Jeff Wolf, staff writer
Richmond (24-7, 13-3 A-10)
This marks the Spiders' second-straight 20-win season under head coach Chris Mooney, who played his college ball at Princeton under Pete Carril and brings a similar brand of ingenuity to Richmond's game-plan.
The Spiders play a suffocating matchup zone that's held opponents to 39 percent shooting and just over 60 points per game. Ken Pomeroy ranks them ninth in effective field-goal defense, 11th in three-point defense, and 15th in defensive steals. And three players on their active roster rank in the top five in all-time steals at Richmond.
The Spiders have also shown a knack for the clutch this season. They're 8-2 in games decided by five points or less, and they've beaten RPI Top-65 teams Missouri, Temple, Mississippi State, Florida and Dayton.
And while they may not have tournament experience, they have a cadre of upperclassmen capable of game-changing performances. Specifically junior Kevin Anderson and senior David Gonzalvez, A-10 Player of the Year and Second-Teamer, respectively. As a team, Richmond shoots 35 percent from three-point range.
Richmond will definitely be giving teams looks they aren't used to on both ends of the court. And thanks to their shooting and opportunistic defense, they are a big momentum team. If the Spiders can consistently get on teams early and stay hot from the field you might be hearing Sportscenter anchors borrowing lines from Coach Carter over the next few weeks:
Murray State (30-4, 17-1 OVC)
The Racers of Murray State certainly weren't going to be making the NCAAs on the merit of their schedule – ranked 262 by the NCAA computers – but a 30-win season is something to be respected regardless of what conference you play in. And when you take a closer look at the OVC champs you'll start to see signs of a group that could potentially knock off a major seed.
The Racers play an up-tempo style and go 10-deep in their rotation. Ken Pomeroy rates them 11th in defensive turnovers and 7th in steals. Pomeroy also rates Racers senior Tony Easley as the No. 7 player in shot-blocking percentage and junior B.J. Jenkins as the No. 27 player in steal percentage.
On offense, Murray state has five players averaging over 10 points per game and a sixth that averages 9.5 ppg. They are also a very efficient offensive team. According to Pomeroy, they are 55.4 percent in effective field goal shooting – 7th-best in the country. And they rank 12th overall in offensive rebounding. Put those two stats together, and you get the feeling that the Racers don't have many empty possessions.
Sure, their resume has them looking like the ugly step-sister, but the Racers have all the right ingredients to turn that pumpkin into a coach.
Come back tomorrow for Alex Jesswein's picks.