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A closer look at VCU men's basketball's nine-game nonconference schedule

A closer look at VCU men's basketball's nine-game nonconference schedule

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After reconfiguration necessitated by the NCAA’s two-week delayed start date for the 2020-21 college basketball season, VCU men’s basketball’s nonconference landed Monday. The Rams’ nine-game out-of-conference slate starts on Thanksgiving in The Volunteer Classic in Knoxville, Tenn.

Here’s a glance at each of the Rams’ opponents ahead of Atlantic 10 play:

Nov. 26 vs. Charlotte

Tipoff: 7 p.m.

TV: Tennessee Athletics YouTube

2019-20 record: 16-13, 10-8 C-USA

Starters back: 2 (senior guard Jordan Shepherd, sophomore guard Jahmir Young)

Preseason KenPom.com ranking: 172

The skinny: VCU’s schedule will get started on Thanksgiving as part of a three-team, fill-in multiteam event hosted by Tennessee in Knoxville after the Charleston Classic was erased. VCU, Charlotte and Tennessee will be part of the event — dubbed The Volunteer Classic — playing two games each. Charlotte, coached by Ron Sanchez, a former UVA assistant and associate head coach (2009-18), registered its most overall wins in six years last season and its most wins in conference in 14 years. Jahmir Young led Conference USA freshmen with 12.5 points per game last season. Young also averaged 1.6 steals, helping the 49ers to the 30th best steal percentage in the nation (11.3) in 2018-19, per KenPom.com. The 49ers also added former Steward standout Marvin Cannon this offseason, a transfer from Washington State.

Nov. 27 at Tennessee

Tipoff: 6:30 p.m. TV: ESPN2

2019-20 record: 17-14, 9-9 SEC

Starters back: 4 (senior forward John Fulkerson, senior forward Yves Pons, sophomore guard Josiah-Jordan James, sophomore guard Santiago Vescovi)

Preseason KenPom.com ranking: 19

The skinny: VCU will conclude The Volunteer Classic against the Volunteers, ranked No. 12 in The Associated Press preseason Top 25. Tennessee brings back plenty of experience, including preseason first-team all-SEC pick John Fulkerson and preseason second-team pick Yves Pons. Fulkerson tied for the Volunteers’ scoring lead last season, with 13.7 points per game. Pons, 6-6, led the SEC with 2.4 blocks a game in 2019-20. To the established pieces, coach Rick Barnes added what 247Sports rated the No. 4 recruiting class in the country.

Dec. 2 at

Penn State

Tipoff: TBA TV: TBA

2019-20 record: 21-10, 11-9 Big Ten

Starters back: 5 (senior guard Jamari Wheeler, junior forward Myreon Jones, junior guard Myles Dread, sophomore forward Seth Lundy, senior forward John Harrar)

Preseason KenPom.com ranking: 64

The skinny: Penn State was strong for much of last season, an AP Top 25 team. But the Nittany Lions lost five of their last six. And now gone is forward Lamar Stevens — an all-Big Ten first-team selection who averaged a team-high 17.6 points — as well as coach Pat Chambers, who resigned in October after an investigation into inappropriate conduct. Interim coach Jim Ferry has five players back who started double-digit games last season, though. That includes Jamari Wheeler, who led the Big Ten in steals with 48 last season, and averaged 3.2 assists.

Dec. 5 vs.

Mount St. Mary’s

Tipoff: 2 p.m. TV: ESPN+

2019-20 record: 11-21, 7-11 Northeast

Starters back: 4 (junior guard Damian Chong Qui, senior guard Jalen Gibbs, junior forward Malik Jefferson, junior forward Nana Opuko)

Preseason KenPom.com ranking: 260

The skinny: With the core of last year’s team back, Mount St. Mary’s was picked third in the preseason Northeast Conference poll. The quartet of returning starters is led by Damian Chong Qui, last season’s NEC most improved player. Chong Qui, 5-8 and 155 pounds, averaged 12.9 points and 3.9 assists in 2019-20. Former Hopewell standout Malik Jefferson is another returning starter, who averaged 9.7 points and 7.1 rebounds last year. This matchup is the first of five straight home games for VCU.

Dec. 9 vs. N.C. A&T

Tipoff: 7 p.m. TV: ESPN+

2019-20 record: 17-15, 12-4 MEAC

Starters back: 3 (senior guard Kameron Langley, senior guard Tyler Maye, senior guard Kwe Parker)

Preseason KenPom.com ranking: 287

The skinny: Kameron Langley has the spotlight on the Aggies’ roster — the 6-2, 165-pound guard led the nation with 247 assists last season (8 per game). He’s the MEAC preseason player of the year. North Carolina A&T also has a name familiar to VCU fans: Tyler Maye. Maye played his freshman year at VCU, transferred to Southeastern Community College (West Burlington, Iowa) for his sophomore year, then joined the Aggies. He averaged 9 points last season and is a preseason all-conference third-team selection.

Dec. 12 vs.

Old Dominion

Tipoff: 5 p.m. TV: NBC Sports Network

2019-20 record: 13-19, 9-9 C-USA

Starters back: 4 (senior guard Malik Curry, senior guard Xavier Green, junior guard A.J. Oliver II, junior forward Joe Reece)

Preseason KenPom.com ranking: 101

The skinny: Last season was coach Jeff Jones’ lone losing season at ODU in seven years there. But he has an experienced team back, including each of the top three scorers last season: Malik Curry (13.4 points per game), Xavier Green (12.8 ppg) and A.J. Oliver II (11.3 ppg). Former Trinity Episcopal standout Jason Wade was fourth on the list (10.9 ppg, 2.6 steals per game), but he is out for the year with a torn Achilles. He missed the end of last season due to a January ACL tear.

Dec. 15 vs.

Western Carolina

Tipoff: 7 p.m. TV: ESPN+

2019-20 record: 19-12, 10-8 SoCon

Starters back: 4 (senior guard Mason Faulkner, senior guard Matt Halvorsen, junior guard Kamerson Gibson, sophomore Travion McCray)

Preseason KenPom.com ranking: 203

The skinny: The Catamounts had one of the most prolific offenses around last year, averaging 78.8 points, 17th in the nation. They made 9.7 3-pointers per game, 14th in the country. Leading scorer Mason Faulkner (17.7 points per game) is back, as is Matt Halvorsen, who made 40.2% of his attempts from deep last season (78 of 194). Faulkner had a pair of triple-doubles last year, one of only two players in the country to accomplish that.

Dec. 18 vs. Louisiana

Tipoff: 7 p.m. TV: ESPN+

2019-20 record: 14-19, 8-12 Sun Belt

Starters back: 3 (senior guard Cedric Russell, sophomore guard Mylik Wilson, senior forward Dou Gueye)

Preseason KenPom.com ranking: 160

The skinny: Preseason all-Sun Belt picks Cedric Russell and Mylik Wilson are two of three returning starters for the Ragin’ Cajuns. Wilson is a ballhawk who averaged 2.3 steals in 2019-20, 12th in the country. Russell is Louisiana’s leading returning scorer, with 14.4 points per game last season. The 6-9 Dou Gueye is the third returning starter. Gueye is the team’s leading returning board-getter, with 6.2 rebounds per game last year..

Dec. 22 at LSU

Tipoff: 9 p.m. TV: SEC Network

2019-20 record: 21-10, 12-6 SEC

Starters back: 3 (sophomore forward Trendon Watford, junior guard Javonte Smart, junior forward Darius Days)

Preseason KenPom.com ranking: 37

The skinny: In the second leg of the home-and-home series set in motion by a clause in coach Will Wade’s VCU contract when he was hired by LSU in 2017, VCU will face another strong Tigers team. The Rams knocked off LSU, then ranked No. 23, at home last season. This year’s LSU squad just missed out on the preseason AP Top 25, at No. 26. Wade fortified a strong group of returners — which includes the 6-9 Trendon Watford (13.6 points per game, 7.2 rebounds per game) and point guard Javonte Smart (12.5 ppg, 4.2 assists per game) — with what 247Sports ranked as the sixth-best recruiting class in the country.

wepps@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6442

Twitter: @wayneeppsjr

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