If you don't already love this rivalry, you're going to begin to love it tomorrow. That Animal is going to be falling-from-the-rafters, fire-marshal-on-alert looney, and if last year is any indication we're going to see a basketball game that lives up to the hype. I fully expect the redesigned Robins Center will fill past capacity as well in a few weeks.
I spoke to Ed McLaughlin last night, and he told me that the athletics department has hired standby structural engineers as a precautionary measure. He expects the VCU faithful to be lathered up to the point that a havoc punch in the mouth to Richmond may jostle the coffin of Charles Francis Richter. (This may or may not be true.)
The early tip time and ESPN cameras and national TV audience are all part of the recipe. On the court, the Spiders are 4-2 in the A10 and 14-7 overall. Level-headed minds know Chris Mooney can coach at a high level, and the Richmond players buy in to his system. That matters as well.
The Spiders knocked off UMass two games ago, when the Minutemen were rolling. From a common opponent perspective, UR has also beaten Belmont, Northeastern, and Old Dominion in the nonconference. They were humbled at SLU--who isn't?--but come into the VCU having won four of five and playing with great confidence.
One gigantic part of a rivalry is both programs playing at a high level. That tends to bring the best out in each participant, which makes for better and more competitive and more heated basketball games. Tomorrow should be an outstanding basketball atmosphere, and an outstanding basketball game.
Just like Butler last year.
As a side note, here is an outstanding piece from the Times-Dispatch's John O'Connor on the relationship between Mike Rhoades and Richmond's Jamal Brunt. It includes the fun nugget that Rhoades and Mooney played together on a summer league team.
On to the game...
Cedric Lindsay (18.2 ppg, 4.2 apg) is the senior stud, but Kendall Anthony (14.0 ppg, 53 made threes) is the guy that scares me the most. He's a little 5-8 sparkplug capable of shooting Richmond into big wins. He's the kind of player I feel like I've never seen him miss a shot. Here's the big fear: Lindsay has a hair-trigger and is very good in transition and the open court. There's a lot of open court in havoc.
Lindsay is a scorer, but is probably best described as crafty. Mooney has the ultimate trust in Lindsay and the kid plays about 35 minutes per game. Wearing him down is very important.
Derrick Williams (6.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg) is a matchup problem because at 6-6 and 270 pounds he is a burly load. However there's polish to his game, and he knocked down two three-pointers against SLU. With that said, VCU can take advantage of Williams--he will have to guard a smaller, more mobile player who can drive him at will.
Terry Allen (8.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg) is a star in the making. He's one of those 6-7 tough guys that does a lot well and plays very hard. Allen had a double-double against UMass. Trey Davis (5.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg) is a bit of an X-factor for the Spiders. He is a physical defender and good passer. If he's scoring, Richmond is a different team.
Alonzo Nelson-Ododa (6.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg) is a high-quality talent and shot blocker. However he can be pushed around so look for VCU to take it straight at him. Finally Deion Taylor (4.0 ppg, 10 made threes) has the best hairdo on their team. Taylor stands 6-7 but he's 6-10 with his flat top. Taylor is all finesse and isn't much of a defender, but I point him out because he hit two big threes against us last year.
Wayne Sparrow and Shawn'Dre Jones are two bench players who can both shoot. Keep your eyes on them when they play.
Sum It Up, Knucklehead
The Spiders play hard. It will be important for VCU to match that effort and pair sparks with it. On offense that means driving them hard into the lane and finding the right pass from there. One facet of havoc that we don't discuss enough is how hard VCU plays on offense and how quickly they get into sets and then execute. That puts a strain on a defense, because the least hint of disorganization can be exploited.
Defensively it is very important to guard the line. Richmond is comfortable shooting threes from all five spots, so locating shooters and helping in scramble situations matters. And as I wrote above, finding Anthony no matter where he is has to be a priority.
Then, rebound--on both ends of the floor. The one area that Richmond is noticeably weak is on the glass. They don't get many offensive rebounds, and they grab just 66.4% of opponents' misses--that's 260th nationally. VCU has been attacking the glass with supreme aggression this year, especially of late. Mentally keep an eye on the VCU offensive rebounds total.
While you're at it, mentally keep an eye on how much fun you're having. We're developing quite the great rivalry here.