By Noah Goldberg
The Spiders will face their first Power-5 Conference opponent of the year Thursday when Vanderbilt comes to the Robins Center. Richmond beat St. Francis (PA) in its season opener Friday, coming back from a 10-point deficit with less than two minutes remaining in regulation to win in overtime.
Vanderbilt is off to a 2-0 start, with wins over Southeast Missouri State and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, respectively, in Jerry Stackhouse’s first season as head coach. The Commodores are looking to rebound from a last place finish in the SEC (0-18) a season ago with the additions of freshmen Scottie Pippen Jr (6’ 1” guard) and Dylan Disu (6’ 9” forward).
Richmond will need to improve drastically on defense Thursday after giving up 98 points to the Red Flash, who shot around 50% from the field. While the Spiders did rotate and switch effectively, their on-ball defense was atrocious, getting beat off the dribble time and time again. For reference, all ten players that entered the game had a negative defensive box plus/minus (DBPM), except for freshman Tyler Burton, and all had a defensive rating north of 113 (points allowed per 100 possessions while on the floor).
Redshirt junior Nick Sherod had an excellent offensive game in his return from a torn ACL, posting 27 points and eight rebounds on 6-12 three-point shooting. However, scoring isn’t the Spiders’ issue. Sherod had a team-worst -13.2 DBPM and was continuously burned on the dribble-drive. His offense is far too valuable to keep him off of the court, which gives Chris Mooney the difficult task of curating a starting five that balances an offensively-loaded roster with the limited length and on-ball defense available to him.
Tyler Burton may be the key to Richmond’s defensive and rebounding struggles. In 16 minutes off the bench, Burton made his 6’ 7” frame felt. He pulled down four rebounds on a team high 14.6 TRB% (among players playing over 10 minutes), blocked three shots, had a clutch steal and transition dunk late in regulation and had the best defensive rating and DPM. Being his first season, it will take some time to grow comfortable in the offense and learn to rotate defensively. Mooney is implementing more man-to-man defense this season, though, which is far simpler for an inexperienced player to pick up on. Also, Burton doesn’t need to score at a high rate if he’s sharing the floor with a combination of Grant Golden, Jacob Gilyard, Blake Francis, Nick Sherod or Nathan Cayo, more of a reason to play him. Don’t expect Mooney to rush him into things, but maybe his 16 minutes could increase on Thursday.
Luckily for Richmond, Vanderbilt isn’t the fiercest rebounding team, as the Commodores were beat on the glass 30-27 by the Islanders. If there is one player to watch on the block though, it’s the 6’ 8” 230 lbs senior Clevon Brown. In his last game, he secured eight rebounds, five of which were on the offensive glass. Also adding 12 points (5-6 FG), he could be a matchup problem for Golden and Cayo.
Sophomore Aaron Nesmith has been the leader thus far for Stackhouse. The 6’6” forward is averaging 23 points through two games with shooting splits of 59 FG%, 57 3FG% and 80 FT% (4-5 FT). “When everything don’t go as well as we want to within an offensive set,” Stackhouse said of Nesmith after their second game, “we’ve got a guy that we can put the ball in his hands.” Look for the Spiders to key in on him and junior guard Saben Lee, who scored 15 points in 30 minutes off of the bench.
A-10 Preseason Second Team All-Conference selection Grant Golden rolled his ankle late Friday against St. Francis (PA), leaving the game but later returning. Chris Mooney told media today that Golden will be a game-time decision Thursday, and the team has provided no further details on his injury.
Tip-off between Vanderbilt and the Spiders is Thursday at 7:00 pm in the Robins Center, broadcasting on NBC Sports Washington, ESPN+ and ESPN Richmond 99.5FM/950AM.