SAN ANTONIO — The challenge of handling one big man? Richmond has accomplished that so far in the 2011 NCAA tournament. But going up against a pair of big men — who happen to be twins to boot — well, that's a new challenge.
In order for the Spiders to advance to the Elite Eight for the first time in school history, they will have to handle the duo of No.1 University of Kansas' Marcus and Markieff Morris. Marcus, who is 6-foot-9 and 235 pounds, averages a team-high 17.3 points per game. Markieff, who is older by seven minutes and is an inch taller than his brother, leads the team with an average of eight rebounds per game.
Both twins are dominant forces down low but can also hit three pointers. They are similar to Richmond's starting big men, seniors Justin Harper and Dan Geriot, with their range. Having similar players has helped Richmond prepare for the new challenge.
"When we're scouting them, it's more like we know what their tendencies are and everything," Geriot said.
Although the twins are nearly identical — the only distinguishing physical factors are their sizes and they have different tattoos on their arms — there is a bit of difference between the two on the court. Markieff is more of the physical presence who prefers to play down low. Marcus is the more athletic of the two and more refined scorer and possesses a skill set similar to Harper's.
The Morris twins did nearly whatever they wanted in Kansas' third-round win over No. 9 Illinois. They combined to score 41 points and evenly split their combined 24 rebounds.
Although the twins create mismatches on offense, Harper said he is hoping that having a comparable shooting range will create confusion on defense for the twins.
"I don't think they're going to be as comfortable playing guys that have the same skill sets and great shooters taking them outside and taking them outside their comfort zone of staying in the paint," Harper said.
Jayhawk opponents have struggled to find a way to get the Morris twins uncomfortable this season as Kansas enters Friday's Sweet 16 matchup here in San Antonio with a 34-2 record and ranked No. 2 in the nation. The Jayhawks last lost a game on Feb. 14, to in-state rival Kansas State University.
But Richmond hasn't lost in a while either. The Spiders are undefeated in their last nine games since a 20-point loss at Temple University on Feb. 17. During that run, they have had to go up against a number of skilled forwards, including two this tournament in Vanderbilt's Festus Ezeli and Morehead State's Kenneth Faried.
A big reason for Richmond's ability to slow down these types of players of late has been the defensive emergence of junior forward Darrius Garrett. Although Garrett is limited offensively (he averages less than two points per game), when he enters the game off the bench for Richmond coach Chris Mooney, he changes the defensive make-up of the team. Garrett has blocked 59 shots this season — good for the team lead despite being eighth in minutes played — with his 7-foot wingspan.
"I think Darrius makes us go from a good defensive team to a great defensive team," Mooney said after his team's upset win of No. 5 Vanderbilt in the second round of the NCAA tournament at Pepsi Center in Denver. Mooney has consistently said that about the play of Garrett, who fell one short of the NCAA record for most blocks in a game last year with 14.
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Not only is Garrett aided on the defensive end with his long arms. He also plays with an aggressiveness and energy level that other team's bigs often struggle to match. That intensity does get him into trouble at times as he will get over-aggressive and foul nearly every driver who attacks him.
One such time was against Vanderbilt when Garrett ended the game with four fouls. He had been able to stay out of it for most of the game, before picking up a pair of fouls late on shot-blocking attempts.
Although that aggressiveness can limit his minutes, Mooney said that he wants Garrett to play that way tomorrow night as the Spiders make their second-ever Sweet 16 appearance.
"We need Darrius to provide what he's been providing off the bench for us, his defense and rebounding," Mooney said. "They really change the makeup of our team. I think his aggressiveness is a very big part of that."
Contact staff writer Andrew Prezioso at firstname.lastname@example.org
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