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:

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.

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Miami’s Jim Larranaga Uses a New Defense to Turn Things Around

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 22nd, 2014

It’s often said that the best way to measure a coach is to look at how his teams perform relative to its talent level. Miami head coach Jim Larranaga has always been well-regarded by using that method of evaluation, and not that anyone should be surprised, but Larranaga is doing it again with his 2013-14 Hurricanes. Back in October, the ACC media tabbed Miami as the 12th best team in the conference. After a shaky 5-5 start to the season, the Hurricanes have now won five of their last seven games, including a solid 2-2 league mark in that stretch. In fact, Miami now looks like it is well on its way to topping its preseason ranking, and the Hurricanes now also have legitimate hopes of reaching postseason play. Let’s take a closer look at how Larranaga has managed to turn things around.

Jim Larranaga is Using a Stingy Zone Defense and Slower Pace to Make Miami Very Competitive. (Photo: Steve Mitchell / USA TODAY Sports)

Jim Larranaga is Using a Stingy Zone Defense and Slower Pace to Make Miami Very Competitive.
(Photo: Steve Mitchell / USA TODAY Sports)

It was obvious that this was going to be a rebuilding year after losing five seniors along with ACC Player of the Year Shane Larkin from the greatest Hurricanes team ever. And we also knew that with only four returnees from the 2012-13 ACC champions, it would take them a while to figure out how all the pieces would best fit together. The first 10 games of the season got off to a rocky start with an overtime home loss to St. Francis (NY) and closed with another overtime home loss, this time to league bottom-feeder Virginia Tech. It was at that point when Larranaga decided to try a new defensive game plan in switching to a zone. As a coach who had primarily taught man-to-man defense during his long career, the 64-year old decided to call on a couple of his old coaching buddies for some help. Former Pittsburgh head coach Ralph Willard and Syracuse assistant Bernie Fine each spent a day teaching the details of playing a match-up zone to the Miami coaching staff.

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