Friday, November 25, 2016

Richmond will get its first challenge in Lakeside at Paine Saturday

Richmond improved to 3-0 Saturday with a 71-41 win over Harlem in the Thanksgiving Classic at Paine College. Five players scored 10 or more points including DT Stephens (14), Moses Williams (12), Devon Payton (11), Lucas Thomas (10) and Vontrez Roberts (10). The win comes after back-to-back 63-40 victories over Grovetown and Woodward, respectively.

Until an opponent threatens Richmond, or at least until one comes within 20 points of the Musketeers, Coach Steve Nobles' experienced group will remain my pick to be the area's best team. With three key players from last season's region runner up and second round state tournament team leading the way, the Musketeers started the season with that kind of confidence and composure that only the experience of winning together can bring to a group.

My choice of the Musketeers as the area's top team conflicts with GHSA expert Kyle Sandy, who places Thomson, Richmond's new region rival, in the third slot in his class 4A state wide rankings, while putting the Musketeers in the seventh spot. For the record, a pick for Thompson is just as good as a pick for Richmond in my book, especially at this early stage. The teams are very close to each other in many ways.

Richmond has not been challenged yet. 

But I expect that to change Saturday when it faces Lakeside at Paine, and Tuesday when it hosts Westminster. I will preview the latter matchup later so we can concentrate on tomorrow's game first.

Saturday's 3:30 matchup with Lakeside is interesting for many reasons. In the paint, Richmond's Moses Williams will battle Lakeside's Deon Berrien in a duel between the two most productive "bigs" in town. The 6'5" Williams has averaged 12 points while coasting through Richmond's three wins, using old-fashioned footwork and hustle to beat bigger and smaller players alike.

And the 6'5" Berrien entered the weekend averaging 20 points and 11 rebounds, including a monster game in a win over Laney in which he scored 27 points and grabbed 13 rebounds.

Both the Musketeers and the Panthers have plenty of firepower on the perimeter too. Richmond's guards, Jason Weaver and DT Stephens, have shown they can score and at the same time run the offense in such a way that it always includes Williams. Weaver is scoring 14 points per game and Stephens is averaging 11 through three games.

But Lakeside's three headed perimeter attack that includes Kalen Williams (22 ppg, 4 apg), Brad Hilley (12 ppg) and Kre'Sean Hall (12 ppg, 10 rpg) should be up to the task as well.

These two teams are so evenly matched that each also relies on a secondary inside player who is a sophomore and who shows great promise already. Richmond's Vontrez Roberts scored 10 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the Musketeers' win over Harlem Friday. And Lakeside's Jake Gilbert scored 10 in the Panthers' first game, an 85-77 loss at Butler. Both Roberts and Gilbert are 6'4" and very active. And each can provide the spark that could be the difference in this matchup.

Richmond will either need to strap on their track shoes to out run the Panthers, who were averaging 76 points through three games, or they will need to slow things down to halt Lakeside's attack. Either strategy is feasible given Richmond's roster. If Coach Nobles chooses a slow pace, it will be fascinating to see if Lakeside can adjust its game accordingly, assuming Richmond can in fact impose its will in the first place. And if they run with Coach Jeff Williams's group, Saturday's game should be a treat for those in attendance at Paine.

*Note: Since publishing this preview, Josey beat Lakeside 64-60 in overtime in Friday's 8:30 Thanksgiving Classic matchup. The Eagles paid back the Panthers for Lakeside's 74-67 win over Josey 7 days earlier in the Wolfpack Challenge Tip-off tournament. The overtime loss to Josey does not change my mind one bit about the Panthers posing a stiff challenge for the Musketeers Saturday.

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