Editor’s Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of The Collegian.
I remember hearing in late 2020 about the University of Richmond men’s basketball team defeating the University of Kentucky, who were ranked tenth in the country at the time.
The Spiders, who had lost out on what seemed to be an at-large bid to the 2020 NCAA Tournament just months earlier because of restrictions caused by the pandemic, had taken down a Southeastern Conference school — one of the Blue Bloods of college basketball.
It was November of my senior year of high school, and I had already sent in my application to UR. It was neat seeing a small program like the Spiders knock off such a big-time opponent.
This was not a one-off, however.
In fact, UR’s squad has a somewhat storied history when it comes to upsetting prominent basketball programs.
The Spiders defeated eventual NBA Hall-of-Famer Charles Barkley and Auburn University in the Round of 64 of the 1984 NCAA Tournament; they beat the Bob Knight-led Indiana University Hoosiers in the Round of 64 of the 1988 NCAA Tournament; and in 1991, they even knocked off second-seeded Syracuse University in another Round of 64 thriller.
The list goes on.
However, since that win over the Wildcats over three years ago, the Spiders have not had ample opportunity to defeat one of these bigger schools in the regular season.
And for a smaller school like UR, the only way to improve a team’s resume when it comes to a bid to March Madness is to accumulate wins over power conference schools. Otherwise, the Spiders have to win the Atlantic 10 Tournament — a feat in itself — to receive an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.
So, why isn’t UR playing bigger schools? Why, as an established basketball program with a former player currently on an NBA roster and a recent Round of 64 win in the 2022 NCAA Tournament, is UR limited to playing smaller programs?
Why, as a school in Virginia, are the Spiders not playing other established Virginia schools like the University of Virginia, or Virginia Tech, or adjacent West Virginia school West Virginia University?
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What would the program have to lose?
Some of these bigger schools may be predicted to have a better chance against a smaller school like UR, given their five-star recruits and larger facilities, but the Spiders have proven time and again that size does not matter when it comes to a successful collegiate athletics program.
There’s no question that there’s something special about the Spiders.
As a first-year student at UR, seeing them win four games in four days to win the 2022 A-10 Championship and advance to March Madness was nothing short of surreal.
I believe a program like UR should get more chances to play schools from Power Five conferences, starting with schools in proximity to UR like UVA or Virginia Tech, or even a school like the University of North Carolina.
I know that would probably get some scoffs from college basketball analysts and Tar Heel fans, but why not? Why not allow UR to make a case for itself and not have to go wire-to-wire each year with the likes of George Mason University and Davidson College?
I think in the coming seasons, however difficult scheduling may be, the NCAA should make more of an attempt to try to give a school like UR those chances to play some bigger schools.
Even UR Head Coach Chris Mooney thinks so. In a press conference a year ago, he challenged renowned college basketball analyst, Jon Rothstein, to give schools from conferences like the A-10 more opportunities to play as many games at home as they do away.
This season, UR did have a chance to play some Power Five opponents. Unfortunately for the Spiders, they lost each contest, falling to Boston College, an Atlantic Coast Conference school, the University of Colorado Boulder, a school in the Pac-12 Conference and the University of Florida, a member of the SEC.
Regardless of this season’s results, though, I think a UVA-UR matchup in mid-November would be a game that could become an exciting staple for the Spiders. Not as much of a staple as the historic Capital City Classic between UR and Virginia Commonwealth University, but a staple nonetheless.
UR hoists an 8-5 record through 13 non-conference games and begins conference play at the Robins Center against St. Bonaventure at 4 p.m. Jan. 6.
Here’s hoping that the Spiders can recreate the magic that they found in A-10 play almost two years ago.
Contact sports editor Jimmy James at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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