Richmond came out of nowhere to take 3rd place in the Atlantic 10 after a less-than-impressive non-conference showing. The Spiders turned things around in a hurry when conference play came around, and T.J. Cline and company gave this program a legitimate shot at making the NCAA Tournament. The Spiders were a few points away from beating VCU in the A-10 Tournament semifinals and reaching the championship game. They’d go on to find success in the NIT, and even though last season’s stars T.J. Cline and ShawnDre’ Jones are no longer around, De’Monte Buckingham and a load of fresh faces are looking to surprise once more in the Atlantic 10.
In his 6th year of eligibility, Jordan Madrid-Andrews has had quite the collegiate career. Madrid-Andrews has played basketball at 2 different community colleges, and he played one season with Chicago State. The graduate student was granted a final year of eligibility with the Spiders after suffering injuries in a car crash before the 2016-17 season with Chicago St. Madrid-Andrews has been all over the place in the collegiate basketball world, and Richmond’s hoping they can get a good final year out of him. Averaging 3.6 rebounds per game with the Cougars, he had one of the better offensive and defensive rebounding percentages in the WAC. While he may not be the focal point of Richmond’s frontcourt, he’ll certainly be of help as a rebounder in the paint.
Fore has consistently been one of Richmond’s best scorers, and heading into the 17-18 season, he’ll assume an enormous role. The rising junior has always been effective from the floor throughout his collegiate tenure. Shooting 137-256 (53.5%) from the field last season is incredibly impressive for a guard; as Richmond’s Basketball account pointed out this week, he ranked 2nd nationally in field goal percentage by players under 6’0″.
— Richmond Basketball (@SpiderMBB) October 3, 2017
Fore may not be the tallest player on the floor, but that never stops him from driving the lane and going up against the trees. He’s deadly when he gets into the lane, and subsequently, the rising junior tends to draw a lot of contact. His 38.6% free throw rate ranked 23rd in the conference last year; efficiency from the line should certainly be a focal point for Fore though, as he shot less than 62% from the stripe last season.
A lot of eyes are on De’Monte Buckingham this year (and for good reason), but I think Fore is the X-Factor that keeps the Spiders relevant. If his 2016-17 postseason play is any indication of his success this November, he should have a breakout junior year. Fore shot nearly 60% from 2 and averaged 13 points in the A-10 Tournament and the NIT. It’s nice having a guard that can score at such an efficient rate; even without T.J. Cline in the middle (61.3% 2 pt. FG%), expect the Spiders to be one of the best shooting teams inside the arc.
As a role player off the bench, Julius Johnson showed pockets of potential in his sophomore season. 16 point performances against Duquesne and Davidson helped secure those 2 victories; not to mention, Johnson shot 4/5 from three in each contest. Johnson’s one of those guys who can get hot and make you pay. Get this stat: Julius Johnson was 14/20 (70%) from three point range in the games he scored in double figures (5 times) last season. Otherwise, Johnson was shooting the ball at less than a 20% rate from three last season.
Julius Johnson should see more playing time at the 2 and 3 next season without ShawnDre’ Jones in the mix; he does present plenty of upside in terms of scoring and rebounding. Regardless of his 3 point numbers, Johnson was 55.9% from 2 point range and nearly 80% from the line last season. He secured 2.6 boards in just 22.4 minutes per contest. Also, with the 11th best turnover rate in the conference last year, you can expect Johnson to be efficient with the basketball. Don’t be surprised if you see him take a significant step up this year.
Here’s another interesting case for Chris Mooney’s team. Solly Stansbury joins the Spiders this season as a redshirt junior after sitting out in 2016-17. Stansbury played 3 seasons for a U21 team in Paris, France where he averaged 8.3 points and 4.2 rebounds per contest 2 seasons ago. Again, the Spiders have a lot of new pieces to integrate into their frontcourt. Just how Chris Mooney decides to attack that remains in question. While I expect Golden to play a majority of the Spiders’ frontcourt minutes, guys like Stansbury should see court time as well.
Friendshuh has been very limited in playing time in his first 2 seasons as a Spider. He only appeared in 9 games last year and averaged 0.2 points per game. Without Cline around, there’s a chance we see him enter the game more often, especially in non-conference play, but it’s likely he continues to take a backseat role.
Be on the lookout for Nick Sherod’s emergence in the 2017-18 season; the rising sophomore was extremely efficient with the ball in his hands last season. Not only did he have the 11th best turnover rate in the nation, but Sherod also shot 59.4% from the field as a freshman. The Spiders never had any issues scoring inside the perimeter last season, and Sherod was an emerging reason why. As he’ll likely earn himself a starting spot in Richmond’s season-opener, look for Nick Sherod to become one of UR’s top 4 scorers this season.
As one of the most complete players in the Atlantic 10, De’Monte Buckingham’s game is very similar to that of T.J. Cline. Like the departed senior, sophomore Buckingham seeks to be the Spiders’ most effective player in all facets of the game. In fact, he’s the Spiders’ leading returnee in terms of rebounds, steals, and blocks per game. Buckingham’s offensive numbers were impressive; he played with incredible poise in an A-10 Tournament overtime loss to VCU, dropping 26 points on the Rams. He had similar gutsy performances all season long.
Buckingham’s defense is his most crucial aspect in my opinion. His feistiness on the defensive end of the floor allowed for him to have the 7th best steal percentage in Atlantic 10 play. Not to mention, he was a catalyst for an offensive-oriented team, defending aggressively and helping shut down opposing shooters. Moving forward, Buckingham is going to be the man. On offense, on defense, on the boards — you name it. Look for him to emerge into a T.J. Cline type player this year — mind you, he’s only a sophomore.
Golden had a frightening moment last season, collapsing on the floor against Texas Tech and having to undergo cardiac ablation procedure. Fortunately, the young Spider ended up being OK, and after being granted a medical redshirt for the 2016-17 season, he’s ready for 4 more years with UR. While sample size was fairly low, it’s worth noting that Golden let the Spiders last season with 10.6 rebounds per 40 minutes. In limited non-conference playing time, Golden had an incredibly efficient 25.6% defensive rebounding percentage.
It’s tough to get a good read on Golden this season, but I’d expect him to be Richmond’s second best rebounder (Buckingham should be a monster on the glass his sophomore year). Keep in mind, Golden is a big body that’s now cast into an enormous role after a redshirt season. The Spiders’ frontcourt is rather inexperienced after the departure of T.J. Cline; it might take some time for guys like Golden, Friendshuh, and Madrid-Andrews to get their footing in the post. As this frontcourt develops chemistry, we should see overall improvements though.
The Kansas City, Missouri native comes into Richmond will some big shoes to fill — but maybe not literally. At just 5-9, Gilyard becomes the smallest player on the Spiders’ roster, but he should have no fear: he’s in good company. ShawnDre’ Jones and Khwan Fore have both proven to be effective scorers at just 6’0″. With Jones having graduated, I expect Gilyard to be a similar player: quick, effective, and dynamic. This guy averaged more than 33 points and 7 assists per game in his senior year of high school. Needless to say, he can fill it up in a hurry, and if you’re not quick enough, he’ll blow right by you and get to the basket with ease.
Though he’s listed as a guard, Nathan Cayo could step in and immediately serve as a key piece to the Spiders’ rebounding abilities. Averaging 19.6 points and 9.3 rebounds per game as a junior in high school, Cayo defines what it means to crash the glass. Cayo plays very big for a shooting guard, meaning he’s got a wide range of abilities on both ends of the floor. Effectively driving the lane, Cayo is smooth when finishing through contact, and he’s an underrated passer. Also, you can’t discount his defensive abilities blocking opponents’ shots.
The Florida native is from the same school as walk-on Joe Kirby, so I guess you can say he’s already got a bit of team chemistry down. The Lithuanian forward is a 3 star commit according to ESPN, and like some other emerging frontcourt players, it’s going to be interesting to see how much he’s integrated into the system. Verbinskis has great touch both inside and outside the arc, so expect him to emerge as one of Richmond’s three point shooting threats in the coming seasons.
A three year varsity starter, Bryce Schneider averaged 14.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 4.4 assists per game as a senior in high school. He could be an immediate contributor off the bench for the Spiders in the 2017-18 season. The lefty’s got nice tough from the outside, and he runs the floor well and looks for open teammates.
Phoenix ‘AJ’ Ford
Phoenix Ford is another big body that could add depth to this Richmond frontcourt immediately. At 6’8″ and 210 pounds, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him earn minutes down low in non-conference play. Ford is an absolute force on the inside, ripping rebounds away and getting second chance points. He’s also got the ability to knock down shots from the perimeter. I think Jacob Gilyard is poised to be UR’s best freshman this coming season, but Ford shouldn’t be forgotten, as he could be a sleeper who emerges as a huge contributor.
Home– Delaware, Jacksonville St., Georgetown, Vermont, James Madison, Bucknell
Away– Wake Forest, Old Dominion, Boston College
Neutral– UAB, Buffalo/Cincinnati, Iowa/Louisiana Lafayette/South Dakota St./Wyoming
Richmond will be adequately tested prior to conference play. The Cayman Islands Classic could allow for a high-level game against Cincinnati in the second round. All in all, the field for that tournament is well-rounded. Away contests will be trick for Chris Mooney’s squad: Wake Forest, Old Dominion, and Boston College will all prove challenging to beat on the road. The Spiders should be up for that challenge. Finally, home games against Georgetown and Vermont will draw plenty of interest from the Spider faithful; those are two great matchups.
Home – Dayton, La Salle, Massachusetts, Saint Joseph’s, Davidson, George Mason, George Washington, Saint Louis, VCU
Away– Duquesne, Fordham, Rhode Island, St. Bonaventure, Davidson, George Mason, George Washington, Saint Louis, VCU
Richmond’s schedule is pretty tough, as the Spiders will have to face Rhode Island, St. Bonaventure, Saint Louis, and VCU on the road. A home game against Dayton is a good opportunity, but hosting La Salle and Massachusetts won’t help this team’s resume at all. Two games against Davidson, George Mason, and George Washington likely won’t carry much merit, but they will be competitive games that will be fun to watch.
Non-Conference Record: 8-4
Conference Finish: 9th in the A-10
Starting Lineup: Jacob Gilyard, Khwan Fore, Nick Sherod, De’Monte Buckingham, Grant Golden
X-Factor: Khwan Fore
Biggest Sleeper: Jacob Gilyard
Most Improved: Nick Sherod
MVP: De’Monte Buckingham
Here’s my breakdown: there are too many unknowns in this Richmond frontcourt for me to think the Spiders will finish in the top half of the A-10. Essentially, this feels like a rebuilding year after the losses of Cline and Jones, but I’m not discounting their ability to surprise. Here’s the thing: the Spiders have one scholarship senior, a guy who averaged less than 4 points a game at Chicago St. two seasons ago, and they have 5 freshmen who have never played a collegiate game in their lives. Yeah, this team might be a little rusty and inexperienced. However, up-and-coming players like De’Monte Buckingham and Khwan Fore have 2017-18 to improve and even make some noise in the A-10.
So while I don’t see Richmond finding as much success in conference play as it did last year, I’m not going to count the Spiders out. I think with Buckingham’s emergence as one of the best players in the league, they could finish as high as 4th or 5th, but it’s going to take a lot of chemistry — something I don’t think this team will have right off the bat. The good news: no matter how good/bad Richmond ends up doing this season, you can almost be certain that this team will be better off in 2018-19. It’s going to take a year to rebuild.