13. Richmond Spiders
Last Season: Every single season the same conversation comes up with the Richmond Spiders: Is it time to move on from Chris Mooney? And every single season, the answer continues to change faster than the stock market. The last two seasons were no exception by any means. Richmond faithful wanted Mooney gone by the time the 2022 conference play rolled around, and out of nowhere, the sixth-seeded Richmond Spiders stole what should have probably been Davidson’s conference trophy and won a game in the NCAA tournament in which Mooney was rewarded with a contract extension.
Last season was a championship hangover and then some. Tyler Burton and Andre Gustavson were the only returnees from that champion squad’s starting lineup while some role players came back. The rest of the roster was very much all over the place with all the new transfers. Mooney’s Princeton offense is dependent on three things: chemistry, particular personnel, and veteran experience in the system. One could argue the Princeton offense is harder to master than Jay Wright’s “concept” — the concept relies on training your reactionary senses while the Princeton offense has moving parts galore. The experience wasn’t as present, the personnel was there but the chemistry molded by a group that would be together for multiple seasons was absent.
On top of all that, Mooney had heart surgery that called for him to step away from the sidelines for the remainder of 2023. It was remarkable that with this hand they were dealt, Richmond beat down UMass and pushed George Mason to their limit losing by five in this past conference tournament in the second round. Thanks in large part to Burton going god mode, Richmond had a swan song as they now begin the transition into a new era.
They’ve seemingly passed the bumpiest part of the road: Mooney has returned to his post fully healthy, a season begins anew, and now he can begin laying the groundwork for the next era of Richmond basketball as the longest-tenured A-10 coach.
Returnees: Neal Quinn, Isaiah Bigelow, Diji Bailey, Jason Roche, Michael Walz, Aidan Noyes
Out: Tyler Burton, Andre Gustavson, Matt Grace, Andre Weir, Malcolm Dread, Marcus Randolph, Jason Nelson, Isaiah Wilson
In: Jordan King, Delonnie Hunt, Trevor Smith, Mikkel Tyne, Tyler Harris, Collin Tanner, Ryan Soulis
Potential Strengths: The Spider’s backcourt was relatively inexperienced last season after having Jacob Gilyard for five seasons. Mooney brought along Jordan King, formerly of Siena and ETSU, who has surpassed 1,200 career points now entering his graduate season. He was the sixth leading scorer in the Southern Conference last season which should help provide a punch on offense that Richmond needs. Delonnie Hunt transferred in from Wagner after posting career numbers in points (11.1) and steals (1.2), he too will add solid two-way point guard play for Richmond. Jason Nelson was inconsistent in his first season; he started out really well but hit the wall by early January. Lots of ball-handling duties were on his shoulders as a freshman which caused 1.8 turnovers per contest, nor did Nelson shoot very well from the field (36%). But Mooney’s floor general of the future is now gone to the in-state arch-rival of VCU (yikes).
Richmond fans should be excited for the season Neal Quinn could have. He’s one of the tallest players in the conference with a skillset perfect for the Princeton offense. He led the Spiders in assists (2.9) which should be a number that ticks up this season. Quinn will have the ball in his hands a lot more, serving mostly as a stationary passer for guys running off cuts — Mooney’s wing rotation is also perfect for guys to feed off Quinn’s passing. Slashing players like graduate transfer Tyler Harris, Isaiah Bigelow, Jason Roche, Aidan Noyes, and others will certainly be put in those cutting situations or be happy enough to wait for Quinn (or Michael Walz) to back down opposing bigs and kick for open shots.
Mooney has a nice mix of freshmen this season: Collin Tanner is a 6’6” guard who was the No.2 ranked recruit out of North Carolina, Mikkel Tyne was the No.10 guy out of Maryland, and Trevor Smith was the No.5 best prospect out of Virginia. Tyne and Smith, both standing 5’10” and 6’ respectively, are going to see playing time in some interesting roles. Tanner is the most fascinating freshman with his size, resembling an almost exact clone of Burton physically. He could certainly be playing in a more featured role for a freshman by simply feasting off the cutting in the offense and running in transition.
Richmond should rebound from what was a very off-brand season of “okay” defense — finishing 117th in adjusted defense (Kenpom). Adding Tyler Harris is certainly going to help the cause with his track record on defense, Bigelow can switch onto any guard, wing, and select bigs within the conference. Roche and Noyes have length on the wings and Quinn’s size alone will allow for rim protection. They certainly have the personnel to rebound on that side and keep themselves in most games when the ball isn’t finding the bottom of the net.
Potential Weaknesses: While the diverse cast is always a huge component in college basketball, this could be one of Chris Mooney’s most offensively challenged teams in a long time. King, Hunt, and Quinn are going to be doing the majority of the scoring/creating for the Spiders. Outside of those three, most of the Richmond roster doesn’t present a strong reputation for shot creation in isolation situations Most of the rotation needs someone to create for them which could halt the flow of the Princeton offense.
It’s also hard to gauge how much the freshmen will contribute right away — in this modern age of college basketball, the portal is more essential for recruiting than building through high schoolers. The adjustment period takes much longer for them than it would in the past. Between the veterans of King and Hunt for at least the next two seasons, Tyne and Smith will be given limited roles this coming season. Tanner is good but he has one too many wings in front of him, and freshman Ryan Soulis could struggle to see the floor with Quinn and Walz in front of him.
Speaking of point guards, the defense at that position isn’t exactly marveling. King has a negative defensive box score of -1.3 or lower every season — his numbers have only dipped since his freshman season at Siena. Hunt, while coming from a strong defensive program, is also not posting the most favorable defensive numbers but is certainly better on that side than King. Both guys being 6’ or smaller is also not going to be fun when teams begin to exploit the mismatches every time. Mooney will run the risk of them being on the floor in late-game situations for their ball handling, but he’s going to have to find creative solutions to limit them being constantly exposed on that end.
Lastly, three-point shooting was less than average last season. This component of the Princeton offense is critical because one of the main pillars is having deadly accurate three-point shooters. Of the returnees, Jason Roche was the best shooter from range at a 38% clip, with Bigelow at a mere 26% (minimum two attempts per game). Harris has never shot over 30% from three in his career either, Hunt’s percentages from range have also dipped over the years, and Quinn won’t be asked to shoot threes like that. It’s not that they can’t bounce back from this as they’ve added some capable shooters, rather can the shooting get to a place that will propel them to more wins.
Outlook: Chris Mooney is going to find a way to fool everyone and finish in a spot that was well above the preseason projection (It happens every single season). But Mooney is sending a message with the direction of his program: recruiting such touted freshmen in the abundance he did signals that those guys will lay the foundation for the next great team under his guidance. This will likely be a morph of a transition season mixed with an actual competitive drive to make strides back to the top of the A-10, with an emphasis on developing those freshmen I mentioned above.