Saturday, April 24, 2010

Off-Season Report: Rider Regrouping

Here's the latest in the series of "10 Teams in 10 Days," an off-season look back and ahead at MAAC men's programs. Up, now ...

RIDER (9-9 in the MAAC last season, 17-16 overall)

FINAL 2009-10 RPI: 139 of 347 Division I teams nationally.

2009-10 RECAP: Conference coaches picked Rider to finish third, and its own coach, Tommy Dempsey, optimistically cast a first-place ballot for his Broncs. It looked like they might have underestimated the Broncs, who opened up with a victory at 15th-ranked Mississippi State. But, after that, it looks like the predictions were overestimations for a team that underachieved almost all season long. The Broncs appeared to have everything in place, a potential Player of the Year pick in Ryan Thompson and a deep group of solid teammates. And, then, the team was mostly mediocre from start to finish. A tie for fifth place in the league certainly wasn't what was expected.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: The season-opening victory over Mississippi State was among the best ever for the program. Thompson, among the MAAC's elite players, had some flashes of what everyone expected, including three 30-point plus outings. Junion guard Justin Robinson had a solid year. Forwards Mike Ringold and Novar Gadson remained among the conference's hardest-working big men. But, in truth, not enough went right as the Broncs struggled all season to get above the .500 mark.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Start with Thompson, the preseason pick for Player of the Year, who rarely played up to that expectation. He had three magnificant games during the season, accounting for 100 of his 566 points. Otherwise, he averaged a very pedestrial 15.5 points. On the year, he averaged 17.2 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.8 assists, all numbers below his junior season averages of 18.0, 6.4, 3.2. Instead of a step-up season, Thompson went the other way, barely earning first-team all-league honors. Maybe he was a "marked" man to opposing defenses, but it looked like he was more content to play within the flow of games rather than to take things over like top players are expected to do. Ringold and Gadson both had limitations. Ringold struggled away from the paint, and Gadson rarely went inside. Jhamar Younglood, a touted transfer from Monmouth, didn't have the expected impact.

WHAT'S AHEAD: It's hard to expect Rider to suddenly take a major step forward. Even though Thompson didn't have a great season, his presence alone forced opponents to concentrate more on him and less on his teammates. It should be interesting to see how Rider's returnees fare with Thompson no longer around to open things up for them. Ringold and Gadson need to step up a little, which is a possibility. Robinson is likely to be one of the conference's better guards next season. Brandon Penn, a 6-7 sophomore, showed some signs of being able to contribute more as did 6-4 freshman guard Jonathan Thompson (no relation to Ryan). The top incoming recruit appears to be 6-7 forward Daniel Stewart, who could get into the playing group. But, there have been some player defections of late, too. DeShawn Mitchell, a 6-2 guard and transfer from UNLV who might have had an impact, left the program recently without ever playing a game for Rider. Sophomore forward Jermaine Jackson and freshman guard Carl Johnson, players who would have been in next season's playing group, have also left the program.

PREDICTION FOR 2010-11: Not even its own coach will pick Rider to finish first next season. And, it's hard to envision the Broncs being better than they were this past season. The player defections will mean whatever depth the program will have will likely come from incoming freshmen, which is rarely a recipe for success. There is a core of solid players that will ensure they'll still be competitive, but the requisite go-to-player isn't here. The guess here is that Rider will finish either fifth or sixth next season.

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