Mooney’s young squad didn’t lose much of it’s primary rotation, which was to be expected of a team that did not start any upperclassmen last season. A10 All-Conference second team selection Jacob Gilyard and third team selection Grant Golden will return as juniors next year, bringing back 33.4 of the Spiders’ 70 points per game.
Golden was one of the best interior scorers in the conference this year, using his excellent touch and footwork to make up for lacking athleticism. He’ll look this summer to improve his perimeter shooting in order to spread the floor and to add strength to improve his presence on the defensive glass (I don’t need to say that he’ll hopefully work on his free throw shooting as well).
Gilyard led the Atlantic 10 in scoring in just his second season. Hitting the deep ball at a 36% clip, he’s an excellent shooter off of the dribble who will try to improve his consistency. Expect him to certainly do so next year as some load will be taken off of his shoulders with the return of Nick Sherod and arrival of Wagner transfer Blake Francis, one of the best three-point shooters in the Northeast Conference two seasons ago.
Fellow junior Nathan Cayo is coming off of his breakout season after being Golden’s most consistent help on the interior. A role player as a freshman who scored only 2.3 points per game, Cayo started all 33 games he played in as a sophomore. He was the third leading scorer at 12.9 points per game for Richmond, improved his FG% from 43% his first season to 59% last season, and was able to sustain 31 minutes per game, filling crucial minutes for a team short-staffed at the forward positions. Cayo will likely work on his shooting over the summer after hitting free throws at a 57% rate and attempting only four three-pointers all year. His shot form starts below the waist and takes time to rise up, so don’t be shocked if he scraps it altogether and comes back next fall with a whole new form.
Freshman guards Jake Wojcik and Andre Gustavson will head into their sophomore season’s with an entire year of starting experience. While neither was a prolific scorer, Wojcik was second behind Gilyard in three-pointers made and tied with him on the team at 36 3FG%. Gustavson flashed potential as a strong slasher and was an excellent perimeter defender, aided by his 6’ 4” frame on a shorter Richmond team. Gilyard, Francis, and Wojcik are projected by some to precede Gustavson on the depth chart but he could find his way into the starting lineup due to his defensive prowess. Richmond allowed the highest FG% (46%) and fourth-highest 3FG% (34.4%) to opponents in the A10.
Depth was a major issue for the Spiders last season, especially after Nick Sherod tore his ACL in the early goings and Bryce Schneider transferred after playing just four games. Seniors Noah Yates and Julius Johnson, who each played about 16 minutes per game, no longer have eligibility remaining. They were important role players for Mooney who could space the floor well.
Freshman Sal Koureissi should have a greater role off of the bench in his second year. Koureissi has a long frame at 6’ 9” with a 7’ 3” wingspan. He only played about six minutes per game, however Chris Mooney several times over the course of the year admitted he should’ve given the New York native more playing time. Koureissi attacked the rim effectively in limited minutes and played solid defense in spurts. If he can pack on some muscle in the offseason to improve his rebounding and fortify a consistent three-pointer from the corners, he could certainly be looking at 15-20 minutes per game next fall.
The Ontario, Canada native Matt Grace enters his second season as the only Spider standing above 6’ 10” aside from Grant Golden. Grace was limited in out-of-conference play but saw his minutes increase in the A10 portion of the year. The lanky freshman proved he was capable in the pick-and-roll game by knocking down open three-pointers following screens and had a solid touch in the low post. Like Koureissi, he’ll need to add some weight as a 210 lbs center/4 if he wants to get more minutes to aid Golden and Cayo on the block.
The Spiders’ only incoming freshman as of now is the Marianapolis Prep product Tyler Burton, a Worcester, Massachusetts native. Burton made the All-USA Connecticut Second Team his senior season and was a 20/10 double-double guy as just a junior.
He’s a long, athletic wing at 6’ 6” that can play shooting guard or small forward. I’d compare him to Andre Gustavson, another longer guard with good athleticism. Gustavson is the better defender of the two, however Burton’s off-the-dribble jumper, ability to finish, and ball handling skills are very adept. He has very good off-ball awareness and movement which will fit in seamlessly to Chris Mooney’s “Princeton Offense,” which utilizes numerous screens and backdoor cuts.
If Burton wants to find significant minutes in his first college season, he’ll need to show a strong ability to rebound. Richmond was one of the worst teams in the nation in rebounding last year and already lack significant size in the post outside of Golden. If Burton can become comfortable playing the 3 and helping on the defensive glass, don’t be surprised if his minutes creep into double digits consistently.
There will be an unusual amount of rotation shift next season for a team returning most of its talent. Nick Sherod will be returning for his redshirt junior season coming off of a torn ACL and 6’ 0” transfer Blake Francis will be eligible after sitting out a season due to NCAA transfer regulations.
There are two key factors that will heavily affect the rotation that Mooney decides to go with in 2019-2020: Nick Sherod’s recovery and Sal Koureissi’s development. If Koureissi adds weight this summer and improves his jumper to spread the floor, Richmond would be ecstatic to award him significant minutes off of the bench as a power forward, taking pressure off of Nathan Cayo.
Sherod was a good 2/3 for the Spiders who could shoot and drive well. I don’t need to give examples of athletes losing their explosiveness permanently after an ACL injury, though. Expect Mooney to start him but I personally would be comfortable giving him 20-25 minutes off of the bench until he eases back into his rhythm. Richmond could certainly use a veteran to lead the young second unit, especially one that produces more than just threes and defense.
There are three givens in life: Grant Golden, Jacob Gilyard, and Nathan Cayo will be in the starting lineup for Richmond (I guess death and taxes too). I’m nervous to put Sherod in the first five but I do believe Mooney will start him, however that depends on his recovery’s progression over the next four months.
Jake Wojcik will likely hang in starting unit again this season, especially if Cayo and Golden can’t spread the floor by shooting threes prolifically.
The first man off of the bench will be Blake Francis. He was a top-3 three-point shooter in the Northeastern Conference during his two seasons at Wagner. The only reason I don’t have him starting over Wojcik is that at 6’ 0”, him and Gilyard would be a very small backcourt that could further increase defensive issues for Richmond. Regardless, he should be looking anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes per game, depending a lot on Wojcik’s minutes.
Gustavson will likely see his playing time decrease as a sophomore, which will be great for his development down the road. Mooney praised him (deservedly) all year for his ability and potential as a defender and he showed his strength driving the ball. He’s also a good passer who can run the Princeton Offense well. However, his jumper was subpar and inconsistent, which makes him hard to play when Golden and Cayo are also on the floor. He’ll probably be looking at 10-15 minutes per game this year, giving him time to develop his confidence as a driver and smoothen out his shooting stroke.
Tyler Burton is an intriguing wing player who will find minutes if he can rebound. His position flexibility is a major plus and his strong off-ball play makes him much more ready as a freshman than others would be. Look for him to potentially get 10-15 a games, varying significantly on Gustavson and Koureissi.
Spider fans should be cautiously optimistic heading into next fall. If the younger guys can continue to grow, Sherod returns to his old form, and Francis can be a great contributor, a top-5 finish in the A10 isn’t out of the question (though unlikely). However, if youth development becomes stagnant and roles aren’t established quickly, things could fall apart.