Meet the Atlantic 10: Richmond Preview

Posted In News, The Reading List - By Alan Kelly On Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 With 0 Comments


After a week off to get rested up (we’re especially thinking of your leg, Bryon Allen), the Patriots (9-17, 2-10) return to the Patriot Center court on Wednesday night at 7pm (TV: MASN/SNY; Live Stream: CampusInsiders.com) to take on the Richmond Spiders (18-9, 8-4). The game will be a rematch of last season’s Governor’s Holiday Hoops Classic at the Richmond Coliseum, won in dramatic fashion by a Sherrod Wright buzzer-beating three-pointer. Wright scored a game-high 22 points on just 11 shots in that December 2012 meeting, and Mason could use an encore from the senior guard tomorrow night.

The Patriots and the Spiders met every season (usually twice, sometimes even 3 times) from 1979 until Richmond left the CAA in 2001, but last year’s game was the first meeting since the Spiders’ departure. After a dozen-season gap, the two schools are once again conference mates, and the Spiders will visit the Patriot Center for the first time since January 3, 2001. With the ever-changing conference re-alignment landscape, one has to wonder how long the pairing will last this time.

Continuing our quest to meet all twelve other members of the Atlantic 10, earlier this week I asked Dan (@SpiderBandwagon) of SpiderBandwagon.com to answer some questions about the University of Richmond hoops team.

masonhoops.com: With the recent losses of seniors Cedrick Lindsay (who suffered season-ending knee injuries to both knees) and Derrick Williams (who left the team for personal reasons), the Spiders have had to find a new rotation and a new starting five mid-season. Who’s in the new starting lineup, and can you tell us about each starter’s role on the team?

Dan: Wayne Sparrow and Deion Taylor are the new starters now for the two seniors, joining Alonzo Nelson-Ododa, Trey Davis and Kendall Anthony. Sparrow started a few games early in the year before inconsistency cost him and Anthony finally got a starting job at the 2-guard spot. Anthony has now shifted to the point, and Sparrow is back at the 2. Taylor is filling the power forward slot for Williams, even though Terry Allen was a starter earlier in the year (before being replaced by Trey Davis). The purpose of this starting five is pretty clear: defense. This unit is the best defensive unit the Spiders can put on the floor right now. Terry Allen can come off the bench and play either the small or power forward slot, and ShawnDre Jones is filling the Kendall Anthony instant offense role off the bench. Jones would be a threat to start, except two sub-6′ guards would be a concern, and he’s not quite up to speed defensively. In the GW loss particularly, he lost his man/was slow rotating a few times late in the second half and got burned for superhoops. Nelson-Ododa needs to stay out of foul trouble, as he has no true backup (usually falls to Allen), which is something he’s pretty good at for a shot blocker.

masonhoops.com: Who are the key bench players now, and what do they contribute to the team?

Dan: The key bench player is ShawnDre Jones. He’s the primary beneficiary of the minutes vacated by Lindsay. He’s a better pure jump shooter than Lindsay, really helps spread the floor, and takes some of the scoring burden off of Anthony. Terry Allen is the other figure coming off the bench. He’s big and strong, but has plenty of quickness and skill to create mismatches inside. The Spiders need his rebounding. He had a monster 23-9-3 game against La Salle last Saturday. His production is particularly crucial if Nelson-Ododa gets in foul trouble. Jones and Allen come off the bench but both see nearly starter minutes (20+ a game). Josh Jones is the only other player who sees the floor, and even then it’s only a few minutes to steal an extended rest for a regular or if there’s significant foul trouble. He’s a freshman and it shows.

masonhoops.com: What are the strengths of this Spiders team?

Dan: I don’t want to sound like I’m anti-Lindsay or taking away any credit from his brilliant career – he’s a personal favorite and a great Spider – but without him this is a much better team. Everyone’s game visibly rose immediately after he went down. Davis and Nelson-Ododa are much more aggressive now. The team could get a little passive with Lindsay on the floor, waiting for him to make a decision, bail everyone out, or otherwise take control. Jones is also a better balance to Anthony. Lindsay and Anthony both like the ball in their hands, like to drive and make something happen. Jones is a jump shooter and is better on the kick-out. The team’s spacing has improved. Without Lindsay, and especially when Anthony also isn’t on the floor, the team often plays without a true point guard (or seems to, at least). Everyone can handle the ball, Sparrow often brings the ball up, and once into their half-court set, Mooney loves to play everything through the high post (with Nelson-Ododa or Taylor). As such, it makes it difficult to key on one player defensively and take away an option – which is why Anthony’s production hasn’t suffered so far even though he was the only really proven scorer left.

masonhoops.com: What are the weaknesses of this Spiders team?

Dan: After the attrition it’s pretty clear the weaknesses are depth and experience. This team is currently very thin on both. Of course, I’ve also stopped considering rebounding a weakness for as long as Mooney is the coach, although the team is turrible by any rebounding metric. Mooney’s teams – going back to Air Force – have never been good rebounders. It’s just a fact of life at this point, and seems like it’s just something he (and his system) are willing to concede in favor of floor spacing, reliance on jump shooting, and preventing run-outs. The only hope is that the disparity isn’t too much in any given game. Finally, the team has really struggled from the free thrown line at times this year. Jones and Anthony are solid, generally, but everyone else is weak-to-liability.

masonhoops.com: Are there any key statistics or trends we could watch for on Saturday, that might indicate whether the game is going well or poorly for Richmond?

Dan: Pace. Since Lindsay went out, the Spiders are playing even slower than normal. They just don’t have the horses or the scoring to get into a shootout. Mooney has also done a good job of coaxing the team through situations a little more now that his trusted senior guard is out. Despite Anthony’s experience, he doesn’t have Lindsay’s calming hand or sense of awareness at the point (yet). A lot of things would have to go right for UR to win a game in the 70s.

masonhoops.com: Richmond was picked sixth in the preseason coaches’ poll, and so far, they have exceeded those expectations. The Spiders (18-9, 8-4) are tied for third in the Atlantic 10 and are hovering on the NCAA at-large bubble. Can the now short-handed team still make the NCAA tournament, and if so, how much work do they have to do in Brooklyn to make that happen?

Dan: The equation is simple, I think. If the Spiders can get to 21 wins, in any combination, they’ll have a shot at the tournament. At that point it will come down to what happens elsewhere on the bubble during championship week. So given that, Mason and URI (3/1) are very important road games; then it becomes a question or getting at least one from VCU/Dayton/Brooklyn. A loss to Mason or URI would put pressure on the Spiders to put split the last pair of conference games and make a run in Brooklyn. Do-able, but obviously harder.

masonhoops.com: With their only two seniors gone, the Spiders could return their entire remaining roster for next season. How has that altered expectations for this season, and how much will the extra opportunities and experience for younger players this season benefit Richmond in the future?

Dan: For me at least I’m not sure it’s altered expectations for this season too dramatically. After the team’s failure to notch a marquee non-conference win, the tournament was always going to be an uphill battle. I mentally crossed that possibility off after the Florida loss in early January. To their credit, however, they’ve stayed on the verge and in the conversation thanks to avoiding any RPI-killing losses and a strong start to the conference season. Losing Lindsay certainly hurts down the stretch (and may hurt most in Brooklyn), but the team has grown without him and Williams and remains in the tournament conversation (read: within shot of a 20-win season).

Fairly or not, the last month will only ramp up hope for next season. Should this team squeak into the tournament, or make a splash in the Dayton Invita-, err, NIT, then those expectations will only be compounded. Returning all five starters, let alone the entire rotation, is always special and rare. Additionally, beyond the addition of the freshman class, getting TJ Cline (transfer from Niagra, red-shirting this season) on the court should really help depth-wise. Cline should be much more prepared to contribute starting in November or December than any other addition.

masonhoops.com: What do you think of having George Mason in the A-10 as a regional rival? Are we on the verge of something special with a four-way DC/Virginia competition, or will conference realignment strike again, before lasting rivalries are formed?

Dan: Haven’t you heard? There’s no four-way competition: VCU’s already won everything forever. I think the regional identity is good for the league, and I like Mason as a regional rival. I go back to UR’s CAA days and enjoyed the Mason battles. Plus, you guys are far less annoying than JMU. That being said, there’s little traction for the rivalry outside of Virginia, and all four teams just need to win games. Rivalries and wider attention will take care of itself after that. The demographic reality of UR (how’s that for a PC statement?) will limit, if not outright preclude, in-state rivalries with VCU and GMU. Kids going to UR from California, New York or Ohio just don’t care about Mason much before they step on campus, and have to live with far fewer VCU grads after they leave.

As for realignment, I don’t think it’s done. The Big East will add St. Louis and [blank] within three years. I’m also firmly in the UR-to-the-Big-East camp. I have no idea how realistic that is (20% chance? at best?), but for purely personal reasons I would be all for it. Still, I was a student during UR’s first A10 year, and enjoy the league. I think Davidson is a great and natural addition. I would have no problem with UR staying in a St. Louis/Dayton/VCU/UMass/whomever-less league. The league has more than shown this year that it’s a survivor and strong top to bottom.

masonhoops.com: Thanks, Dan!

RICHMOND SPIDERS FACTS
Institution
Founded: 1830
Type: Private
Endowment: $2.02B
Location: Richmond, VA
Campus: Suburban
Students: 3,400 undergraduates
Men’s Basketball Program
Athletics Budget: $22.0M (2012)
Men’s Basketball Budget: $4.0M (2012)
Began Play: 1913
Joined A-10: 2001
A-10 Championships: 1
NCAA Appearances: 9 (Most recent: 2011)
NCAA Record: 8-9 (.471)
NIT Appearances: 7 (Most recent: 2003)
Head Coach: Chris Mooney
Coaching Tenure: 9th season
Coaching Record: 165-127 (.565)
Arena: Robins Center
Arena Opened: 1972
Arena Capacity: 7,201
Colors: Red and Blue
Mascot: WebstUR
2013-14 Season
Preseason A-10: Picked 6th
Current Record: 18-9 (8-4)
RPI: 49
Pomeroy: 65
Top wins: vs UMass, vs St. Joe’s, vs Dayton, vs Belmont
Bad losses: at Wake Forest
George Mason Series History
Meetings: 50
Record: Richmond leads, 33-17
Current Streak: Mason, 1 win
Most Recently: 12/22/2012, Mason won 67-64

Meet the Atlantic 10: An introduction to each team in George Mason’s new conference
VCUSt. Joe’sUMassURIFordhamGWSLUDaytonDuq.St. BonaRich. – La Salle

About - Alan Kelly is a 2010 and 2013 graduate of George Mason University and a former member of the Patriot Platoon. He had the memorable experience of being in the middle of the college decision process as George Mason's Final Four run unfolded. He currently resides in Northern Virginia.

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