Scouting Report: Richmond

The Air Force men's basketball team will soon enter conference play, which brings about a series of contests against familiar opponents with well-scouted styles. Wednesday night's game against Richmond offers the Falcons a final opportunity to play a unique team and, in the process, learn something about tactics and execution at both ends of the floor.


Florida is a physical team that was able to overpower Air Force this Saturday. It is important to be able to get used to the muscularity of a team that can throw its weight around near the basket. In the Mountain West, San Diego State offers that type of challenge, and so this past weekend's loss to the Gators could pay dividends in the coming months against the Aztecs. In this game against Richmond, Air Force will get to play a different type of team. The Spiders are not brawny and bruising in the Florida or San Diego State mold. They play a blended style of offense, using movement and spacing to get the shots they want. Somewhat akin to Colorado State, they have fearless shooters on the perimeter. Like UNLV, they don't emphasize post-up, back-to-the-basket offense. It will be good for Dave Pilipovich to see what his team does against this Atlantic 10 opponent. The lessons learned from this game can serve Air Force well when it returns to its backyard for Mountain West showdowns.

RICHMOND AT-A-GLANCE

The Richmond Spiders first made a name for themselves in the college basketball world in the 1980s under program patriarch Dick Tarrant. Richmond's greatest distinction in the history of college basketball is that it was the first No. 15 seed to beat a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. That momentous feat was accomplished in 1991 against Syracuse. However, before the itsy-bitsy Spiders knocked the Orange out, they reached the Sweet 16 in 1988 as a No. 13 seed. "Team Tarrant" ambushed No. 4 seed Indiana in the first round in Hartford, Conn., and then handled No. 5 seed Georgia Tech two days later to make the round of 16. Richmond bowed out of the Big Dance in the 1988 East Regional Semifinals, losing to top-seeded Temple in East Rutherford, N.J., but the web had been woven by Tarrant. This school was not to be laughed at by a powerhouse program on Selection Sunday.

In 1998, Richmond added to its rich tournament legacy by winning in the first round of the NCAAs as a No. 14 seed. John Beilein, now the head coach at Michigan, engineered an upset of third-seeded South Carolina in Washington, D.C. Richmond remained on the map instead of going into a prolonged dark period. Yes, the program suffered when Beilein left, but under head coach Jerry Wainwright, the Spiders returned to the Big Dance in 2004. They proved that every six years or so, they would make their presence known.

Right on schedule, then, the Spiders returned to America's favorite bracketed tournament in 2010 under current head coach Chris Mooney. Richmond tasted tournament pressure and lost in the round of 64 to Saint Mary's (of California). That blow might have sent other programs reeling, but for Richmond, the loss only strengthened the program's resolve. A senior-dominated lineup learned its lessons from March of 2010 and made its way to the Sweet 16 in 2011. Richmond, as a No. 12 seed, recalled the Tarrant and Beilein eras with a win over fifth-seeded Vanderbilt in the round of 64, followed by a triumph over 13th-seeded Morehead State in the round of 32. Richmond was stopped by top-seeded Kansas in the 2011 Midwest Regional Semifinals, but the second weekend of the Big Dance represents a total success for a mid-major outfit.

Mooney, the architect of Richmond's most recent resurgence, is regarded as one of the brighter young coaches in the college basketball industry, and with a 9-5 record heading into the final non-conference game of the year, he has his team poised to make noise in the Atlantic 10. No, this team isn't as good as the 2011 version, but its losses have come against high-quality opponents (Minnesota and Kansas) and solid ones (Ohio, Davidson, and George Mason). The Atlantic 10 is a crowded place these days, with 16 teams and more NCAA tournament threats. In such an environment, Richmond is more of a contender than a pretender, and that statement alone is a testament to the growth of the program under Mooney. Air Force will have its hands full on the second night of 2013.

Starting Lineup

Forward – Derrick Williams –
Junior, 6-6, 270 2012-13: 13.6 points per game, 6.8 rebounds per game

Williams is the one bruiser in the Spiders' lineup. He is, in the vernacular of longtime NBA analyst and former world champion head coach Tom Heinsohn, "a widebody." Williams carves out space in the paint, winning rebounds not by dint of his tweener size, but because he establishes position and seals out opponents with his derriere. On a Richmond team that plays finesse-oriented basketball, Williams is a clear exception, and Air Force has to be able to control him on the backboard. Williams hits 56.1 percent of his field goal attempts, which tells you that he is shooting (and making) a lot of layups and close-in shots. Shutting down Williams on the offensive glass should reduce his level of scoring production, because if he's not getting offensive rebounds, Williams will not rack up many second-chance points.

Forward – Alonzo Nelson-Ododa – Freshman, 6-9, 210; 2012-13: 4.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg

Nelson-Ododa has been a starter in recent weeks for Richmond, standing on the court at tip-off time in high-profile contests against Kansas and George Mason. However, Nelson-Ododa is something of a placeholder as a starter. He gets minutes that are consistent with a reserve (16.4 per game). Guard Kendall Anthony, though not technically a starter, is essentially the fifth core player on the Spiders' roster, averaging 25.1 minutes per game. Anthony averages 12.5 points per game and is a very solid three-point marksman, nailing 39.6 percent of his tries.

Back to Nelson-Ododa: It's worth noting that of every Richmond player who receives at least 10 minutes of playing time, Nelson-Ododa offers some genuine size and length near the rim. Williams and fellow forward Greg Robbins are tweener forwards, but when Nelson-Ododa is in the game, Richmond genuinely has a big lineup on the floor. If Mooney seeks a lineup combination without Nelson-Ododa, he's going small.

Forward – Greg Robbins – Senior, 6-5, 220; 2012-13: 6.9 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.1 assists per game

Robbins is a player who tries to make himself useful as a defender. It is hard for him, at the small forward spot, to create his own shot and become a major offensive presence at 6-5. He is normally playing taller opponents, so he has to use elbow grease and old-fashioned hustle to earn extended playing time (he gets it, too, receiving 27.9 minutes per game from Mooney). Some players carry an equal amount of impact at both ends of the floor, but Robbins is definitely a player Air Force must outmaneuver when the Falcons have the ball. When Air Force plays defense, Robbins is simply not likely to be a factor.

Guard – Cedrick Lindsay – Junior, 6-1, 190; 2012-13: 10.3 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 3.8 apg, 1.9 steals per game

Lindsay is an example of a more well-rounded player who can make his presence felt in a number of ways. He is a capable scorer who is also the team's leading distributor and pickpocket. His quick hands and eye for the game make him a supremely coachable player, one who clogs driving lanes on defense and finds them on offense, prying open opportunities for the Spiders from so many different angles and vantage points. On defense, Air Force must take away Lindsay's dribble, and on offense, it needs to use a weave or other maneuvers to prevent Lindsay from stealing the ball and getting an easy deuce in transition.

Guard – Darien Brothers – Senior, 6-3, 200; 2012-13: 15 ppg, 1.6 apg, .535 3-PT FG %

Brothers is not shy about shooting threes. He's taken 71 so far this season. He's made 38 of those triples, producing a scary ability to hit long balls more often than he misses them. Yes, Brothers is one of the elite three-point shooters in the United States. He's the kind of player who has to be run off the three-point line on a regular basis. Air Force must make him put the ball on the deck, forcing him to shoot two-pointers. Much as opponents of the New York Knicks must take away threes from sharpshooters such as Steve Novak and Jason Kidd, thereby turning New York into a two-point-shooting team, the Falcons have to take away Brothers' shooting hand. Air Force cannot allow Brothers to shoot the Academy out of the Commonwealth of Virginia on Wednesday. Any Richmond opponent has to force other players to hit shots.

Bench

With Mooney using nine to ten players (the metric being a minimum of eight minutes per game), and with Anthony spotting Nelson-Ododa, there are four other Spiders who come off the pine: Guard Wayne Sparrow and three forwards, Trey Davis, Deion Taylor, and Terry Allen. None of these players have left behind much of a statistical footprint from the 2012 portion of the 2012-2013 season. As 2013 arrives, Richmond will need to get more production from its non-Anthony resereves. Davis did score 12 points on 4-of-4 shooting this past Saturday against Davidson, so Air Force must keep an eye on him when he enters the game on Wednesday night.

Keys to the Game

1) Brotherly tough love.
Taking away Brothers is the foremost defensive key for any Richmond foe. If Air Force can't stop Brothers, there's no reason to expect the Falcons to thrive in other defensive matchups. They'll be too overextended, and guys like Lindsay and Anthony can attack the lane with impunity. Denying Brothers is a top priority for Pilipovich when he formulates his defensive game plan.

2) Team rebounding. Air Force will have a hard time dealing with Derrick Williams, but at the other four spots on the floor, it should be able to rebound on even terms. As long as the Falcons can make a pronounced effort to help each other out on the defensive glass, they can minimize Richmond's second-chance points and create a game in which the Spiders might feel scoreboard pressure in the final five minutes of regulation. If Richmond realizes that its possessions are likely to be one-and-done, the Spiders could panic when they shoot the ball, and that's how so many college teams lose when faced with an opponent that defend and rebound.

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