Another installment in a series looking at the chances of teams in the upcoming men's MAAC tournament.
Up now, Rider.
No. 3 Rider (9-9 in MAAC play, 16-15 overall).
SEASON ANALYSIS: This was the team, with four returning starters and including the preseason choice for Player of the Year, that was supposed to challenge Siena. Head coach Tommy Dempsey told us that, casting the lone vote (for his own team) in the preseason coaches' poll for a team other than Siena to win this year's regular-season crown. Then, the Broncs beat 18th ranked Mississippi State, 88-74, in its opener. Maybe Dempsey was right about his team.
Somehow, though, something happened on the way to all that glory. Inconsistent play, poor offensive chemistry, or whatever ... it all added up to Rider having arguably the most-disappointing season of anyone in the conference. It didn't help that its top player, 6-6 guard Ryan Thompson, had similar inconsistencies. He did recover enough to be voted a first-team all-star, but that came mostly on the strength of a late-season seven-game stretch in which he averaged 25 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.3 assists and hit .541 percent of his field goals. In his other 24 games he averaged 15.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.9 assists and had a .379 shooting percentage.
All those woes required the Broncs to win their final regular-season contest, an 86-70 victory over Canisius, to avoid the play-in round of the MAAC tournament.
HOW RIDER CAN WIN THE MAAC TOURNAMENT: Thompson would need to play three games like those in that spectacular late-season seven-game stretch he had. And, even that might not be enough, but it would help. As would some spectacular outside shooting from guard Justin Robinson, who is capable of that; and significantly strong inside play by 6-7 forwards Mike Ringold and Novar Gadson.
WHY RIDER WON'T WIN THE MAAC TOURNAMENT: The proverbial "light bulb" doesn't suddenly go on once the calendar turns to March. Rider is likely to be now exactly what it was for most of the year ... an inconsistent group. It doesn't have a legitimate point guard, Ringold doesn't provide much on offense and the Broncs would have to get past a likely semifinal meeting with Siena, that dismantled Rider by scores of 80-54 and 84-62 in the two regular-season meetings.
PREDICTION: Your blogger doesn't have a lot of faith in Rider, and believes it will get beat by Saint Peter's in the quarterfinal round.
WHAT'S AHEAD: Surely, a disappointing look back. Thompson definitely has a pro career ahead of him, but whether that involves joining his 6-foot-11 brother Jason Thompson in the NBA is debatable. Thompson, though, is the only significant loss off this year's team. So, the Broncs are likely to be competitive next season, but not likely to be among the elite teams in the MAAC.