The Richmond Spiders will enter the A-10 Tournament losers of 5 out of its last 6 games. Richmond entered the season with some pretty high hopes but has been unable to finish games in conference play and as a result finds itself with a 7-11 record in A-10 play headed into its match-up with Fordham on Thursday. The Spiders defensive deficiencies are numerous and have been the main culprit for the lack of wins out of Chris Mooney’s bunch but all is not lost; let’s not forget that we have entered “March Madness.” Also, sources tell me that TJ Cline will be playing in Brooklyn.
Richmond fans understand the reality of the situation here. Their team is pretty darn good at getting the ball in the basket and pretty darn bad at stopping its opponents from doing the same. Perhaps losing Alonzo Nelson-Ododa to Pittsburgh via transfer and having to dismiss Josh Jones negatively impacted the Spiders ability to play consistent quality defense more than most people expected. Last season Richmond gave up 95 points per 100 possessions but this season the defense has regressed dramatically. Richmond has allowed 106.9 points per 100 defensive possessions. To put that efficiency statistic into perspective, the Spiders basically went from being one of the top all-around defensive teams in the country to a bottom third defense in a one-year span. But all hope is not lost. If the Spiders can rally the troops and find a way to get some stops on defense, this group has the offensive firepower to make a run in Brooklyn. Let’s play the “IF Game” for a minute:
IF Richmond shoots the ball well, it has a good shot at beating Fordham on Thursday. The Spiders went 2-0 against the Rams this year, thanks in large part to some timely shooting. In the first game at Fordham, Richmond trailed 26-15 after the first 10 minutes. But in the final 10 minutes of the first half, Marshall Wood became Steph Curry and the Spiders outscored the Rams 32-13. Wood finished that game with 29 points and was 7-12 from 3-point range. The second game saw Mr. Dynamic, aka Khwan Fore, make some huge plays late to help the Spiders steal/secure a 71-67 victory at home. Fore is an exceptional athlete and has really come into his own over the past few weeks. His explosiveness off the floor is legit. He has that “quick-twitch” thing going on that you might not be able to explain, but you know it when you see it.
IF Terry Allen gets back to being Terry Allen, Richmond has one of the best players in the conference at its disposal. Terry Allen is a great college basketball player. Since February 14th, 2015, he has scored in double figures in every game except for 2. Allen has been forced to carry yeoman’s workload this season and his legs are most likely feeling it at this point. A nice little break before Thursday’s game could be just what the doctor ordered for the multitalented forward. If Allen plays big, Richmond is tough to stop on the offensive end of the floor.
IF TJ Cline continues to play like a young Dirk Nowitzki, Richmond automatically has a chance to win any game it plays. Cline has been incredible over the past 5 weeks of this season. His lowest point total since January 31st has been 13 points. In that span he has averaged 22 points per game. He is an efficient scorer and probably the best passer as far as bigs go in the conference. When teams go zone against Richmond, Cline can dictate the offense out of the high post with his uncanny ability to find his teammates in open spots or he just moves the ball quickly, causing the defense to have to scramble. Cline has been sensational as of late for Richmond and in March one great player can lead his team to unforeseen victories if his teammates are able to raise their level of play to help the superstar do his thing. If Cline can go for 25, 7, and 5; Richmond can win some games.
I know the IF game is about as useful as a screen door on a submarine but it is worth mentioning because crazy things happen this time of year. The real story here is if Richmond can figure out a way to get consistent stops on the defensive end of the court. Richmond’s defensive efficiency numbers are brutal this season; 237th in adjusted defensive efficiency and effective field goal %. Richmond gives up offensive rebounds 31 out of every 100 offensive possessions. It blocks less than 6 shots per 100 offensive possessions, which is 313th in the country according to KenPom. These numbers have crushed the Spiders this year and are the main reason why Richmond finds itself playing in the 8/9 game on Thursday.
Fordham has improved greatly this season under new coach Jeff Neubauer and the Rams play an aggressive 1-3-1 defense at times that can give opponents trouble. The Rams come into the A10 Tournament riding a 4-game winning streak and Freshman Joseph Chartouny has been a revelation this season for Neubauer as he looks to build towards the future. Ryan Rhoomes, Mandell Thomas, and Antwoine Anderson are all solid players who have experience and can beat you with big games as we have seen this year.
Fordham is very good at turning teams over on defense but Richmond is very good at holding on to the ball on offense. In the previous two match-ups this season, the Spiders were +2 in the turnover differential. Turnovers will be crucial once again on Thursday for Richmond as it needs to maximize every possession it gets, especially if its defense isn’t getting consistent stops.
Richmond has to find a way to get a win over Fordham and then things get really interesting it does just that. Dayton will most likely be without the sensational Kendall Pollard for the tournament, if he does play his minutes will be limited, and Richmond gave the Flyers all it wanted just a week ago back at the Robins Center. I had a coach who used to tell us, “If my aunt had balls, she’d be my uncle.” I hated that coach. I like the “If Game.” We’ll see Thursday if the Spiders can win it.