One of the tricky things with a mid major opponent is that all of the sudden you have this great story that the National media hasn't been paying attention to until a week ago. That makes getting to know and understand what makes that team tick a little difficult because it's typically a shallow analysis in a lot of ways.
With that in mind, what better way to find out than someone who follows Richmond all year long. Spider Bandwagon is a Richmond blog and Daniel Bonsall the writer for that blog has done a Q&A exchange with us here at RCT. We answered a few of his questions, he answered a few of ours. Here's the recap and the lowdown on Richmond from Richmond. I continue to get more nervous for this one.
What makes Richmond such a successful Cinderella. You all were the first #15 seed to win, you had some runs in the 80's and then in the late 90's. How are you sneaking up and tormenting teams like Kansas?
That's been maybe my favorite sub-plot to media build-up before this game: Richmond's basketball tradition. Those runs and upsets you mention were several coaches and mostly at least 20 years ago. Until this year, UR had one tournament win (3-seed South Carolina in 1998) since 1991. Much of Richmond's much-hyped giant killer reputation is ancient history and has little-to-no influence on the current squad. I'm not sure how many of the current players would know Johnny Newman if he knocked over their lunch tray.Even personally, I only remember the '98 win, so I can't speak to the earlier teams or upsets, beyond that I'm sick of CBS making jokes about how short Barkley's shorts were. The school's walking a fine line between promoting its basketball tradition and not gettin plugged into the giant-killer, mid-major hole. The school's made major commitments to the hoops program, has formed a real identity, settled into the Atlantic 10 well, and has designs on being Gonzaga East or (don't tell them I said this) Xavier South.As for this year, having two NBA prospects in Kevin Anderson and Justin Harper certainly helps "sneak up" on teams. Opposing coaches also sing a common refrain about how hard it is to prepare for Richmond: it's very tough to replicate in practice the shifting defense and patient, ball-movement offense. Add in short prep times, and the Spiders can really confuse teams.
The matchup zone/switching man defense is so tough to attach because it's never obvious were defensive help is coming from. It seems like someone is always in the passing lane. The hybrid also helps Richmond recover after selling out to cover perimeter shooters. A popular criticism of zone defenses is that the offense can choose whom to attack; the matchup zone limits that vulnerability while still maintaing a zone's flexibility and athletic advantages. Teams that flatten out and insist on running their offense through one player- or even two- struggle against this defense. See the Purdue game back in November.The key to breaking the zone down is patience. Morehead State's only success came when they were able to catch Dan Geriot out in the corner on a rotation and could beat him off dribble, forcing the rest of the defense to collapse to the baseline. Beyond that: just run, don't make it a half-court game.
Harper is a lot of fun to watch. He's very unselfish, really too much so at times. Harper goes through phases where he disappears from games. He's constantly had to work at staying aggressive and creating his offense, sometimes he gets lots in the system. He's a very good passer, can beat most defenders off the dribble, and has legitimate 3-point range. Richmond loves to get Harper the ball in the high post and run off-ball screens on either side. With Richmond's undersized frontline and rebounding problems, Harper's strength on the perimeter is needed to draw out the opposition bigs and create space for Anderson and the corner shooters.
Kevin Smith is the glue to this team. He didn't take over the starting roll until mid-season when Francis Martel missed a week with a sprained ankle, but he makes the defense really click and provides much needed rebounding help. The perimeter players to watch out for are Geriot (very good catch and shoot from beyond the arc) and Darien Brothers.The sophomore Brothers averages under 8 pts per game, but has come up with several key hoops in the tournament as teams sag off him to stalk Anderson. The real sixth man to watch is back-up point guard Cedrick Lindsay. Just a freshman, he's had a great tournament and was instrumental in helping to manage Morehead State's pressure and control the tempo. He also might be even better than Anderson in the open court.
Richmond's vulnerable where all non-Big 6 conference teams are most vulnerable: inside. Darrius Garrett is a shot blocker, but he's built like a chop stick and doesn't have a reliable offensive shot. Harper has the height, but is still too light to matchup with strong centers and can't risk foul trouble. Geriot has some size, but not near the athleticism. The only real strength on this team is Derrick Williams, a 6'9" freshman who's every bit of 260 lbs. He, however, has only made a brief cameo in the tournament.On offense, the key is shutting down Harper early. He has a tendency to drift through games if he doesn't get touches and points early. To that end, teams have had a lot of success deploying zones (2-3, 3-2, box-and-one, the more exotic the better) against the Spiders. This team already struggles rebounding, which zones exacerbate, and zones also disrupt their use of the high post.