Richmond Misses Prime Opportunity to Bolster Its Tourney ResumePosted by Lathan Wells on February 19th, 2014
The Atlantic 10 is a league that holds major NCAA Tournament implications in the upcoming weeks. As many as five teams could emerge from this conference, which boasts a solid RPI representation among its top squads and has held its own in the non-conference slate. As the season winds down to its final few weeks, intra-conference match-ups between the league’s bubble teams become that much more important. Richmond , for one, missed out on a key opportunity to stake its claim into NCAA Tournament inclusion on Tuesday night, and the lack of diverse scoring options that led to the Spiders’ 73-65 loss to George Washington may well relegate them to a spot on the outside looking in come tourney time.
In early February, the Spiders lost two of their starters in rapid succession, with bruising power forward Derrick Williams and starting point guard (and the conference’s third-leading scorer) Cedrick Lindsay lost for the season. Williams left due to personal reasons; Lindsay suffered injuries to both knees in a loss to VCU that effectively ended his collegiate career. In their absence, Richmond had admirably carried a 3-1 record into last night’s game, but those wins had come against three teams from the A-10’s lower half of the standings. The team was leaning exceptionally hard on junior Kendall Anthony, who was playing 36.5 minutes and averaging 25.8 points per game replacing Lindsay at the point. The 5’8″ Anthony — a spark plug off the bench who later became Lindsay’s running mate — was never meant to carry this much of an offensive load. He put up 14 points on Tuesday but he was clearly the focal point of GW’s defense and struggled to find many open looks (5-of-12 FG). Future foes undoubtedly took notice of this effective scheme and will also put it to use to slow down the Spiders.
The personnel losses earlier this month also caused Richmond to become vastly depleted in the depth of its rotation. Head coach Chris Mooney already preferred to utilize a short bench, but now his top eight players are even young and very inexperienced. Freshman ShawnDre’ Jones has performed admirably off the bench in making up for some of Lindsay’s backcourt production, logging four straight career-highs in points (including a team-leading 25 last night) since the senior’s injuries. Outside of he and Anthony, though, there isn’t much offensive production, especially in the frontcourt, where the post players have mostly been tasked with rebounding and playing stout defense. In fact, other than Anthony, only three active Spiders are averaging north of six points per contest this year. All of this goes to say that Richmond’s margin for error right now is razor thin. Mooney’s system remains a defensive force (ranking #59 in defensive efficiency), but without more scoring options they can’t hope to keep pace with some of the premier teams in this league.
The Spiders came into Tuesday night’s match-up with a solid RPI (#39) and strength of schedule (#45), with six wins against the RPI top 100. All of those victories came at home, however, and that streak ended with last night’s loss to the Colonials. There is very little time left for Mooney’s team to make a serious push for Selection Sunday, with only Dayton away and VCU at home qualifying as resume-enhancing opportunities. At 17-9 overall and 7-4 in the Atlantic 10, the Spiders have a realistic shot at 20 wins and can lay claim to “good” losses to North Carolina and Florida as feathers in their cap. But the clock is ticking for all the teams on the bubble, and Richmond clearly qualifies as a group in precarious position. The question is whether Mooney’s young players will learn from how admirably they performed against one of the conference’s best teams on Tuesday, or whether the terrible timing of their roster upheaval will ultimately be their undoing this season.