After one of the more eventful offseasons in recent memory, the Keydets enter the 2015-16 campaign with a whole lot of question marks.
Can Dan Earl live up to the legacy of Duggar? Is this a rebuilding year, or will we surpise some teams? How fast will the Keydets play? Will Weethee ever return to his 2012 form? Will Julian Eleby ever amount to anything special? Is QJ more than just a complementary player? How is it that ESPN ranked us 216th out of 351 Division I basketball teams, better than four SoCon schools, yet both the coaches and media thought we would finish no better than last? Are we overlooked, or overrated?
We won't know the answer to these questions for awhile. In the meantime, some good news - VMI inked three early commits last Thursday, and the group has potential.
- Tyler Creammer, 6'10 C (Miller School) - arguably the most intriguing commit, Creammer is a stud on the court and in the classroom, with a 4.5 GPA. He attracted attention from several schools, including Liberty, averaging 10 points and 10 rebounds his junior year. He needs to bulk up a bit, which will come with time, and work on his post play. I can't say that he is the next DJ Covington, but it's a start.
- Will Miller, 6'8 C (Halifax County HS) - ah, yes, more height! Miller, a first-team All-District and All-Conference selection, is a solid post presence. Coach Earl specifically noted his high basketball IQ, passing ability, and lateral movement. Like a Weethee or Chapman, his length will allow him to defend multiple positions, most probably the 3 and 4.
- Drew Rackley, 6'2 G (John Glenn HS [Ohio]) - the only guard of the bunch, and one of the few out-of-state players on the roster, Glenn is a versatile guard who was named his District Player of the Year as a junior, helping John Glenn win two state titles. He averaged 21 points and 7 rebounds last season. Given how stacked we are at the guard position, it's doubtful Rackley will see much playing time in his first two seasons, but we'll take all the depth we can get.
As for tomorrow's game, our probable starters are as follows:
- PG - Julian Eleby. No surprise here. Eleby came on in mid-February after QJ went down to medical hardships. He wowed with a 43 point performance against Western Carolina on the road where he made 8 of 15 three-pointers. While neither of those states is indicative of Julian's true talent, he still managed to average 11 points and 4.5 rebounds while shooting 36.8% from the floor.
- SG - QJ Peterson. QJ is back, but better than ever? Not sure. It appears he has regained composure of himself after what happened last season, where he averaged 19.6 points and 4.9 rebounds in 18 games. Don't let the stats fool, you, though - his 34% FG percentage and 29% mark from three are major red flags. QJ has yet to prove he is more than just a complentary shooting guard. This is the year he needs to show something.
- SG - Tim Marshall. No surprise that Coach Earl will continue the three-guard starting five that we used often under Baucom. Timmy stumbled through November and January before an onslaught of three-point shooting during a week-long stretch in February vaulted his numbers. He finished the year with 11.7 points on 36% shooting, 32% from three. I think he will fit well in Earl's modified up-tempo system, given how he has emphasized shot selection as a priority.
- PF - Trey Chapman. Trey has proven over the course of the past year and a half that he belongs in a starting role over Jordan. Though not as strong or as physical, Trey's long wingspan and athletic ability allow him to finish at the rim in a way that Weethee cannot. Defensively, he's solid - nearly a steal per game last season with 3.6 rebounds and 14 blocks. The 3PT and free-throw shooting need some work, though.
- C - Phil Anglade. I should put quotations around the "C", because Phil is by no means a traditional big man. He's listed on the roster as 6'5, and legend has it that his real height is 6'3. But with a 39 1/2-inch vertical leap and 210-lb. frame, Anglade is an absolute monster. He was second in the SoCon only to Justin Tuoyo in blocks per game (2.9), but first in the league in blocks per 40 minutes at 5.02. No one else (save Tuoyo) even came close to that number. Most encouragingly, his personal fouls are down too, from 6.48 per 40 sophomore year to 5.8 per 40 last season. He needs to cut down on the TOs (nearly two per game in 2014-15), and though he has gained a reputation as a laughably bad FT shooter, he ended the last five games shooting 67% from the line, better than his career average of 43%.
Weethee, Iruafemi, and the freshman will be first off the bench, but we aren't too deep this year. The coaching staff snagged three walk-ons - Jack McGarry, Clayton Gardner, and Chase Jones - to help bring the roster to 15 players.
VMI's biggest concern should be on defense, where they allowed opponents to score 47% on FGs. Another alarming stat was that they committed 15 turnovers per game, and shot only 32% from three, the worst in the conference. All those numbers should improve this season, as Earl has preached ball control, shot selection, and a defense-first mentality. Will it change immediately? I doubt it. But he has us on the right track. This year is truly a toss-up, but given how Earl (unlike his predecessor) played four years in college as a starter, he knows the game incredibly well. Can he be the defensive mastermind Keydet fans have always yearned for? All we can do is wait and see....