By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
SAN ANTONIO - And … along came some Spiders.
The University of Richmond, a No. 12 seed in the second Sweet 16 in school history, is the next obstacle for top-seeded Kansas in its quest to win the school's fourth national champiosnhip.
The Jayhawks (34-2) don't have a fear of spiders (arachnophobia) but they have a healthy respect for the Spiders (29-7) of the Atlantic 10 Conference. Most of the folks following the NCAA Tournament assume the Southwest Regional is now the Rock Chalk Cake Walk Regional.
The one-voice message from the Kansas locker room: Don't even go there.
"When you look at the number (seed) in front of the team name, that's when you lose, when you go home early," KU's Marcus Morris said Thursday at the Alamodome.
Kansas faces Richmond at 6:27 p.m. Friday in the first game of the regional semifinal double header. In Game Two, No. 11 seed Virginia Commonwealth (26-11) faces No. 10 seed Florida State (23-10). The winners meet Sunday with a trip to the Final Four on the line.
Richmond has a history of NCAA Tournament upsets. A year ago, the 7th-seeded Spiders lost to 10th-seeded St. Mary's in the first round. This season, they've won five of six games against teams from Big Six conferences. In 2004, coach Bill Self's first season wth the Jayhawks, Richmond defeated 10th-ranked Kansas … in Allen Fieldhouse.
"I remember that game," said Kansas native and KU senior guard Tyrel Reed. "Richmond wasn't intimidated then and they won't play scared against us here."
The Spiders start four seniors. Point guard Kevin Anderson has been a four-year starter. Justin Harper, a 6-10 forward, averages a team-best 17.8 points per game and makes 45 percent from 3-point range.
"They've got some really good players," Reed said. "Anderson and Harper could play for any team in America. They can extend the floor. We need to play our normal game, not let them dictate how we play. We need to play through our bigs. We need to do that no matter what defense they're playing."
Richmond shoots 40 percent from behind the arc and averages nearly eight threes per game. On defense, a matchup zone can be difficult for opponents to solve. Illinois, the team Kansas defeated 73-59 last Sunday in Tulsa, had a similar style with its center and power forward often shooting from the perimeter.
"They're a fundamental team, they move the ball well," Marcus Morris said. "They've got a good inside-outside game. Their point guard (Anderson) is definitely dominant. Justin Harper is a great player, a lot of people are comparing him to me."
In its last five games (three games in the A-10 tournament and two victories in the NCAA Tournament, Richmond has held opponents to 39.1 percent shooting and 27.5 percent from 3-point range.
"The thing that jumps out at you is just how easily they score and how potent they are offensively," Richmond coach Chris Mooney said of the Jayhawks. "They share the ball extremely well. And that's something that's hard to shut down."
In its two NCAA Tournament games (against Vanderbilt and Morehead State), Richmond has been out-rebounded by the troubling total of 80-59. For the season, the Spiders have been out-boarded by nearly two per game.
"We don't want this to end," said Richmond's Anderson, who has scored 39 points with eight assists and one turnover in the NCAA Tournament. "Our focus is to get to a National Championship and Kansas is in the way right now, so we have to go out there and handle our business."
The media who follow the Jayhawks and their fans say that KU tends to "play down" to the competition. In March Madness, that's a recipe for unsatisfying upsets (see: Northern Iowa last year, Bucknell in 2005, Bradley in 2006).
"I don't see that happening again," Marcus Morris said. "These are the moments you live for, what you grew up wanting to play for.
For those of you who might have led a deprived child hood or were raised on Barney, here's the nursery rhyme that applies to this Sweet 16 game:
Little Miss Muffet, sat on a tuffet, eating her curds and whey. Along came a spider, who sat down beside her and frightened Miss Muffet away.
Kansas is not Miss Muffet. If the Jayhawks lose to Richmond, it won't be because they were frightened away. It will be because they lost to a team that on one night, for 40 minutes, was better on the scoreboard.
Southwest Regional semifinal
No. 1 Kansas (34-2) vs. No. 12 Richmond (29-7)
6:27 p.m. Friday, San Antonio, TBS.
How they got here: Kansas is the Big 12 Conference's automatic qualifier. The Jayhawks defeated No. 16 Boston University 72-53 and No. 9 seed Illinois 73-59. Richmond is the Atlantic 10 Conference's automatic qualifier. The Spiders defeated No. 5 seed Vanderbilt 69-66 and No. 13 seed Morehead State 65-48.
Scouting the Spiders: Richmond has had success against schools from Big Six conferences and it has four senior starters. Point guard Kevin Anderson and 6-10 forward Justin Harper are the team's top scorers. Richmond is careful with the ball, averaging just 10 turnovers per game. The Spiders are above-average from the 3-point line, making nearly 40 percent of their attempts. Richmond, though, has trouble on the boards. The Spiders play a matchup zone that is particularly effective defending the perimeter; opponents make just 30 percent from 3-point range. The bench doesn't provide much offensively but Darrius Garrett, a 6-9 junior with a 7-foot-2 wing span leads the team in blocked shots and is third in rebounding.
Scouting the Jayhawks: Last Sunday's victory over Illinois erased some of the sting of Kansas' second-round loss to Northern Iowa in 2010. With the other Sweet 16 teams here all double-digit seeds, the Jayhawks are in prime position to win two games and advance to the Final Four. Junior Tyshawn Taylor has been outstanding at point guard over the last four games. Combined with the scoring and rebounding of the Morris twins (Marcus and Markieff) plus the steady play of senior guards Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed, Kansas has a team that can answer numerous challenges. In five post-season games, KU opponents are shooting 33.9 from 3-point range.
Richmond fun fact: The Spiders are the only team in NCAA Tournament history to record wins as a No. 12, 13, 14 and 15 seed.
Kansas fun fact: Kansas has reached the Sweet 16 for the 27th time in school history (Richmond is playing in the Sweet 16 for the second time).
Up next: The winner of this game will advance to the Southwest Regional final Sunday and will face the winner of No. 10 seed Florida State and No. 11 seed Virginia Commonwealth.