Can Richmond spring another NCAA surprise behind senior Anderson?
Richmond, coming off an A-10 tourney title, has a track record of pulling off upsets
Four-year starter Kevin Anderson is one of America's most overlooked seniors
Says Anderson: "We've done something, but we haven't done enough"
This is the time of year when three words become magic: senior point guard. Not Magic, as in Johnson, but at least magic.
No one knows this better than Richmond coach Chris Mooney, who, having started his adult life as a wedding planner -- long story, but that was one of his duties as part-time head coach and full-time coordinator of events at Beaver College in 1997 -- recognizes the advantage of having the right people around on special occasions.
"It's a great luxury for a coach having a player like Kevin," Mooney said after his 12th-seeded Spiders defeated Dayton 67-54 on Sunday afternoon to win the Atlantic-10 Conference title and an automatic NCAA bid. "You just know that if you can put the ball in his hands, good things will happen."
"Kevin" is Kevin Anderson, Mooney's 6-foot quarterback, who is among the more overlooked seniors in the nation. (Then again, aside from Jimmer Fredette, not much attention is paid to seniors anywhere.) But Anderson, who scored 22 points in the A-10 semifinal against a strong Temple team and 23 in the championship clincher, is well-known and well-regarded in his own area. He was A-10 Player of the Year as a junior -- another lead guard, junior Tu Holloway of Xavier, took that away from him this year -- and as composed a player with the ball as you'll find in this year's tournament.
"It's my job to do something when the clock's going down," said Anderson, who was an easy choice for tournament MVP.
Then again, it's Anderson's job to do something with the ball at the beginning of the set, too. The Spiders play an amalgam of the Princeton offense -- discipline and backdoor cuts but also lots of room for Anderson and fellow A-10 first-teamer Justin Harper to score in transition and break down the defense individually. It's the kind of system that can bother teams that aren't familiar with the style, the kind of system that produces upsets in the NCAA tournament, particularly since the Spiders play that way on defense, too, setting up in a man-to-man almost all the time but switching often and getting into the passing lanes to make steals. They held opponents to 36.6 percent shooting during their three wins in the A-10.
Richmond is already known for springing NCAA surprises, among them first-round wins over No. 3 seed South Carolina in 1998, No. 2 seed Syracuse in 1991 and defending champion Indiana in 1988. A win on Thursday would be considered an upset even though the Spiders' 27-7 record is better than first-round opponent Vanderbilt's 23-10; the Commodores' RPI of 26 is far superior to Richmond's 55. Then, too, the Spiders were given a significantly lower seed than two other A-10 teams to make the field (No. 6 Xavier and No. 7 Temple), which suggests that Richmond might not have been dancing had it not prevailed in Atlantic City.
It would also be an upset if Anderson were to emerge anywhere near the top of the draftable point guard class, even given his four years as a starter and the yeoman 36 minutes a game he was out on the floor this season. He's only 6-foot (which could mean that he's 5-11) and isn't an athletic finisher in the vein of, say, an Allen Iverson. Anderson has been overshadowed not only by other senior point guards such as BYU's Fredette, Illinois' Demetri McCamey, Villanova's Corey Fisher, Duke's Nolan Smith and Kansas State's Jacob Pullen (the latter two are more combo guards) but also by junior Kemba Walker of UConn, injured Duke freshman Kyrie Irving, Kentucky freshman Brandon Knight and A-10 rival Holloway.
In truth, Anderson, despite significant quickness and preternatural composure, is a long shot to play at the next level. He declared for the NBA draft last year, but wisely pulled out before hiring an agent.
But March Madness isn't about who's going to be playing at the next level in October. It's about the next few weeks.
"We've done something, but we haven't done enough," Anderson said. "We want more."
Spiders fans shouldn't expect too much. But if Anderson can get in the lane and hit his perimeter shots, a victory over Vanderbilt is entirely feasible, not to mention squarely in the Richmond tradition.