If the Atlantic 10 is to return to the five-plus bid form some expect they are capable of next season, a huge factor in that equation will be the play of the Richmond Spiders.
A No.1 seed in last year’s NIT, Richmond was one of the last team’s left out of the 2015 NCAA field largely in part to a lackluster non-conference performance in what’s become a string of such performances since the Spiders last danced their way to the Sweet 16 in 2011.
Chris Mooney’s squad finished just 7-6 overall in OOC play this last season, going winless against the three kenpom top-100 squads on their schedule and dropping an unforgivable game against football rival, JMU. Those three top-100 losses moved Mooney’s record to 2-16 against such teams since the Spiders went 3-3 against Pomeroy’s top-100 in 2011.
The Spiders somewhat made up for the poor non-conference display by finishing 12-6 in a solid Atlantic 10 last season, their first conference finish above .500 since 2011. Mooney and Co. are in position to continue their A-10 success with a roster that should no doubt once again compete for a top-four finish in Atlantic 10 play.
Gone is leading scorer Kendall Anthony as well as surprise transfer Alonzo Nelson-Ododa (off to Pitt), but returning is the extremely talented frontcourt duo of Terry Allen and TJ Cline, who I think have the ability to keep the Spiders toward the top of next year’s conference standings almost by themselves. The challenge however will be in racking up the non-conference wins that have eluded UofR, wins vital come resume time.
So far from what I’ve gathered in terms of non-conference opportunities that means holding serve at home against the likes of ODU and Northern Iowa, two schools who’s RPI ratings can do a lot more for a schedule than their Q ratings. That, in theory, is the easy part.
Outside of defending the Robins Center the Spiders will need to get some success in more challenging environments, meaning picking up a potential road win against a rebuilding Florida program who will be without Billy Donovan for the first time in nearly two decades, defeating a slowly improving Wake Forest squad under second-year head coach Danny Manning, and showing well in the Las Vegas Invitational against some two-team combination of California, West Virginia and San Diego State.
For my money, this is the year.
If the Spiders are going to return to big kid bracket they need to get things done while Terry Allen is still wearing eight legs on his chest. Richmond had their highest ranked team this past season (kenpom No.55) since 2011 (No.40) and despite the losses of Anthony and ANO have a very real opportunity to improve. I think Richmond will have just as good of a chance to win next year’s A-10 tourney as any other conference opponent, but why flirt with the stress?