Okay, so maybe you’re dubious about the Spiders’ chances, but here’s why I wouldn’t be so quick to write them off just yet:
1. Darien Brothers. He’s warming up. It’s been a long season for the lone returning starting. After a solid start in the OOC schedule, Brothers has a sub-par 42.2% eFG during A10 play. Rock bottom was achieved in the home two-point loss to GW in which Brothers was 1-10, 0-5 3FG. He appears to be playing his best now with the games dwindling. He’s hit double digits in points in three of the last four, including the 30 he dropped on unwitting Dayton. Brothers needs to maintain his concerted effort to get to the rim and aggressively drive the hoop. The Spiders are a different team when he’s scoring freely.
2. Francis Martel is mad. Did you see that dunk? The fire is burning. He’s ready to let some aggression out for his entire season. Get out of his way. Ninja’s got a few moves and the senior’s going down swinging.
3. No game Saturday. The Spiders have been home since Wednesday’s win against Dayton. They’ve had a chance to calm down after the Senior Day celebrations and get a few extra practice sessions under their belts to tighten up sets and schemes on both ends of the floor. UR will be ready Tuesday. They will also be rested. Normally playing the first round game is a disadvantage. Not so this year for the Spiders. A bye would have left the Spiders without a game for a full 10 days- that’s not rest, that’s rust. As it is, LaSalle is an easy stop-over en route to Atlantic City. UR would still have two days to regroup and prepare for Friday’s opponent. Just tell everyone to pack for the full six days.
4. K-Zero is fearless. The newly minted A10 Rookie of the Year is not going to turn into a wall flower now. He’ll be ready when the lights go on in the tournament to provide the punch and spark UR needs off the bench.
5. LaSalle is a good first-round matchup. The first opponent could’ve been worse (UMass). The Explorers are small and have similar struggles rebounding. Homecourt won’t be an advantage in their small gym with the school on Spring Break. Richmond knows it can beat this team, and in fact should have beaten them by much more than two three weeks ago in Richmond.
6. Matching level of play. The Spiders account for 1/3 of the combined conference wins of Charlotte and GW. Ouch. Turns those decisions around, and UR is the tournament’s 5th seed. As young teams do, this one plays its best against the best. The LaSalle/UR winner gets the Billikens, arguably the top team in the league. A rematch with Temple, looking for payback for the drubbing received at the Robins Center, would be far less appealing. Plus, St. Louis’ deliberate pace matches where the Spiders like to play. They also lack the size and length to really frustrate UR. If Garrett and Williams can stay out of the foul trouble that plagued them in the first matchup, and provide more balanced scoring against SLU’s suffocating defense, the result away from Chaifetz Arena could be very different. Win a couple, get into the weekend, get some confidence, and anything can happen in this year’s A10.
7. Playing well lately, under the radar. Aside from the brain-fart at home against GW after leading the whole way, UR’s only lost @ St. Louis (not ready for primetime) and @ Xavier (closer than the score looks) in the last three weeks. Yet they’re only 16-15, hoping for a CBI invite, and getting zero press in the run up to the tournament.
8. Defensive adjustments by Mooney. Dr. Sweats has unveiled a little zone in the last few games. The different schemes fit the personnel better than their regular switching-man often does, and both worked well against Xavier and Dayton. Mooney has always coached right to the end every season at Richmond. He’s also trying to get the young guys ready for next year. And he’s had six days to work with the team. Look for a new wrinkle or two.
9. Experience of last year. Until Game Over, the King stays the King. The Spiders are kings right now. Everyone except Anthony who will step on the floor this week was there last year.. And I doubt very highly they want to just abdicate the thrown. While most of the minutes from last year may be gone, this team was there. This tournament may be the last best chance for teams to knock the Spiders down a peg before the reloading period is over. As a wise man once said, “You come at the King, you best not miss.”
10. Chris Mooney said it once and then played it on repeat in the Robins Center all weekend: “No one believes in us. No one believes in us. No one believes in us.”
11. Free throws. In close games, the easy ones matter more and tournament games are close games. The Spiders are third in the A10 in free throw percentage (75%) and first in free throws made. Brothers, Anthony and Lindsay are all over 80%. DWill is over 75%. In close games with few possessions (ahem, St. Louis), the easy ones matter yet more. Aggressiveness will pay off for the Spiders.