Richmond is blessed with two Division I men’s basketball programs. Both schools are members of the Atlantic 10 Conference. Thus, the University of Richmond (13-4, 3-1 in A-10) and Virginia Commonwealth University (12-5, 2-2 in A-10) routinely face one another twice during each regular season. This year their similar winning records serve to turn up the heat on the always-simmering crosstown rivalry.
It began with a Richmond Spiders victory on their Robins Center home court on Jan. 29, 1976. The Rams head coach at the time, Chuck Noe, had been lobbying for such a test for his team for some time. In the mid-1970s, VCU was still an unaffiliated outsider, conference-wise, but Noe›s team could have run with any team in the state. This game, 44 years ago, broke the ice. While the Spiders went on to win their next four clashes with the Rams, now VCU leads in the overall series by a 53-30 margin.
The first of this season’s two matchups will take place on Tuesday, Jan. 28. A 7 p.m. tipoff is scheduled for this Capital City Classic series game. It will be played at the Rams’ facility — the Siegel Center. Expect another sellout.
Both coaches are from Pennsylvania and they’ve known one another since high school. Spiders head coach Chris Mooney is from Philadelphia. Rams head coach Mike Rhoades is a native of Mahanoy City, a little over 100 miles to the northwest. At one time they both played summer league ball in Philadelphia’s famous Sonny Hill League.
Mooney played his college basketball at Princeton under the tutelage of legendary coach Peter Carril, originator of the Princeton offense. Rhoades played at Lebanon Valley College. Coincidentally, both first coached college basketball in Division III, then took jobs as assistant coaches at Division I schools. Both men are 47.
Mooney is now in his 15th season at Richmond. He is now the all-time winningest head coach in Spiders men’s basketball history (251-215 at UR). His record against VCU is 6-18.
Asked about his favorite moment in the series, Mooney said: “Probably when Darien [Brothers] hit the three to send it to overtime. I believe we were down seven with 31 seconds to go. That was a pretty spectacular moment.” Brothers hit that 28-footer with 1.5 seconds remaining. It happened before a sell-out crowd at the Robins Center on Jan. 24, 2013. At the time VCU was ranked No. 16. The Spiders won the game in one overtime: UR 86, VCU 74.
Rhoades, VCU’s third-year head coach (55-28 at VCU), is 2-2 against Richmond. Keeping his cards close to his vest, he declined to comment about a favorite moment in the rivals’ series.
Among the 14 teams in the A-10, the Spiders rank second in points scored. The Rams rank seventh in points scored. Both coaches tend to spread the playing time around, using the benches more.
The Spiders are better defensively this year, with a deeper bench, two big reasons they are having the team’s best season in nearly a decade. This rivalry game could be a match-up of the Spiders’ hot 3-point shooting and the pesky Rams defense — as always, whichever team manages to execute its game plan will likely come out on top.
[Latest news: The Spiders’ leading scorer, Blake Francis, is out 4-6 weeks with a sternum injury].