Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Siena-Rider First Conference Showdown

It's an early Christmas present for college basketball fans in the upstate New York area, the first real showdown of conference play, when Rider plays Siena at the Saints' Times Union Center home court in Albany, N.Y., Wednesday night at 7 p.m.

It's a meeting of the only two teams to receive a first-place vote in the coaches' preseason poll, although that's hardly the whole story about that.

Siena received nine of the 10 first-place votes. The one vote the Broncs got came from their own coach, Tommy Dempsey.

So, tonight marks Rider's first opportunity to back up its coach's confidence. Siena, on the other hand, will be out to show that Dempsey is full of holiday stuffing ... or, something like that ... when it comes to his preseason prognostications.

By all accounts, though, these are two of the MAAC's top three teams, with Niagara also being in that rarified territory this season. At some point, though, Fairfield might have something to say about that, too, and its early season work indicates that it might be a legitimate four-team race for the conference's top spot.

It's also an individual match of the two players most expected to contend for conference Player of the Year honors, Rider's 6-foot-6 point guard Ryan Thompson and Siena's 6-6 small forward Edwin Ubiles.

Neither, though, has done much yet to solidify their respective candidacies.

Thompson has been wildly inconsistent, scoring a single point in a game earlier this year and getting just eight points in the team's most-recent contest, a victory over Monmouth. On the year he averages 15.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists with 33 total assists against 34 turnovers.

Ubiles, hindered for a couple games early (including one missed contest) with some knee soreness, is averaging 12.4 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.0 assists per contest.

The game also features the nation's leader in assists, Siena's Ronald Moore with 8.0 per contest.

And, it brings a matchup of two of the better post duos. Siena has 6-9 Ryan Rossiter (9.0 rebounds per contest) and 6-5 Alex Franklin (7.8), while Rider counters with the 6-7 tandem of Novar Gadson (7.8) and Mike Ringold (7.8).

The two teams split last season's regular-season meetings. Rider's home-court 90-88 victory in the series was one of just two regular-season losses suffered by Siena all season.

Speaking of home court ... Siena has an active 24-game home winning streak on the line tonight. That's the third-longest nationally, trailing only Kansas (47) and Pitt (25).

The teams are both 1-0 in league play. Only Fairfield and Niagara (each 2-0) also remain unbeaten in conference play thus far.

And, despite the gloom-and-doom reactions to the early season non-conference loss totals of each (Siena is 6-4 overall, while Rider is 8-5), neither has done anything yet to indicate that they'll do anything other than contend for MAAC championship honors all season.

Siena has lost to four very good teams thus far, Temple, St. John's, Georgia Tech and Northern Iowa.

And, Rider's losses have also come against opponents from higher-rated conferences, including setbacks against Kentucky, Virginia, Sam Houston State, La Salle and Rutgers.

Wednesday's meeting should make for a very nice gift of college basketball on a cold winter's night.

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