Two seasons removed from its improbable run to the Sweet 16, University of Richmond men's basketball may be more ready to return to national prominence than many pundits think, if a few pieces fall into place.
With last season being a clear rebuilding year for the Spiders, they return three starters and several key reserves from their 16-17 campaign in 2011-12. The returning starters -- senior Darien Brothers and juniors Cedrick Lindsay and Derrick Williams -- all have plenty of experience to build on from last season.
Brothers, a guard who may see time at small forward this year, is the lone remaining starter from the program's Sweet 16 team, and he will serve as the team's vocal and emotional leader. He's a solid ball handler who can create his own shots, and I expect the team to look to him when it gets in trouble or during crunch time of close games.
Lindsay, last season's point guard, will probably be moved to shooting guard this year, and he really needs to have a breakout season if the Spiders are going to make noise in the vastly improved A-10 conference. He's been progressing well during his first two years, showing the ability to score at will in spurts, but he needs to stay more consistent and avoid silly turnovers to take his game to the next level.
Williams, a power forward-center combo, plays bigger than his 6-6, 270-pound frame, if that's possible. He was the Spiders' X-factor last season, taking over games late in a few big wins. His biggest strength is his strength, as well as his soft hands. Media here often joke that he'd be a dominant tight end for Richmond's football team, and that thought comes Williams catching every ball within reach. He has a chance this season to become one of the top players in the A-10, but for that to happen, he needs to have increased his stamina and not take any plays off, as he disappeared for long periods of time in '11-12.
The other big-name player on this squad is last season's A-10 Rookie of the Year, Kendall Anthony. He came off the bench last year at point guard and is the main reason I see Lindsay moving to shooting guard. At 5'8, 140, Anthony doesn't look like he belongs in D-I basketball, until he gets the ball in his hands. He can score from anywhere, especially behind the 3-point line, where he shot nearly 42 percent. He is, however, a defensive liability, which could prove to be a problem area overall for the Spiders, having lost top defender Darrius Garrett to graduation.
Other Spiders to watch include sophomore guard Wayne Sparrow, who was coming on strong mid-season before an injury ended his year, senior forward Greg Robbins, a solid rebounder who head coach Chris Mooney turned to a lot in late-game situations last year, and redshirt-freshman forward Alonzo Nelson-Ododa, a big man who was highly touted coming out of high school.
Richmond's regular season begins on Friday with a game against Liberty University. The Spiders have a few intriguing out-of-conference games this year, including away games at Minnesota, Old Dominion, Kansas and George Mason and home games against Wake Forest and Davidson. UR really needs to have a strong out-of-conference run to have a chance at a NCAA or NIT bid because of how strong the A-10 has gotten with adding mid-major powerhouses VCU and Butler to go with the already formidable Temple, Saint Louis, Xavier, Dayton and Saint Joseph's. I predict the Spiders to surprise some people this year, upsetting a few big-name teams, but ultimately, they'll finish around 6th or 7th in the A-10, picking up a low seed in the NIT.
Contact staff writer David Weissman at firstname.lastname@example.org
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