cox, Doug Brooks, Jordan Burgess, and JeQuan Lewis combined for 37 points including seven of the Rams’ eight 3-pointers.
Their play wasn’t mistake free. Jordan Burgess missed a pair free-throws down the stretch. JeQuan Lewis missed a crucial free-throw and committed the cardinal sin of fouling a 3-point shooter while leading by four points. Despite the mistakes, the four freshmen played with that unadulterated fearlessness that makes HAVOC! truly special.
Now those fearless freshmen who stepped up big with Melvin Johnson injured, Rob Brandenberg sidelined with foul trouble, Terrance Shannon defected, and Juvonte Reddic in an inexplicable funk, return with a vengeance and a crucial summer of practice.
#12 Mo Alie-Cox
- 6-foot-6, 250 pounds
- 3.3 PPG (52.5 EFG%), 3.6 RPG, 1.4 BPG
He recorded the team’s highest offensive rating at 114.7. His 10.3% block percentage was the best at VCU since Larry Sanders in 2009, but some of that efficiency was the result of being limited to 14.4 minutes per game and an ability to immediately impact a game.
VCU will get a front court boost from senior Jarred Guest and freshmen Justin Tillman and Michael Gilmore, but Alie-Cox and redshirt freshman Antravious Simmons are the only players with enough size to consistently play the 5 for VCU.
Mo Alie-Cox is undoubtedly capable of stuffing the stat sheet, he’s a big man version of Briante Weber, but his ability to impact the game in ways that don’t show up in the box score is more important to replacing Juvonte Reddic. That being said, I still look forward to block-inspired chants of “Mo Says No!”
#5 Doug Brooks
- 6-foot-3, 180 pounds
No player in the Coach Smart era has been as capable of immediately and fearlessly impacting a game as Doug Brooks. Whether he had it or not, he shot like he had Troy Daniel’s flashing green light, dove on the ground like he thought he was Briante Weber, and found ways to impact even when he had no idea what he was doing out there.
Brooks looked lost at times, but was always able to compensate by doing everything harder. Period. Now he’ll return with an offseason under his belt and hopefully that energy will mix with some knowledge to create something even more fearsome.
Putting his stats in this preview would be a serious injustice to all that is Doug Brooks. There are only two important take aways:
- Doug Brooks will play more minutes this season than last. Regardless of who you cheer for, this is a win for entertainment value in college basketball.
- At some point this season, Briante Weber and Doug Brooks are going to be on the court at the same time. I already feel bad for the opposing point guard. Seriously, these guys are so all over the place that it feels like The Prestige when Christian Bale has a twin but no one knows it.2
#20 Jordan Burgess
- 6-foot-5, 215 pounds
- 21.6 MPG, 4.9 PPG (38.7 EFG%), 2.6 RPG, 1 APG, 0.9 SPG
Jordan Burgess had an up-and-down freshman campaign. He started 19 games and showed an ability to impact every dimension of the game, but his offense was lackluster, and he put too much pressure on himself to live up to the legacy of his brother Bradford Burgess. He started the season 6-of-28 from the field before spraining his knee in Puerto Rico and missing four games. He was forced to play in a clunky brace for most of the season. He also had an injured left hand that required surgery, but he refused to tell the coaches it hurt, and he delayed the surgery until the offseason.
Burgess finished the season averaging 4.9 PPG, 2.6 RPG, and 1 APG in 21 MPG. He was abysmal from 2-point range where he finished 24-of-85 (.282) but was promising from beyond the arc where he finished 26-of-78 (.333). His offensive struggles were a concern, which is why his 14-point outburst against SFA was so promising.
Burgess will never need to fill up the bucket like his older brother or Treveon Graham because of his ability to contribute in other ways, but his ability to knock down 3-pointers this season will be invaluable. With slashers like Lewis and Jonathan Williams, an offseason of healing, and a sophomore leap, Jordan Burgess should be able to finish north of 40% from 3-point range while maintaining his do-it-all role.
#14 Torey Burston
- 5-foot-8, 165 pounds
With Emerson Burk no longer on the VCU roster, Torey Burston is the Rams’ lone walk-on warrior. He only played 18 minutes last season and was limited to the position of victory cigar, but walk-ons are the late game, chant inspiring, entertainment in blowouts that keeps the Stu interesting during the final ticks of the scoreboard. Hopefully he’ll get plenty of opportunities to celebrate 20 point leads on the hardwood this season.
#1 JeQuan Lewis
- 6-foot-1, 175 pounds
- 16.1 MPG, 5.9 PPG (50.3 EFG%), 2 APG, 1.8 TOPG, 1.1 SPG,
The best players have a way of being hard on themselves without at all losing confidence. Coach Smart
After the end to last season this will be the challenge for JeQuan Lewis. Lewis scored 13 points against SFA, but missed a game deciding free-throw with 32 seconds remaining in regulation before fouling Desmond Haymond on a made 3-pointer with three ticks left on the clock. Then Lewis missed the game winner. The last time the public saw Lewis, AD Ed McLaughlin was picking him up off the court in San Diego.
Lewis is probably the most talented member of the sophomore class. The suspension of Briante Weber should give him an opportunity to lead the team early in the season, and the graduation of Rob Brandenberg should give him more opportunities off of the ball where he can knock down 3-pointers. But it’s going to keep coming back to his confidence.
If Lewis holds on to all of the characteristics that put him in a position to even have the opportunity to make those mistakes, if he owns the traits that enabled him to be the guy attempting the game-winning 3-pointer, then he will be able to have a highly successful sophomore campaign.
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There’s a ton of buzz surrounding the freshman class, and with good reason, but the strength of the 2014-2015 Rams will be decided by the improvement and contribution of the sophomore class. If they add growth to the fearlessness they showed in San Diego, HAVOC! will be back with a vengeance.
Photos by: Will Weaver
- Mo Alie-Cox and Jordan Burgess were forced to sit the 2012-13 season out after being declared partial qualifiers. They can still maintain four seasons of eligibility. ↩
- Sorry if I just spoiled that for you. You’re welcome for saving you two hours that you can now invest in watching the highlights from this duo. ↩