Things have changed for both teams. And when they come together this Saturday, we’ll see a whole new battle.
Photo by Will Weaver
After dismantling Fordham 88-54 Wednesday night in the Siegel Center for its seventh consecutive victory, VCU travels across town to face Richmond Saturday afternoon in Part One of its biggest rivalry of the season. Ram fans tuning in on TV or visiting the ol’ Robins Center will recognize the jerseys and players, but could be shocked by Coach Mooney’s most unique team to date.
Richmond’s defense is noticeably worse than in previous seasons, they compensate for it with an unfamiliar high-octane offense, and they play at a faster tempo than in any of Coach Mooney’s 11 seasons in RVA.
Despite loads of potential, Richmond is off to a pedestrian start, with a loss to JMU and an 0-2 start in the A10 that they’ve turned into a 2-2 record. The problem: they can’t defend anyone.
Richmond’s tricky 2-3 matchup zone has traditionally frustrated opponents from 3-point range while using a center like Alonzo Nelson-Ododa to turn the area around the rim into a no-fly zone. This season, the Spiders are allowing opponents to shoot a jaw-dropping 38.2% from beyond the arc and teams are amassing frequent flyer miles attacking the paint now that Nelson-Ododa, who finished second on Richmond’s all-time block list in only three seasons (!), is a reserve for 14-1 Pittsburgh.
The departure of the streaky and enigmatic Nelson-Ododa forced undersized junior forward Marshall Wood and undersized senior forward Terry Allen into some unfavorable match-ups on defense. VCU’s Justin Tillman could be a handful coming off of a career-high 27 points and his fourth career double-double, and Mo Alie-Cox has been out-muscling opponents and playing at an all-conference level.
Richmond’s undersized front-court has been making up for it’s defense on the other end by punishing teams with impossible offensive match-ups and impeccable spacing.
Richmond boasts the 19th most efficient offense in the country, fueled by the 8th best shooting in the nation. 5-foot-11 ShawnDre’ Jones is doing his best Kendall Anthony impersonation–he’s lightning quick, has a killer jump-shot, and scored 35 points against Fordham on January 10th. He’s 42-of-91 (.462) from 3-point range this season.
His speed is complemented by a suite of long wing/forwards who can hit shots from the perimeter. 6-foot-9 TJ Cline, 6-foot-8 Marshall Wood, and 6-foot-7 Deion Taylor1 are a combined 62-of-154 (.403) from 3-point range. The challenges of defending them will undoubtedly be tougher for VCU with Jordan Burgess sitting out with a broken finger.
Richmond’s greatest asset is 6-foot-8, 240 pound Terry Allen. The potential conference player of the year can use his muscle and length to play over and through players and he has the guard skills to face up and score in a variety of ways. He’s scored in double-figures in every game going back to February 14th, 2015 and is 99-of-175 (.566) from 2-point range, 14-of-37 (.378) from 3-point range, and 82-of-107 (.766) from the free-throw line.
2015-16 has been the second worst statistical defense in Coach Mooney’s eleven seasons at Richmond. But the Spiders are making up for their soft defense with the best offense at Richmond this century. And they are playing quicker than ever before.
The fastest tempo his teams at Richmond have ever played is 65 posessions per game which ranked 238th in 2009. This season, the Spiders are churning out 70.4 possessions per game. It’s weird to say, but buckle-up, Saturday’s game in the Robins Center could be a barn-burner.
Why It Matters
Richmond swept VCU last regular season for the first time since 2001. The Rams got the last say in a 70-67 victory in the A-10 Tournament, but it’s just no fun ceding bragging rights to a cross-town rival–even if it’s just for a few weeks. More importantly, last season’s losses gave 12-6 Richmond a 4-seed and a bye while 12-6 VCU was given a five-seed and was forced to play on Wednesday of the Atlantic 10 Tournament.
The conference battle is equally tense this season. VCU and St. Bonaventure are tied at 4-0 with three teams tied at 3-1 knocking on the door. So far, the Rams have played one of the easiest schedules in the conference. Saturday could be the difference between winning the league and finishing second or getting a bye and being forced to play on Wednesday.
Either way, it promises to be a bitter battle between the slightly new-look Rams and the nearly unrecognizable Spiders.
- Taylor is out indefinitely with a back injury. He’s missed two games this season. ↩