The 12th-seeded Richmond Spiders and the fifth-seeded Vanderbilt Commodores take to the Pepsi Center's court this afternoon for second-round action of the NCAA Tournament's Southwest Regional from Denver.
Richmond, which will be making its second straight NCAA Tournament appearance, earned this year's berth by virtue of a championship run in the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament. The Spiders downed Rhode Island, 55-45, in a quarterfinal matchup, before dispatching Temple, 58-54, in the semis and Dayton, 67-54, in the title game. They have now won seven straight and 11 of their last 12 contests. With regards to the NCAA Tournament, Richmond has posted a 6-8 record in eight all-time appearances. The Spiders are the only team in tourney history to post wins as a No. 12, 13, 14 and 15 seed.
Vanderbilt will also be making its second consecutive tourney appearance. Last year, the fourth-seeded Commodores fell 66-65 to 13th-seeded Murray State in an opening round matchup. They have made 11 all-time NCAA Tournament appearances, posting a 9-12 record during that span. This season, Vanderbilt earned an at-large bid behind a 23-10 record, which included a 9-7 mark in Southeastern Conference play and a semifinal appearance in the SEC Tournament.
Richmond and Vanderbilt have met just two times prior, with the Commodores earning victories in both the 1977-78 and 78-79 seasons.
Richmond is led by the talented duo of Justin Harper and Kevin Anderson, both of whom were named to the All-Atlantic 10 First Team. Harper, who possesses first-round NBA talent, leads the team in scoring (17.9 ppg), rebounding (7 rpg) and three-pointers made (73), while shooting 54.3 percent from the field and 46.5 percent from three-point range. Anderson ranks second on the team in scoring (16.5 ppg) and three-pointers made (67) and has handed out a team-high 111 assists. He was named the MVP of the A-10 Tournament after averaging 22 ppg. In all, the Spiders score 70.2 ppg and excel from the perimeter, converting 7.9 three-point attempts per game. Defensively, Richmond has held its last six opponents under 60 points and leads the A-10 in scoring defense (61 ppg) and field goal percentage defense (40.1). Kevin Smith is the anchor of the unit. Recently named to the A-10 All-Defenseive Team, Smith leads the Spiders in the intangibles, consistently drawing the opposition's top offensive threat, while willingly drawing charges. He has recorded 37 steals and 18 blocks thus far.
All-SEC First Team honoree John Jenkins sets the tone for Vanderbilt. The sophomore guard leads the league and the team in scoring at 19.5 ppg. He is adept from the perimeter, pacing the Commodores with 96 threes on 40.2 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Junior swing man Jeffery Taylor, an All-SEC Second Team selection, adds 15.1 ppg. The versatile wing uses his length to disrupt opposing offenses, resulting in a team-high 35 steals and an All-SEC Defensive Team selection. Festus Ezeli, also an All-SEC Second Team member, adds 12.8 ppg, as the Commodores finished in the top three in the conference in scoring (76.2 ppg), scoring margin, free throw percentage, field goal percentage, three-point field goal percentage, three-point field goal percentage defense, three-pointers made and assists. Vanderbilt is virtually as productive as Richmond from beyond the mark, as it hits 7.8 threes per game. Another key to the Vanderbilt attack is Brad Tinsley, who leads the league in assists in all games with 4.5 apg and puts in 10.6 ppg. Defensively, the Commodores are led by Taylor, as well as Ezeli, who has recorded 86 blocks. In all, the team allows 67.6 ppg.
Though these teams are similarly matched, give Richmond the slight edge due to its phenomenal defense. In addition, the Spiders have been wildly hot of late and sport one of the more underrated playmakers in the nation in Justin Harper.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Richmond 70, Vanderbilt 67