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Handling preseason expecations focus for VCU Rams
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VCU begins the season ranked 15th, and Rams coach Shaka Smart said he hopes his team handles the love better than last season.
BY TIM PEARRELL Richmond Times-Dispatch Richmond Times-Dispatch

VCU begins the season ranked 15th, and Rams coach Shaka Smart said he hopes his team handles the love better than last season.

The Rams were 14th in preseason and rose to 10th before losing two of three games in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament.

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“I thought that the combination of the ranking and people saying good things about us and winning at Virginia in our second game led to a false sense of where we were and how good we were,” Smart said. “And then we went through a humbling experience after that in Puerto Rico. That’s experience all of our returning guys have. It’s something we’ll talk about a lot.

“Those things can certainly affect your mind. We want to take what we call a growth mindset, which says every day we can and will grow from any experience. If we can keep growing and keep getting better and stay humble in terms of what we have to do, I think we can do some good things."

VCU will host No. 9 Virginia on Dec. 6 at the Siegel Center.

“Every year since I’ve been here, there’s been kind of the ups and downs in November and December. We’ve won a lot of games, but there’s been games … we had some adversity and some people kind of jumped off the bandwagon," Smart said. "At that time, those opportunities for growth have sometimes been the best. I wouldn’t be surprised with our schedule if that didn’t happen again this year.”

Early signing period starts

The NCAA early signing period starts Wednesday, and VCU is expected to make it official with L.C. Bird guard Kenny Williams, one of the top shooters in the 20015 recruiting class.

Williams is rated among the top 80 recruits by

The Rams still are waiting on a decision from highly-coveted 6-foot-7 wing Tevin Mack. Rated in the top 60, Mack is down to VCU, Georgia, Connecticut, South Carolina and Clemson.

A pressing affair

The Rams expect to see a fairly unique defense when they open their season Friday against Tennessee in the Veterans Classic at the Naval Academy.

New Volunteers coach Donnie Tyndall combined a zone press with a halfcourt matchup zone during stints at Morehead State and Southern Mississippi.

“Not a lot of people do that,” Smart said. “He’s been really successful with that. … Watching them on tape (in exhibition games), his guys have done a really good job of picking it up in a short time.”

The press usually is a 1-2-2 or 2-2-1, which is different than VCU’s. The matchup sometimes starts with one guard up high.

“You can’t just stand around,” Smart said. “You’ve got to do a good job moving the basketball and attacking different points of the zone. It’s different than what our guys have seen.”

VCU has led the nation in steals per game the past three seasons. Tyndall’s teams at Southern Mississippi, which is being investigated for potential violations during his tenure, were fifth (9.6) and 17th (8.2).

Vols return little experience

VCU isn’t quite sure what to expect personnel-wise. The Volunteers return only four scholarship players from a 24-13 team.

Senior Josh Richardson, who averaged 10.3 points and 19.3 during the NCAA tournament, is being moved to point guard.

“There’s definitely a little bit more of the element of the unknown in a team that is made up of new coaches and a lot of new players,” Smart said.

VCU getting to experience life at Navy

The Rams will get a chance to experience a day in the life of a midshipman as part of the Veterans Classic festivities.

“Hopefully they come away with a couple of things: A renewed appreciation for their own lives and the opportunities they have, but also an appreciation for the military and the sacrifices that people in our military make,” Smart said.

Smart prefers shorter shot clock

VCU assistant coach Mike Morrell grabbed Smart before the Rams left the locker room for the California (Pa.) exhibition last week and asked if Smart wanted to address the experimental 30-second shot clock that was being used.

“I forgot, to be honest with you, because it really has no impact on us,” Smart said. “I think the only difference was we have to play defense for 5 seconds less on the long defensive possessions.”

Smart would like to see a 24-second lock.

“But I’m a little biased with the way we play,” he said. “If you’re able to press and take some time off the clock that way, teams end up only having 12, 14 seconds to execute and run a play.”