“I think we were all down and disappointed,” Chris Mooney, men’s basketball head coach, said about the team’s state following its 84-70 loss at St. Bonaventure University Jan. 8th.
University of Richmond, which was 10-6 overall and 0-1 in the Atlantic 10, had just lost its third game of the previous five. Richmond had also just allowed the most points it had all season to the team picked to finish 12th in the 13-team league. At this point, Belmont University was the only team ranked in the Ratings Percentage Index top 100 that Richmond had beaten.
Richmond’s next opponent was Fordham University, and the team stayed in New York following Wednesday’s loss to prepare for Saturday.
“I think it was good to be together,” Mooney said. “Our practices were really good. I think it was a really valuable time for us.”
Mooney said the team’s best strength was its camaraderie, and the time together in New York, which included a team outing to see a movie the night before the Fordham game, helped build on its strength.
The Spiders beat Fordham, 77-74, in overtime—a huge win, Mooney said—but returned home to begin one of, if not the most difficult stretch of the season. Richmond would face University of Dayton, University of Massachusetts and St. Joseph’s University in the Robins Center over an eight-day stretch.
These three perennial A-10 powers were all ranked at least No. 63 in the RPI and combined to go 33-8 in out-of-conference play. Massachusetts, in particular, was ranked No.13 in the Associated Press poll and No. 5 in the RPI.
“If you didn’t know the names and just had the RPI numbers, it’d be like a Big 10 schedule,” Mooney said. “We knew this would be a really tough stretch.”
The Spiders won all three games in different ways: Excellent foul shooting pushed them past Dayton, superb team defense on Chaz Williams helped them upset UMass, and lights-out three-point shooting led to a 15-point win over St. Joe’s.
“UMass was probably the biggest victory,” Mooney said, “but I think against St. Joe’s, we probably played the best because we played well offensively. I think UMass we played a great game defensively and pretty good offensively, but St. Joe’s I thought we played well at both ends.”
Kendall Anthony, who was recently named A-10 player of the week, has been essential to Richmond’s recent success. He hit the game-winning three-pointer at Fordham and averaged 19.3 points over the last three games.
“He’s improved so much,” Mooney said. “It’s impressive because he was rookie of the year as a freshman, and he’s improved so much.”
The Spiders have received some national buzz following these wins. Joe Lunardi, ESPN’s Bracketology guru, said in an interview on espn.com that Richmond was getting close to competing for an at-large bid, but was not quite there yet.
“It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Richmond play its way a lot more firmly into the conversation,” he said.
“Those things are being said or written, great, but we need to concentrate on ourselves,” Mooney said.
“I feel we certainly have a chance, and we are worthy of being in the discussion,” Mooney said about making the NCAA tournament, “but there’s a lot of games to play.”
In Lunardi’s segment on Richmond, he said there would be opportunities for A-10 teams to improve their resumes, because the league has several strong teams. Given Lunardi’s logic, Richmond is in the middle of a golden opportunity to improve its resume with games at No. 19 St. Louis last night and at VCU this Saturday.
Last night, however, Richmond was blown out at No. 19 St. Louis, 77-57. The Billikens jumped out to a 20-5 lead, and led by double digits for the remainder of the game.
The win extended the Billikins’ (19-2, 6-0) winning streak to 13 games. Their two losses came against No. 14 University of Wisconsin and No. 4 Wichita State University.
The loss makes the VCU game even more important. The Spiders (14-7, 4-2) put themselves in position to compete for an NCAA tournament bid last week, but have little room for error the remainder of the season.
The Rams (16-4, 4-1) have failed to meet their high preseason expectations, despite currently being tied for second in the A-10. Lunardi has VCU as one of the last eight teams to make the tournament, and a loss to Richmond would push the Rams even further on the bubble. This game will be more than just a rivalry; it will have a significant impact on both teams’ tournament chances.
What more could you ask for?