Before the 2017-18 college basketball season, even the most optimistic VCU fan would have admitted the chances of the program extending its streak of NCAA tournament appearances were slim. While Will Wade was able to recover from a lost recruiting class and lead the team to two straight tournament appearances in his first two seasons, the cards seemed stacked against Mike Rhoades. The team’s top two offensive players, JeQuan Lewis and Mo Allie Cox, graduated. The team lost the bulk of its second recruiting class in three years, including two top-100 recruits. One of the team’s top returning players, Samir Doughty, transferred to Auburn and another expected to be a top contributor, Ahmed Hamdy, transferred to TCU. Johnny Williams and Justin Tillman were the team’s only seniors and the only two upperclassmen returners on the roster.
However, as the offseason progressed, optimism began to slide in at VCU. The team secured the transfer of Rice point guard Marcus Evans, one of the most highly touted transfers in the country. Issac Vann would be eligible after complying with transfer rules and graduate transfer Khris Lane would offer size to beef up the Rams’ back court. Sophomore De’Riante Jenkins would be healthy for the start of the season and the departure of Doughty would allow sharpshooter Malik Crowfield to spend more time on the court. The Rams began the season well, with preseason All-Atlantic-10 selection Tillman leading the way.
Ten games into the season though, and four of the Rams’ five losses have followed very similar scripts. In losses to Virginia, Marquette, Michigan and Texas, the Rams have remained within touching distance for the duration of the first half, lapsed and spotted their opponents large second half leads before rallying late. In each of these three games, though, and the Rams have not been able to maintain their lead and have been outscored handily in the last four minutes of each game. Had the Rams executed better in the late stages of any of those games, particularly the Michigan and Texas games, the Rams could be sitting with a 7-3 record and two quality non-conference wins on their resume. As it stands now, though, VCU has a record of 5-5 with its best win coming against Old Dominion of Conference USA and five top-100 losses. The relative weakness of the A-10 this season means the Rams will not have many chances to boost their resume with eye-catching victories and VCU’s only hope of returning to the NCAA Tournament in March is to win the A-10 Tournament, a feat is has managed only once since joining the league.