Richmond basketball is back in full swing and both the men’s and women’s teams are off to solid starts, sitting at 4-3 and 5-2 respectively.
Both teams have important games looming this weekend so now seems as good a time as any to break down what’s gone right so far and what each team needs to do to keep winning.
The Men’s Team
Richmond’s 4-3 record might not seem particularly outstanding, but wins and losses don’t necessarily reflect the team’s play thus far.
Aside from a frustrating loss to James Madison, an in-state rival known to give Richmond a hard time, losses to West Virginia, currently ranked No. 20 in the nation, and Florida, a perennial powerhouse even in a down year, are understandable if not acceptable in the early season.
These losses are overshadowed by a momentous, four-point win against No. 14 California in Las Vegas, one of the most exciting upsets of the young season. Richmond’s other wins include a 108-point effort against Stetson, a nine-point win over ACC-member Wake Forest and a 25-point shellacking of Bethune-Cookman. Throw in the fact that the Spiders trailed by as few as three points in the last three minutes against West Virginia and you get a very encouraging season thus far for the Spiders.
This impressive start has been fueled primarily by Richmond’s offensive efforts. The Spiders have averaged 81.7 points and 16.4 assists per game, both top-60 figures in the nation and both marked improvements over last season’s final numbers. Though the sample size is small, this offense has looked much more fluid than last year’s in the early going.
This runs counter to most expectations given the graduation of leading scorer and world-beater Kendall Anthony last May. Many predicted that the offense would lag in the absence of Richmond’s marquee scorer and the only player who could generate his own offense for stretches.
This hypothesis has already been turned on its head as previously supporting players have taken on larger roles this season. Senior Terry Allen has proven himself a beast on the low block in years past, but has really expanded his game this year, leading the Spiders in not only scoring and rebounding (21.1 and 8.0), but also assists, steals and blocks. His efficiency from both the field and the free throw line coupled with an improved ability to find shooters from the post has been instrumental to the Spiders’ early success. He finished with a monster double double of 34 points and 13 rebounds in the win over Cal, the best game of his career thus far.
Juniors Shawndre’ Jones and T.J. Cline have taken incremental steps forward from last year, averaging 15.6 and 14.3 points, respectively, and are tied with Allen to lead the team in assists. Jones has shot nearly 46 percent from three-point range and Cline almost 44 percent, both excellent figures. Transfer Marshall Wood has provided yet another threat from deep, shooting a potent 43 percent from deep himself.
As good as the offense has been for Richmond, the team undeniably has some problems that need correcting, especially for dry spells when the offense stagnates and the shots just won’t fall.
This team has taken a major step back defensively from last year’s squad, allowing 78.7 points per game to opponents compared to just 61.2 from last season. This increase is actually even greater than the spike in offense from last season to this one, so as a result, Richmond’s point differential is actually slightly worse despite the hot start. One might attribute this to the loss of Anthony, the team’s leader, or the transfer of athletic rim-protector Alonzo Nelson-Ododa, but whatever the case, this drop off is cause for concern.
Of course, a good defense is somewhat expendable with such a torrid offense, but what about the games when the Spiders don’t approach triple-digit scoring? Coincidentally, the Spiders’ only wins have been in games where they have scored 89 points or more. Their highest total in a loss is 75 points and they failed to eclipse 60 in the other two losses. An efficient offense is great, but if Richmond can’t get stops on off shooting nights, it can’t expect to make a deep run in the conference tournament against great defenses, such as Virginia Commonwealth University and University of Rhode Island.
Rebounding is another issue that needs to be addressed. This problem is more systemic for the Spiders as no Richmond team under head coach Chris Mooney has outrebounded its opponents in a season. The last time the Spiders managed this feat was in the 2003-04 season and even that was only by four rebounds over the course of a full season.
This year has been much better as the Spiders have only been outdone by fewer than two rebounds per game thus far. That seems like a big improvement from years past, but for a team that starts three forwards (four if you count Trey Davis, who played a great deal of forward last year) and has a forward as its sixth man, it’s a very hollow victory.
For all these deficiencies, Richmond is still 4-3. This is actually 13th out of 14 in the Atlantic 10, but there’s little need to worry about that as these early games will have no bearing on Richmond’s conference record.
The Spiders have another big test this coming Saturday, this time against Northern Iowa. The Panthers are 5-1 and their upset of then-top-ranked North Carolina trumps any win Richmond has pulled off thus far.
If the Spiders can score 90 points as they’ve proven they can do on any given night, they will likely win. But if not, it will be interesting to see if they can defend and rebound like they have to in order to beat a strong team. Should they rise to the challenge, it could set the tone for the rest of the season. Otherwise, the Spiders could be in for a long season once the offense regresses.
The Women’s Team
Richmond’s women’s team has fared slightly better than its male counterparts to this point with a 5-2 record on the season.
The Spiders entered the season having lost their two starting forwards to graduation, leaving a huge void to fill down low. Seven games into the season, it’s clear that Richmond is going to have a hard time replacing the valuable production of the departed Gen Okoro and Liz Brown.
Okoro and Brown provided an unusual, but effective combination in the post with Okoro acting as a power forward who rebounded well and played around the basket and Brown as a center who spread the floor on offense but patrolled the paint and blocked shots on defense.
This year, the team has Karleigh Wike, a sophomore who saw minutes last year in a backup role, and freshman Tuuli Menna from Finland to fill in. Both have provided staunch defense this season, but lack the offensive firepower of their predecessors, averaging only eight points per game between the two of them.
Fortunately, Richmond has guards who complement the solid defense of its bigs by providing excellent scoring punch. Janelle Hubbard made second team all-conference last season and is back in full strength, averaging 16.9 points per game so far on solid shooting across the board. She has emerged as the team’s go-to option and solidified herself as a threat both in the catch-and-shot and off the dribble that defenses have to focus on whether or not she has the ball.
Another key contributor this season has been Michaela Parson. Parson spent most of last year backing up the more defensive-minded Kylie Murphree last season, but the two split minutes fairly evenly toward the end of the season and it seemed that Parsons finished games more often than not.
Parson has thrived in the starting job, averaging almost 15 points per game on an extremely efficient 53 percent shooting from the field. She also has team highs with 3.1 assists per game and 1.9 steals per game, and ranks second on Richmond in three-point percentage, all while keeping turnovers low. Lauren Tolson is also quietly averaging 13 points per game while playing her usual excellent defense and rebounding at a higher rate than most forwards as a guard.
In addition to Okoro and Brown, this team dearly misses Liv Healy, done for the season with a knee injury. Healy provides the Spiders with good rebounding and solid scoring from both inside and outside and the Spiders desperately lack for depth with a very thin front line.
Head coach Michael Shafer has done good work making up for the losses to injury and graduation, coaching up the forwards so that they defend at a high level. The starting lineup has remained the same throughout all seven of the Spiders’ games and it certainly seems as if the continuity has paid off so far. He’s also done great work with his point guard platoon of Parson and Murphree, playing into the strengths of each. Basketball is a player’s game, but Shafer is one of this team’s greatest assets, and his team’s record reflects that.
The biggest area for Richmond to improve is in its rebounding efforts, though even there the losses of Okoro, a rebounding machine, and Brown have been minimized thanks in large part to Menna’s efforts as well as small improvements across the board. This team boxes out well and rebounds are pretty evenly distributed. Still with a margin of -1.8, the Spiders could stand to improve a little on the glass.
Richmond has had a good defense and a pretty good offense, but overall this team doesn’t do anything exceptionally well or poorly – at least it hasn’t thus far. The team’s identity seems to be rooted in its defense, but it’s too early to definitely say that.
At 5-2 the Spiders appear to be in pretty good shape, despite having lost their last two games. The loss to Marquette is somewhat forgivable, but Richmond likely should have beat Furman.
The Spiders were a streaky team last season so it will be interesting to see whether they can break this short skid before it gets out of hand.
They’ll have a chance to do just that on Saturday as they travel to take on Providence, who sit at just 2-4 on the year.
Contact sports assistant Walter Abrams at email@example.com