Don't look now, but the University of Richmond men's basketball team is marching toward March Madness.
The Spiders have won seven games in a row, including four road wins and a key signature victory against Temple University at the Robins Center. All of a sudden, Richmond's ranked and there's a buzz about basketball again.
And there should be. During the last seven games, this team has shown that its success is not a fluke. The Spiders have used good defense and great guard play to put their name back on the national radar.
Oh, and by the way, good defense and great guard play can turn postseason dreams into Cinderella sweethearts, but now I'm just getting ahead of myself.
Realistically, here's what they're up against. After winning last night, Chris Mooney's team has four regular season games remaining, including road games against Xavier University and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, ranked third and fourth in the Atlantic-10. If the Spiders can hold court against George Washington University this Saturday and then win one of those two road games, they've got to be tourney bound.
Just look at the numbers. Richmond is 21-6 this season and 10-2 in conference. Four of the team's six losses came before the new year and were all on the road. The Spiders have lost only once at home, in a game against Charlotte that Mooney called his team's worst of the year.
The only bad losses came against St. Louis University and in-state rivals the College of William & Mary and Virginia Commonwealth University. Throw the rivalry games out the window and consider that the Spiders trounced St. Louis in their second meeting. After that, good luck finding a flaw in their NCAA Tournament resume.
People ask why this year's team, with nearly all of the same players as last season, has suddenly stormed to the top of the A-10, and it's not an easy question to answer. Yes, last year's team finished strong and had a 22-win season, but did we really think that one year later that same team would be fighting for a possible 6th or 7th seed in the Big Dance? I can't say I did.
One thing this year's team has that last year's lacked is a truly dynamic scorer. Kevin Anderson is exactly that. During his first two seasons, Anderson played point guard well, but on a team that had no lights-out scoring threat, that wasn't enough.
This season, Anderson has asserted himself as one of the best point guards in the country. He's averaging almost 37 minutes of playing time per game, shooting 82 percent from the free throw line and averaging more than 17 points per contest. He doesn't score 20 points every game, but now that he's become the team's go-to scorer, he's opened up options for other players.
David Gonzalvez and Ryan Butler, the team's only healthy seniors, have hit some big shots and been solid for the Spiders, especially during conference play. The two have combined to average more than 23 points a game during A-10 play, and with the number of 3-point shots the Spiders attempt, their ability to knock down triples will continue to be vital to success down the stretch.
On defense, shot-blocking sensation Darrius Garrett's impact cannot be underestimated. Garrett has averaged just more than 15 minutes per game, but still racked up 56 blocked shots. He even ranges to the perimeter and blocks 3-point shots. Pair that with the Spiders' already in-your-face defense and it can make things quite difficult for opposing offenses.
Now, before we start knighting the team, let's make one thing very clear: this season is not over. Six teams in the A-10 are competing for a spot in the NCAA tournament, and even if they all deserve to go to the dance, that probably won't happen. Richmond cannot afford a letdown.
One way to prevent a letdown is to go out and support the team this Saturday against GWU and on March 4 against University of Dayton. When I say go out and support, I don't mean go out and watch the game and then start paying attention if it's close during the final minutes. I mean go out and make a difference in the game.
I know some of us probably don't think it's cool to go cheer at basketball games, but guess what? You can play Kings and watch Celebrity Rehab for the rest of your life, but you may never get the chance to see your college basketball team make the NCAA tournament. If you've read this much of my column you must care a little bit about that, so why not show it with your enthusiasm and your voice box?
The next few weeks will be exciting, and if they go well the following few weeks' events will be even more exciting. Are the Spiders really NCAA tournament material? We're about to find out.
Contact sports editor Reilly Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org