The Robins Center – When I walked into the new Robins Center a couple weeks ago, I was blown away. The Robins Center, which opened in 1972, underwent a $17 million renovation this offseason. The renovation, which won’t be completed until January but is ready for use, is barely recognizable to the old Robins Center. The capacity is about 2,000 seats smaller than its old 9,071 capacity, which should give the arena a better atmosphere, especially considering the seats are a lot closer to the court. Prior to the renovation, the student section was divided into a section of bleachers and an actual section of the arena, but now the two sections are connected. I am not saying the old Robins Center could not get loud, but I expect the atmosphere of a sold-out crowd to be exceptional in the renovated arena. Another reason why the capacity decreased is because of the four 15-by-32 foot video boards installed in each corner of the arena. There is a lot of hype surrounding the modernized arena, and the renovation will both improve the fan experience and give the Spiders a stronger home-court advantage.
The New A-10 – The Atlantic-10 lost four teams – Butler, UNC Charlotte, Temple and Xavier – to other conferences, but are gaining George Mason. With respect to Charlotte, the losses of Xavier and Temple, longtime A-10 stalwarts, and Butler, who made two final four appearances in the past four seasons, will be difficult to make up for. George Mason has a recent final four appearance of its own, but it is not at the same level as those other three teams. From a pessimistic view, these losses are detrimental to the A-10. Losing three marquee names could significantly lessen the national attention toward the A-10 and lower the conference’s RPI, making it difficult to get at-large bids to the NCAA tournament. While these concerns are valid, an optimist will look at what the A-10 has to offer. Three of the five A-10 teams that made the tournament last year – VCU, St. Louis and La Salle – are still in the conference and will be strong once again. Other programs, such as Massachusetts, St. Joseph’s, Dayton, and the Spiders, have potential to be good teams as well. The loss of these elite teams could open the door for some of these other teams to prove their worth and make a more legitimate run at a conference title or an at-large bid.
Who will replace Brothers? – Richmond needs someone to replace Darien Brothers, the Spiders’ leading scorer a season ago with 14.1 points per game, and I think senior guard Cedrick Lindsay can step into Brothers’ role. Lindsay averaged 12 points per game last year, but ended the season averaging 17 points per game in the final 11 games, including five games with at least 20 points. Lindsay, who was selected to the A-10’s preseason third team, may not be the knock down shooter that Brothers was, but he is an excellent penetrator who can pass and finish in traffic. Richmond head coach Chris Mooney said he thinks Lindsay could be one of the best players in the A-10 and one of the best point guards in the country. Junior guards Wayne Sparrow and Kendall Anthony will be important players in Richmond’s backcourt, but I expect Lindsay to be the player most likely to step into Brothers’ role.
Keys to Richmond making the NCAA Tournament
Depth – Mooney said he thinks this is one of his deepest teams he has had in his nine seasons as Richmond head coach, and he has good reason to think so given the Spiders return eight players who averaged at least 12 minutes per game last season. The Spiders’ depth should allow them to use both big and small lineups depending on matchups and be prepared for whatever injuries the team will face. The depth is certainly there for the Spiders but if the eight returning players and whatever freshmen Mooney puts in his rotation do not play well, the depth will go away. I don’t think the Spiders can make an NCAA tournament appearance riding just six or seven players, but if the eight or nine players can consistently give Mooney good minutes, I think Richmond will be a tough team to beat. A key to the depth will be how well the sophomore class – made up of Terry Allen, Deion Taylor, Trey Davis and Alonzo Nelson-Ododa – can play. One player in this class who will be particularly important is…
Alonzo Nelson-Ododa – The play of the 6’9” forward, who was named to the A-10’s preseason all-defensive team, will help determine how far this team can go. He showed last season how strong he can be defensively, as he had the sixth most blocks in a season by a Richmond player with 69, and he will be the centerpiece of the Spider’s defense this season. There is more uncertainty, however, on Nelson-Ododa’s offensive game. Mooney thinks he has the ability to contribute offensively because he can finish in the paint and he has a good three-point shot for a big forward. Both Lindsay and senior forward Derrick Williams had only good things to say about him in a preseason press conference. If he can be one of the conference’s best forwards, Richmond could make a run at a conference title.
Out-of-conference games – Having a strong out-of-conference schedule is necessary for most teams, especially teams not in a BCS conference, to get an at-large bid. Richmond certainly has that, with games against Minnesota, Wake Forest, Florida, Belmont, North Carolina and potentially Louisville (depending on how Richmond does against North Carolina). But having a difficult schedule isn’t enough. Richmond needs to win some of these games to get an at-large bid. Richmond will be big underdogs in some of these games, such as a road game at Florida and a neutral-court game against North Carolina, but home games against Minnesota and Belmont are winnable matchups. Three of the games – Belmont, Minnesota and North Carolina – are in the first three weeks of the season, so Richmond will have to be prepared from the start, because these early games could dictate the Spiders’ fate in March.
Home Games to circle on your calendar
Belmont – Belmont may not have the same appeal as a power-conference team, but the Bruins have made three straight NCAA tournaments, which is something not a lot of teams can say. Richmond plays the Bruins in its second game of the season on Nov. 11, and a win against a team that has a combined 20 losses in the past three seasons would be a nice resume-worthy win to get early in the season.
Minnesota – In Richmond’s third game of the season, the Spiders welcome Richard Pitino, son of legendary Louisville coach Rick Pitino, and Minnesota to the Robins Center. The Golden Gophers may not have matched their expectations last season, but they still won an NCAA tournament game and beat Indiana and Wisconsin in the regular season. This is the only power-conference team coming to the Robins Center this season.
Dayton/Massachusetts/St. Joeseph’s – Richmond plays these three teams at home in an eight-day stretch in January. All three teams have NCAA tournament hopes and with good reason. This three-game stretch could shape the remainder of the Spider’s season.
VCU – This one is obvious. Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that this is one of Shaka Smart’s best teams he’s had at VCU, the Rams must still be cringing over last year’s loss at the Robins Center, and this will be Richmond’s last home game of the season. Just imagine how crazy this game will be if the Spiders need a marquee win to put itself in position to get an NCAA Tournament bid. Buy your tickets today.