Answer: "Because I am." Quickest post ever. Where's the publish button?
OK, I keed, I keed, but in all seriousness, unless you are a Kansas alum or have a kid (perhaps twins) playing for Bill Self right now, you should join me tomorrow night in rooting for Richmond's "other" upstart Cinderella Sweet 16 team in the NCAA bracket, the Richmond Spiders. That's right, I used quotes around "other," because even though you have heard roughly 3,000,000 million times this week that the city of Richmond has as many Sweet 16 teams as the Big East, the focus has been mainly on Richmond's Colonial Athletic Association neighbor, the Virginia Commonwealth Rams. (I'm one of the guilty parties)
Well, time to turn the spotlight on the Spiders. Here's a little secret - I've got a bit of a mancrush on these guys. It started as I was writing up recaps during this year's Atlantic 10 Tournament, as Richmond took home the 2011 crown to avenge a crushing loss to Temple in the 2010 Atlantic 10 championship game. Simply put, I enjoyed watching Richmond play, with a crisp, fluid offense and just that cliched "look of a team." I guess you could say I'm a sucker for the Princeton offense, but even standout senior guard Kevin Anderson will tell you what the Spiders run is not quite that:
"I don't think we run the traditional Princeton offense. There's a lot of different things that we do," said Anderson, a senior guard. "We run a lot of ball screens within that Princeton offense. The guys that are on the court are so talented that the Princeton offense, it's just really a name. But it helps us out, gets us moving, gives us an extra advantage over different teams. I mean, that takes difficulty in trying to guard a fast-paced offense like the Princeton offense."
Before I gush about Anderson and his resilient teammates, how about some love for the guy who brought that offense to Richmond with him: Princeton grad Chris Mooney? Much like crosstown coaching compatriot Shaka Smart, Mooney is one of the college games' up-and-coming coaches, with his name attached to every major conference job out there. Mooney struggled in his first two years at Richmond, winning but 21 total games. But since the eight wins and 21 losses of the 2006/07 season, his Richmond teams have increased their win totals each year, in the process increasing his CQ rating (a coach Q rating I just made up) exponentially. One more reason to love the guy: perhaps the biggest regular season win in school history just happened to be over Kansas, back in January of 2004 AT Phog Allen Field House.
So what has Coach Mooney done this week in preparation for his team's Sweet 16 matchup with the Jayhawks? Shown his team file of that epic Spiders win, of course:
"We thought it would be important for them to see that this can happen," Mooney said. "This is college basketball, we all know what happens over the course of a season and especially March. And I just wanted them to have a familiar feeling of beating Kansas."
Enough with all the coach love, you say? OK, how about some love for fifth-year senior Dan Geriot, the only guy on this year's club who actually suffered through that 8-22 season five years ago (courtesy of a torn ACL/redshirt season in 08-09). You might remember Geriot as the guy Bill Raftery instantly fell in love with during Richmond's first- and second-round games, remarking that the Richmond big man will be a tavern league baller for years to come when his collegiate days were over. I co-sign on any guy Raftery loves.
Richmond's two star players are seniors who have grown up under the steady tutelage of Mooney, just as the overall program has begun to return to the heights of the Dick Tarrant-era Spiders. The inside-out combination of Anderson (17 points per game, three assists per game, 43 percent three-point shooter) and Richmond native Justin Harper (18 points per game, seven rebounds per game, 54 percent field goal shooter) lead a balanced offensive attack that ranks in the Top 50 nationally in both assists per game and field goal percentage. Heck, the offensive efficiency of the Spiders in the tournament was even touched up a few days ago in this very space. Richmond works hard to score easy buckets, and doesn't give the ball up. A pretty healthy combination.
Now, as you've noticed, at no point in time did we discuss the actual match-up with Kansas above. And frankly, I see no reason to do so - we've been bombarded all week with Dr. Jack-style breakdowns of this game, and my new found love for the Richmond Spiders wont be sullied by facts and/or reality (reality being the bruising Morris twins). Richmond has been called "giant killers" in the past (just ask Charles Barkley ... or anyone even remotely associated with Syracuse basketball). I see no reason why they can't keep up that school tradition by taking down the Jayhawks Friday evening in San Antonio, perhaps leaving themselves just one last win away from a shocking berth in 2011 NCAA Final Four.