@noahgoldberg10 – Make sure to check out the latest episode of the Spider Scoop Podcast before tomorrow’s game!
Round two of the Capital City Classic is this Saturday. Bragging rights, at-large bid consideration, double-bye seeding and most importantly, free Bojangles will all be on the line when the Spiders host VCU.
Rising from a Wednesday team in Brooklyn to a double-bye front runner, Richmond rejuvenated the crosstown rivalry heading into the first matchup this year. The game was tied heading into halftime, making for what could become an instant classic, even with the absence of Blake Francis. It didn’t take long for the Bones Hyland show to get rolling though as the Rams routed the Spiders by 19 in an unexpected blowout.
Chris Mooney had largely quieted doubters this season as he brought his program back to NCAA Tournament consideration, but that loss to VCU had many of them coming out of the woodworks. Sure, Rhode Island and Wisconsin are great Quad 1 wins, but can this team shoot the ball on the road? Can it defend consistently? Can Jacob Gilyard rediscover the A-10 1st Team-caliber player he had been, or will he continue to shoot 29 3P% in conference play? (Also, can I not embarrass myself again on the spread?)
Francis’s return could alleviate some of these issues. Not only does he add shooting (37 3P%) but he opens up space for Gilyard and Sherod. Last time against VCU, Sherod shot 1-7 from the field for 5 points, while Gilyard scored just 10 on 3-7 FG and 5 turnovers. Golden had an excellent game, but Mike Rhoades was fine with that. The Rams suffocated Gilyard and Sherod on the perimeter and were content with 24 points from Golden as long as the threes weren’t falling. Andre Gustavson is largely a non-factor from beyond the arc, so reinserting Francis into the lineup will make it impossible for VCU to double team any of Richmond’s three starting guards outside.
It’s not a guarantee though that Francis is an absolute solution. Richmond has shot just 11-43 3FG in the two games since Francis came back. If shots weren’t falling against La Salle and Fordham, they certainly won’t be any easier to drain against VCU, even if this one is at home.
Defensively, the Spiders need to lock in. The Rams are 4th in the A-10 in 3P% and killed Richmond back in January, going 10-21 from three-point land. Freshman Bones Hyland was sensational, going 5-6 3FG, hitting ridiculous stepbacks no matter how tightly Gustavson and company were closing out. He’s shooting 46.7 3P% in conference play but only sees 22 minutes a night. Gustavson primarily matched up with him before, so keep an eye out to see if Mooney switches things up after the last outcome.
In the weeks since these teams played, Richmond has coasted to three straight victories against mediocre teams. VCU, on the other hand, has dropped two of three, including a home loss to George Mason, which could become a devastating Quad 4 defeat. That loss dropped the Rams to 5th in the Atlantic-10, one spot below Richmond. The Spiders control their own destiny the rest of the way, with a road game against 3rd-place St. Bonaventure remaining as well. This game is crucial if Richmond wants to hold onto that double-bye.
Tip off is at 4 p.m. Saturday from the Robins Center in what is shaping up to be one of the most exciting games of the year. Live coverage will begin at 2:30 p.m. here on 99.5 FM and 950 AM ESPN. I’ll be joining Matt and Andrew at 3 p.m., along with Wayne Epps Jr so make sure to tune in!