What to expect: VCU opens the season against Tennessee

Virginia Commonwealth University opens the season against Tennessee Friday night at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

  • What: #15 VCU (0-0, 0-0) vs. Tennessee (0-0, 0-0)
  • Where: Annapolis, MD
  • When: Friday, November 14th at 6:30 PM
  • Watch: CBSSN
  • Listen: Rams Radio

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The Rundown

Four years ago, Virginia Commonwealth University played the #24 Tennessee Volunteers in Madison Square Garden as part of the NIT Preseason Tip-Off. It was a huge moment for VCU. The Rams lost 77-72, but it was another incremental step in the slow rise of a team who would explode in the NCAA Tournament just months later.

Fast forward four years, and the #15 Rams are headlining the biggest game of opening night and it’s at the US Naval Academy three days after Veteran’s Day. Before tip-off, sit back and enjoy that thought.

The Rams are primed for another exciting campaign. They return plenty of experience, add tons of talent, are capable of another top-10 finish in adjusted defensive efficiency, and will likely make a huge leap on the offensive end. On Friday, the Rams will be without Briante Weber (suspension), but JeQuan Lewis has been playing great basketball.

VCU hasn’t lost a season opener since 2005-06, and Friday may be the most important during that stretch. The Rams have a brutal non-conference schedule this season. A victory on Friday will be a confidence boosting springboard into the rest of the season.

The Team

When VCU played UT in 2010, it was the first game after Volunteers’ coach Bruce Pearl received an 8-game suspension, a $1.5 million fine, and a one-year ban from recruiting for a recruiting violation with Aaron Craft.1 It was the beginning of the end for the beloved coach.

His successor Cuonzo Martin struggled for three years to get out from under the shadow of Pearl. Despite winning 39 games in his first two seasons, a petition with 40,000 signatures calling for his firing and the hiring of Pearl made its way around campus. Then something happened. Martin’s Volunteers went off in the 2014 NCAA Tournament.

In the First-Four they beat Iowa in OT, before rocking UMass by 19 points and Mercer by 20 points. In the Sweet 16, the Vols lost a game they should have won by 2 points to Michigan. Tired of feeling like Rodney Dangerfield getting no respect, Martin immediately bolted to California where he wouldn’t have to live in the shadow of Pearl.

Introducing Donnie Tyndall. The former Mississippi State coach is one heckuva an Xs and Os guy, whose teams play 40 minutes of zone defense per game. The Volunteers will use plenty of full-court pressure before falling into an aggressive 2-3 matchup zone.

This is an uncommon style and an uncommon opponent for a season opener. The last time the Rams saw anything like this, was when Eastern Kentucky took them to overtime in the Siegel Center last December.

Unlike EKU, Tyndall spent all season patching together a lineup after theyes! Volunteers lost players to the NBA, graduation, transfers, and withdrawn commitments. The Vols have plenty of long, athletic wings that will thrive in his defense, but UT lacks a true point guard and any interior size. Outside of Josh Richardson and Armani Moore, the Vols have more questions than answers.

Tyndall knows how to rebuild. He led the Morehead State Golden Eagles to a 27-10 record when he took over with only four returning players. Facing HAVOC! in game #1 will be a trial by fire as Tyndall tries to replicate that impressive rebuild. Donnie Tyndall will be successful at UT, but what that means on day one is still unclear.

The Star: #1 Josh Richardson*

10.3 PPG (101-188 2PFG, 34-98 3PFG), 2.9 RPG, 1.5 APG

Richardson (SF, Junior) went off in the 2014 NCAA Tournament. In four games he averaged 19.3 PPG (.617), 3 RPG, 2.9 APG. This season, he will be the Volunteer’s go-to guy. The 6-foot-6 junior will create match-up problems on the perimeter and he is an excellent defender.

Supporting Cast

#0 Kevin Punter* (PG, Junior) • A 6-foot-4, 180-pound transfer from State Fair Community College, Punter will likely start at point guard from day one–which isn’t necessarily a good thing.

#34 Devon Baulkman* (SG, Junior) • Another talented wing who can play four different positions. Scored like crazy at the JUCO level.

#4 Armani Moore* (G/F, Junior) • Moore is the second best returner for the Vols. He is physically comparable to Treveon Graham and both regularly play as undersized fours. This should be an entertaining matchup.

#24 Willie Carmichael III* (C, Freshman) • The frontcourt is a huge weakness for UT. They’ll be forced to rely on undersized freshmen because of the lack of endurance of 6-foot-10, 290-pound Dominic Woodson. In the exhibition game, Mo Alie-Cox scored on a jump hook on the first possession of the game. Expect plenty more on Friday.

#23 Derek Reese (F, Junior) • Reese was limited during his first two campaigns, but the Vols will need his 6-foot-8, 220-pound frame.

#3 Robert Hubbs III (G, Sophomore) • Was a five star recruit out of high school but a shoulder injury derailed his freshman campaign. Isn’t even a likely starter as a sophomore.

#15 Detrick Mostella (G, Freshman)Jumper and a shooter.

#32 Braxton Bonds (PG, Freshman) • Bonds is the only true pass-first point guard on the team. He was committed to Liberty before being recruited as a walk-on for the Volunteers, and he is the nephew of Barry Bonds.

The Prediction

Tennessee’s wings will have a good night but VCU will win by 10 points behind a disruptive full-court press and a strong night by Mo Alie-Cox.

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Tennessee Profile

  • Location: Knoxville, TN
  • Enrollment: 27,000
  • Conference: SEC

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  1. Donnie Tyndall, UT’s new coach, is, ironically, already being investigated for NCAA violations. 
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Aaron Williams

Aaron Williams loves music, basketball (follow @rvaramnews!), family, learning, and barbecue sauce.

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