SAN ANTONIO — Midway through Chris Mooney’s Wednesday press conference, the Richmond basketball coach slipped in an admission.
“I don’t know how well we can guard them,” Mooney said of Kansas, which Richmond faces today in a Southwest Regional semifinal.
That may be surprising, since Richmond held opponents to 60.8 points per game. Seven of the last eight teams didn’t even reach 60 points against the Spiders.
But Kansas presents a unique challenge, more than a dozen games against Dayton, Vanderbilt or Morehead State ever would. There are explosive Morris twins — Markieff and Marcus — who have the size to play inside (6-foot-10) and the talent to be effective on the perimeter.
The numbers get scarier for Richmond. Kansas leads the country in shooting, making 51.4 percent of its shots, and with 17.9 assists per game. That’s led to 81.8 points per game. In fact, Kansas topped 80 points 21 times. Richmond did it five times.
Richmond’s relationship with defense goes beyond shutting down the opponent.
“We seem to gain a great deal of energy when we’re defending well and we lose energy when teams are scoring too easily against us,” Mooney said. “In those rare games that we haven’t defended well, we just haven’t been as poised and we haven’t been as efficient on the offensive end to follow that.”
So, here are three keys for Richmond’s defense today:
1. Withstand Kansas runs. They will happen. If Richmond keeps its composure and energy in the midst of them, it can stay in the game. If not, Spiders’ faithful will have extra time to enjoy a cold drink along the Riverwalk.
2. Deal with the atmosphere. You can’t walk one block downtown without bumping into a blue-clad Jayhawk supporter. The Alamodome will feel like a road game for Richmond. Kansas is used to the attention and pressure of mid-March basketball. Richmond isn’t. Composure is critical.
3. Shut down one of the Morris twins. Do that and Richmond gives itself a chance. Otherwise, Kansas simply has too many options to pile up points. Against as team with the talent of Kansas, points can pile up quickly.