Matchup Zone Continues to Key Richmond’s Run Through A-10

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 25th, 2014

On paper, Richmond, now 4-1 in the Atlantic 10 after a win over St. Joseph’s Saturday, should not be competing with the better teams in the league. The Spiders are a team that is regularly outsized and do not have the same caliber of athletes as many of their opponents, but the reason the Spiders are playing so well is because of their intensity on the defensive end. Chris Mooney’s team boasts one of the best match-up zones in the entire landscape of college basketball, which allows the Spiders to compensate for their athletic and other deficiencies.

Chris Mooney

Chris Mooney presides over one of the best zone defenses in college basketball at Richmond (credit: usatoday.net)

After outclassing nationally-ranked UMass earlier this week, Richmond could have been in for a letdown of sorts on Saturday. Instead, the team came out with an extremely impressive effort defensively. As a team that starts two guards, two wings and just one post player, Richmond is already disadvantaged on the glass before the game even starts. The Spiders aren’t going to match most opponents’ rebounding efforts or their second-chance points, but Mooney expects and seems comfortable with that. Richmond lost the rebounding battle by 10, but still won the game by a 77-62 margin.

The reason for conceding a deficit on the boards is because of what Richmond can do in forcing teams into difficult offensive decisions. For example, a big man may receive the ball in the post to find 5’9” Kendall Anthony guarding him. Instead of a quick and easy two points, an immediate double-team comes from the weak side to force a kickout pass. The zone then resets very quickly, so there aren’t often many wide open looks on the opposite side (a major reason why, despite playing so much zone, Richmond was second in the A-10 in three-point field goal defense at 40 percent coming into Saturday). Perimeter players have trouble driving to the basket, and the amount of time it takes a team to find a decent look bleeds most of the shot clock. Richmond is only allowing 64 points per game (second in the A-10), and can live with the occasional offensive rebound from the other team because it’s so rare that the opponent can come in and dictate exactly what it wants to do.

Richmond’s defensive acumen in the zone also allows for Mooney to offset key losses on his roster. Starting point guard Cedrick Lindsay found himself in early foul trouble against UMass, but the team utilized the match-up zone in keeping speedy Wooden finalist Chaz Williams from getting comfortable with the ball in his hands. Starting center Alonzo Nelson-Ododa picked up three first half fouls against St. Joe’s, taking away the team’s lone shot-blocking presence for most of the contest, but the Hawks’ big men still could not get easy looks around the basket. While the Spiders may not have the length of a team like Syracuse to discourage passing through their zone, it makes up for that deficiency by trotting out terrific on-ball defenders who guard closely without committing many fouls.

There are other reasons why Richmond has become a successful team in a perennially challenging league. The Spiders have talented, veteran guard play, as this year’s edition boasts the poised Lindsay alongside the firecracker Anthony. But it’s obvious that defense is Richmond’s calling card, and the match-up zone is the weapon that seems to most frustrate their opponents. With the way Mooney’s roster is constructed, he has the ideal defensive system to run against those bigger and faster teams. And right now, it’s propelling Richmond through the A-10 slate quite nicely on its search for the school’s first NCAA Tournament bid in three seasons.

Lathan Wells (65 Posts)

A 30-year old unabashed college basketball fan, I currently reside in Richmond, Virginia. I especially enjoy following the ACC and the local teams, VCU and the University of Richmond. I hope to continue my journalistic pursuits in the sports arena full-time in the future, but in the meantime I am really enjoying covering the greatest sport there is for RTC. Follow me on Twitter @prohibitivefav.


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