Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Know Thy Enemy: Who Are the Richmond Spiders?

For the 3rd appearance in a row, the Commodores are being served up as an "upset special." The 5-12 match-up has historically been where 1st round upsets happen. What gets lost, is #5 seeds have an overall record of 86-38 (.697% winning percentage) against 12 seeds. With that said, tn the last 10 tournaments, 5's have won just 57.5% of their first round games against 12's (23-17).

How They Got Here

The Richmond Spiders won the Atlantic 10 Tournament to earn that conference's automatic bid to the Tournament. Winners of 7 straight, and finishing the year with an impressive 26-7 record, the Spiders probably got a raw deal as a 12 (for example, I'm not sure they aren't more deserving of the seeds earned by Georgia, Illinois, Florida State, Marquette or VCU/USC), further strengthening the prognosticators' claims that this is an upset waiting to happen.

The Spiders enter the Tournament with an RPI of 41 according to Realtimepri.com, and have impressive wins this season over teams like Purdue and Temple (both on neutral floors). The Spiders lost just 3 conference games all season, with losses at Temple, and at home to Xavier and Rhode Island. Richmond faced 6 opponents in the Field of 68, amassing a record of 3-4, with wins of Purdue, VCU, and Temple, while losing to Xavier, Temple, Bucknell and Old Dominion. As a point of reference, Vanderbilt squared off against 8 NCAA teams during their 23-10 season, and posted an overall record of 6-6.

The Spiders are coached by Chris Mooney, a 38 year old Princeton graduate (where he was a 4 year starter), with a Division I record of 127-98 (.564). Impressively, Mooney has a conference record of 56-42 (.571) in his 6 years at Richmond, and is considered one of the young "hot" coaches in the game. This will be the Spiders second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. under Mooney. The #7 seed Spiders lost to #10 St. Mary's in the first round of last year's NCAA Tournament.

Richmond's Starting 5

Richmond starts 4 seniors and a sophomore, and according to Kenpom.com's "experience metric" on The Big Lead, the Spiders have the 6th most experienced squad in the field (conversely, Vanderbilt is the 12th "least experienced" team).

Richmond's Guards

Senior point guard Kevin Anderson is one of two "stars" the Spiders have. The 6'0 floor general is averaging 16.2 points and 3.4 rebounds in just under 36 minutes of action this season. During A-10 play, Anderson led the team in minutes (36.6 mpg), was 2nd on the team in scoring (15.6 ppg), assists (3.2 apg), shot attempts (206), and 3 point field goal attempts (74), and finished conference place 3rd on the team in 3pt% (43.2%). Anderson also has a 1.64:1 assist:turnover ratio. Anderson is an excellent guard who doesn't get rattled easily. He's a senior, and he's been in this situation before. Of all the Spiders, Anderson probably creates the biggest match-up problems for Vanderbilt. He's quicker than either Tinsely or Jenkins, meaning we're likely see Taylor matched up with Anderson for a lot of the game. Speedy freshman Kyle Fuller is also likely to defending the Spider senior when he's on the court.

Darien Brothers, 6'3, 200 lbs., is the only underclassmen Coach Mooney starts. On the year, Brothers is good for 8 points and 1.8 rebounds a game. He's a 40% shooter from behind the arc in, and is not someone you want to give too many open looks. Brothers averages just under 23 minutes a contest, and is a solid player. It should be noted that during conference play, his assist to turnover ratio dropped slightly below 1 (13 assists: 14 turnovers). All in all, Brothers is probably the weakest of Mooney's starters. You'll probably see Brad D-ing up Brothers for most of the game, although this is probably a guy Jenkins could handle as well.

Richmond's Front Court

The best player the Spiders have is 6'10 forward, Justin Harper. The 225 lbs. senior is averaging 17.8 points and 7.1 rebounds in 31.5 minutes a game. During conference play, his minutes (33.8), points (20.3), and rebounds (7.3) all ticked up a bit. Harper can score from anywhere on the floor. On the year, he's a 46.4% 3 point shooter, nets 54.3% of his attempts from the floor, and is an 80% free throw shooter. During conference play, his 3pt% dropped ever so slightly to 45.6%, while his FG% and FT% improved (56.5% and 85.9% respectively). If there's one knock on Harper, it's that during conference play, he led the team in turnovers with 34. Still, given on how he touches the ball, 2 turnovers a game isn't a problem that keeps coaches up at night. As we get closer to game-time, a big question will be who draws the defensive assignment of Harper. To me, this seems like a job for Lance. While Goulbourne gives up 2 inches to Harper, he weighs the game, and can defense both on the perimeter and in the post.

6'5 senior Kevin Smith intrigues me. His numbers are pedestrian. He averages just 3.7 points and 4.3 rebounds a game in 27.4 minutes of action. During conference play, his minutes ticked up to just under 30 minutes a ball game. Smith is a 52% shooter from the field, and hit 5-11 3's during conference play. What intrigues me about Smith is his passing: he's 2nd on the team in assists with a 107 (as compared to only 38 turnovers), and leads the team with an assist:turnover ratio of 2.81:1. Relying solely on the stat sheet, Smith looks like Richmond's "glue guy." Smith also led the team in offensive rebounds during conference play with 25. With this in mind, while the smart money might be on Jenkins to guard Smith, it wouldn't surprise me at all to see Tinsely matched-up with Smith as the game goes on.

Rounding out Richmond's starting 5 is 6'9 center, Dan Geriot. The 230 lbs., red-shirt senior is averaging 10 points and 3.8 boards a game in 25 minutes of action. During A-10 play, Geriot was the team's 3rd leading scorer, pouring in 12.1 points a contest. Geriot is the 5th Spider starter to shoot better than 40% from downtown (42.5% overall, 46.7% in A-10). The problem Richmond poses is their big men like to roam the perimeter. While Festus is likely to guard Geriot when the team pays man-to-man, I'm sure the Commodores don't want to see Ezeli too far out on the perimeter.

Richmond's Bench

For all intents and purposes, the Spiders go 8 deep. The bench players of consequence for Coach Mooney are 6'6 junior Francis-Cedric Martel, 6'1 freshman Cedrick Lindsay, and 6'9 junior Darrius Garrett. Martel averages 4.5 points and 3.7 rebounds in 18 minutes of play. Martel is 34.5% from downtown on the season, so he's another guy that the Commodores can't leave open. Lindsay gives the Spiders good minutes off the bench, adding 4.5 points and 1.6 assists in 15 minutes of action. During conference play, Lindsay dished out an impressive 28 assists as compared to just 11 turnovers. Finally, junior Garrett is listed as a 6'9 center. Contributing 1.8 points in 12.3 minutes of play, Garrett's real benefit appears to be on the boards. Averaging 3.8 rebounds a game, Garrett is actually 2nd on the team in offensive rebounds, despite playing a 1/3 of the minutes.

So What? How Do You Play Richmond?

Richmond's line-up can create a lot of problems, especially with the versatility of their big men. The fact that both Harper and Geriot can stick the 3 means the Commodores have to defend each Spider wherever they may be in a half-court set. The only player this is a real problem for is Festus, who is not a good perimeter defender (because frankly, why would he have to be?). Of the 8 Spiders who play significant minutes, Coach Mooney has 6 guys who shot 37.5% or better on the year. That, coupled with the fact that Richmond is the 291st best team in the Nation in terms of offensive rebounds according to Kenpom.com leads to believe our best bet defensively might be an aggressive 2-3 zone. I'm not suggesting Vanderbilt fall back into zone all day, but I do think it might behoove the Commodores to primarily play zone, while utilizing a man-to-man with particular personnel groupings.

Admittedly, the problem with a zone defense is it might allow Richmond to dictate a slower pace of play than I think the Commodores want. Richmond has not lost a game this season when their opponents have scored less than 70 points, and are just 2-5 when they allow 70+ points. As such, the Commodores want to turn this into a track meet of sorts; an up-tempo game favors the Commodores.

Because Vanderbilt doesn't do a particularly good job of forcing turnovers (302nd according to Kenpom.com), rebounding is critically important. Especially against a team that likes to work the shot-clock the way the Spiders do. Richmond is a perfect 14-0 when they grab more rebounds than their opponents, while just 12-7 when getting out-rebounded. While getting more rebounds than Richmond won't guarantee victory, allowing the Spiders to get more boards than Vanderbilt certainly spells trouble.


Anonymous said...

I haven't seen this explained, but maybe someone can clarify. Richmond is an at-large team, so how are they a 12 seed, behind a play-in game for an *11* seed in the same region? Does that make sense to anyone? Weren't the play-in games supposed to be for the last 4 in, and the worst 4?

Seamus O'Toole said...

Richmond got the auto bid by winning the A-10 tourney, but they would have been an at-large otherwise so your point still stands. And no, it does not make sense (to me anyway).

Thursday Should Be a National Holiday said...

Lunardi makes a good point, in a couple of places, as does Eamonn Brennan - that Vandy's good regular season went unrewarded. Not because of our seed, which was appropriate for our resume, but because our opponent was vastly underseeded - effectively downgrading us to a 6-8 or even 10-11 considering Richmond's strong profile.

There is no point in bellyaching about it, but when you put in so much good work over the course of 30 games you like to earn the benefit of playing a poorer team in your first round game. I agree with anonymous above - unbelievable that Richmond draws a lower seed than the play-in teams - any of which I'd rather face.

Hope we win this one and scatter the ghost of the last two tourney appearances. I like the fact that because of the predominate narrative surrounding this match up, it would be considered an upset if we won.

P.S. Watch Lunardi's video team preview of Vandy on ESPN. You can tell he genuinely feels bad that he has to pick against us.

Slimbo said...

Thanks for the KenPom link - I hadn't seen those "other" stats and they're pretty fascinating.

For example, who knew that Vandy ranked 5th among tourney teams (6th in D-1) in Average Height* behind only Illinois, FSU, UNC and UK. Useful? Probably not - but definitely unexpected.

*Minutes-weighted average height using every player that plays at least 10 percent of his team's minutes

AspenVU said...

We're bitching about our seed - better than being mad about being left out. Obviously politics go into all this - how else is UAB even in the tournament, Harvard left out, etc.

If VU shows up and plays well, we will win two games this weekend - if we don't, the season will simply be a good memory. Let's plan on the former.

Bobby O'Shea said...

Note the original post erroneously said Richmond was 3-3 against opponents who are in the NCAA Tournament. Their record is actually 3-4 and includes a loss to Bucknell.