Following a fantastic 2019 campaign, the University of Richmond men’s basketball team enters the 2020-21 season projected to win the Atlantic 10 (A10) conference and the Spiders will have plenty of tough matchups on the schedule to prove the ranking is accurate.
Richmond received 19 out of 28 first-place votes in Tuesday’s preseason poll, which is voted on by the head coaches and certain media members, marking the first time the Spiders have been picked to win the A10 since joining the conference in 2001.
“We’re really pleased and proud to have been picked first in a great conference and we’ve been working hard for a long time to try to make that come true,” head coach Chris Mooney said during A10 media day. “Our practices have been very good and competitive, and I think that we’re all very very anxious to play.”
The expectations that Richmond will be one of the best teams in the conference is no fluke. The Spiders finished last season second in the A10 with a 14-4 conference record and an overall record of 24-7.
Richmond also returns four starters from 2019, including senior guard Jacob Gilyard, graduate guard Blake Francis and senior forward Grant Golden. Gilyard was named to the preseason All-conference first team, while Golden and Francis received second team honors.
“We expect to be the best team in the A10, we expect to win the A10 and to get to the [NCAA] Tournament,” Gilyard told The Virginia Star. “I think the expectations this year are the same as our hopes and goals.
“For my first two years [at Richmond] we weren’t really great. Then, we had a really good season last year but weren’t able to go to the tournament, so that left a sour taste in our mouth. It is motivation for us this year, obviously we know what’s ahead and the opportunity we have.”
Along with a number of upperclassmen, the Spiders also have very good depth at most positions. When senior guard Nick Sherod suffered a season-ending last month, sophomore forward Tyler Burton was plugged into the projected starting lineup to file that void.
“[Tyler] is really a talented player and I’ve said a number of times that I think he has a chance to be one of the best players Richmond’s had,” Mooney said. “[Tyler] is very fortunate that he’s surrounded by such good veteran players who have a really good sense for how to play and how to help him get better.”
Because of limitations set by the NCAA, the Spiders will play 27 total games during the season – nine non-conference matchups and then an 18-game A10 slate.
Richmond starts its season on November 25 at the Bluegrass Showcase in Lexington, Kentucky, first playing Detroit Mercy and then Morehead State two days later.
The Spider’s first real test comes on the road against N0.10 Kentucky on November 29. In December, Richmond plays its first home game against Furman. Later in the month, the Spiders have back-to-back road games against Power 5 conference teams in Vanderbilt and No.15 West Virginia.
“We’re excited [about the schedule],” Gilyard told The Star. “We’re going to play a lot of good teams, but I think we’re a good team as well. This is what we’ve all signed up for when we came to play for Richmond, because you want to play the best teams and the best talent.”
The team starts its conference-slate at home against Duquesne on December 19.
Overall, Richmond will play Saint Louis, George Mason, La Salle, St. Bonaventure and, of course, crosstown rival Virginia Commonwealth University twice.
Other A10 opponents include Rhode Island, Saint Joseph’s, Fordham, UMass and the 2019 A10 champion Dayton.
“We know what we’ve got ahead for ourselves, but I think we’ll be fine,” Gilyard said. “If we just go out and compete every day, we’ll be just alright.”
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