The coaches stayed.
Jobs opened this spring at Maryland, NC State, Georgia Tech, Providence, Texas A&M, Tennessee, Miami and more. Yet, Shaka Smart signed a contract extension to stay at Virginia Commonwealth; Chris Mooney agreed similarly with Richmond.
It’s not supposed to work that way.
Last March the VCU Rams and Richmond Spiders, whose home gyms are separated by less than ten miles of Monument Avenue, teamed up to take the city and college hoops fans on a wild ride that transformed Richmond, VA into Basketball City, USA. Richmond reached the school’s second Sweet Sixteen before succumbing to Kansas, while VCU danced with its brand of chaos and energy all the way to the Final Four.
After runs like those at a mid-major school, the coach is supposed to jump ship for a power conference job and a power pay day. Consider also that the two schools lost a combined 8 starters from those tournament teams, including stars Jamie Skeen, Joey Rodriguez, Kevin Anderson and Justin Harper. The Spiders, for one, graduated nearly 70% of the team’s points and minutes. It was the right time to leave.
Yet both coaches stayed.
The two schools couldn’t be more different. The University of Richmond is small, private and on the outskirts of town. Most of the student body is from out of state. It only seems like most of the student body drives BMWs. Virginia Commonwealth Univeristy is large, public and downtown. Most of the student body is from Virginia. It only seems like most of the student body are art or music junkies.
And yet both schools got their in-demand, young basketball coach to stay…and rebuild.
Both schools made a commitment (read: $$$) to making sure their basketball programs remain forces within and above the mid-major ranks.
VCU (5-3) has only one senior, Bradford Burgess, on the roster. Richmond (6-2), although a little older with two seniors starting and a third in the rotation, has such a glut of sophomores and juniors that Mooney decided to redshirt three of the four freshmen.Teams like Kentucky and Duke reload with instant impact freshmen. VCU and Richmond have to rebuild and wait for they’re year. Both got a boost in the first step in that process: maintaining continuity in the coaching ranks. Now the teams need to mature on the floor. So how long will it be until either dances again?
VCU, with loses on the year to Seton Hall, Georgia Tech and Alabama, will be a contender again in the wide open CAA despite its youth. The team is paced by Burgess and junior Darius Theus, both playing over 80% of the team’s minutes. Burgess leads the team in points despite using less than 20% of his team’s possessions. Theus meanwhile drops almost five asissts per game, a rate of 32.6, which has helped find Ram forwards to generate the scoring.
Richmond, after losing go-to scorers and seniors Anderson and Harper, find their leading scorer surprisingly 5-foot-nuthin’ freshman guard and sixth-man Kendall Anthony (15.4/game). The Spiders engine in the early going however has been powered by sophomores Cedrick Lindsay (117.2 ORtg, 31 Assist rate) and linebacker/foward Derrick Williams (57.3 eFG%). Williams’ inside presence, a big reason Richmond’s free throw rate has skyrocketed compared to last season, has helped offset the drop off in jump shooting proficiency.
With a win Friday night, VCU will find itself a favorite again in the CAA and, after last year’s magic, on everyone’s radar. The young team has been tested in out of conference games, and seems poised to take advantage of the tough schedule come January. Richmond meanwhile has an uphill climb in the top-heavy Atlantic 10, firmly behind Xavier, Temple and resurrected St. Louis. Still, a win over their cross-town rival would maintain early momentum heading into another key OOC match up with Iona next week.
Friday night VCU will run and press up and down the floor. Richmond will execute 47 feet at a time. One style and one team will prevail on this one night. Regardless of the night’s outcome, the coaches who stayed, Smart and Mooney, will keep working and shaping their rebuilding teams in wildly different styles at opposite ends of Monument Avenue.
The VCU and Richmond couldn’t be more different.
Except neither likes the other.