Kevin Anderson didn't know the history until last week. That's when Richmond earned its first national ranking (No. 25) since 1986 and reporters asked the junior point guard about the Spiders' prior contributions to the madness of March: the upset of Charles Barkley and fifth-seeded Auburn in '84; the surprising trip to the Sweet 16 in '88; the toppling of second-seeded Syracuse in '91 and third-seeded South Carolina in '98. Richmond is the first school to win NCAA tournament games as a 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th seed, and while that may be ancient lore to the current Spiders, it still impressed them.
"We have been so far from being in the tournament my first few years here that I didn't know about any of it," Anderson says. "Now I hear about Richmond being this giant killer, and I like that nickname. I like it a lot."
The school that draws Richmond (22--6 at week's end, 11--2 in the Atlantic 10) in the first round will not be so amused. A disciplined defensive squad with veterans at key spots, the Spiders are the class of the surprisingly strong A-10. Six teams in the conference—Richmond, Temple, Xavier, Rhode Island, Dayton and Charlotte—have RPIs in the top 51, a better number than the SEC and the Big Ten.
Richmond coach Chris Mooney, 37, envisioned an NCAA bid for his team after a 20--16 finish last year, a vast improvement over the Spiders' 8--22 mark in 2006--07, his second season, when he played six freshmen. "We saw enough improvement," he says, "that it led us to believe this year could be special."
The coach uses the same adjective—special—to describe the 5'11", 175-pound Anderson, who was averaging a team-high 17.5 points through Sunday with an arsenal of floaters, runners and midrange jumpers. Anderson doesn't dominate the ball, and his instincts on where and when to involve teammates is uncanny.
Having a squad loaded with upperclassmen has also given Richmond a lift. In a win over Rhode Island on Feb. 10, the Spiders fell behind and Mooney called a timeout. He marveled as Anderson and seniors David Gonzalvez and Ryan Butler discussed adjustments during the huddle, figuring out on their own how to get back in the game. "I don't know the exact number, but the majority of [our wins] have come because of our experience," Mooney says.
Not to mention Richmond's defense, which has improved since Mooney inserted shot-blocking sophomore center Darrius Garrett into the starting lineup in January. The results were on display last week as Richmond defeated Fordham 84--56 (while scoring 33 points off of turnovers) and George Washington 74--70. "Our defense is what we rely on, but we also can put up points in bunches if we need to," says Mooney.
That makes Richmond even more dangerous, a giant killer lying in wait.
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Photograph by RICHARD C. LEWIS/ICON SMI
SPIDERS' MAN With Anderson at the point, Richmond is setting the pace in the surprisingly potent Atlantic-10.