In the wake of the 2014-15 VCU men’s basketball season ending, the Rams will now have to adjust to life without senior starters Briante Weber and Treveon Graham. Without their production, look no further than sophomore JeQuan Lewis and junior Melvin Johnson to take the reigns when the season tips off next November.
Lewis and Johnson will be the key returners the young Rams will lean on next season for leadership. On the defensive end, redshirt-sophomore forward Mo Alie-Cox and freshman forward Justin Tillman should bring the competitive edge needed to replace Weber.
On the offensive end, Johnson and Lewis will have to provide the spark needed to scare opposing defenses.
Johnson and Lewis, respectively, ranked second and third in scoring for the Rams this past season. Johnson averaged 12.4 points per game and Lewis averaged a modest 8.2.
For the Rams to end their three year streak of early round exits, the play of JeQuan and Melvin will be critical.
Lewis took over the starting point guard role on Feb. 4, after Weber’s season ending injury. Lewis would hold on to that position from there on out. Under the Dickson, Tennessee native, the Rams would finish the season 8-5 without Weber at the helm.
Lewis was prone to turn the ball over in crucial moments of the game, most noticeably in the final minutes of the overtime loss to Ohio State University in the NCAA tournament. In the final four games of the season, though the Rams went 3-1. Lewis’s turnover ratio was almost even at 4:4.
Lewis, known more for his scoring, provides a relentless attack around the basket and always puts himself in position to get a bucket. A bright spot from the free throw line, Lewis shot 80 percent for the season.
For Lewis, the only modification to his game necessary to make this offseason will be his decision making. The 2.7/2.2 assist to turnover ratio a game is not ideal for any point guard in any given system.
The Rams’ main offensive weapon next season will be Johnson. The Bronx, New York native’s smooth shooting stroke is one of the most dangerous in the country. Feared by every team in the Atlantic 10 when on, Johnson has proven to be deadly from behind the three-point arc. His 86 three-pointers on the season puts him at around 2.5 per game.
Although a great shooter, Johnson would also find himself aimlessly standing around the three-point line instead of seeking the ball to create his own shot. His 12.4 points a game will have to be increased, as he is the best offensive weapon on the team. The 16.2 points per game left by Graham is a void Johnson will have to fill.
A gifted offensive weapon, his greatest need for improvement will come on the defensive end, as his three-point misses lead to easy transition baskets for opponents. By limiting the number of transition points, the Rams will be able to force teams to inbounds the basketball and let Havoc prevail.
The future is bright for both Lewis and Johnson being the team leaders next season. For both players, more pressure will be placed on them this offseason unlike any other season. For two players who head coach Shaka Smart says live in the gym, improvement should not only be expected but imperative for both their and the team’s success in the upcoming 2015-16 season.