Here's another in the series previewing MAAC teams. Up now ...
2009-10 RECORD: 9-9 in MAAC play, 17-16 overall.
2010-11 COACHES' PREDICTION: Picked for fifth in the coaches' preseason poll.
KEY RETURNEES: 6-2 senior guard Justin Robinson (13.2 points, 3.5 rebounds. 2.9 assists), 6-7 senior forward Mike Ringold (11.2 points, 7.0 rebounds), 6-7 junior forward Novar Gadson (11.2 points, 7.5 rebounds), 6-0 senior guard Jhamar Youngblood (6.7 points, 2.7 rebounds).
KEY LOSSES: Swingman Ryan Thompson (17.2 points, 5.0 rebounds).
NOTES: Things started so well with a road victory over 15th-ranked Mississippi State, and there wasn't any reason to think more of the same might come, particularly since the Broncs had a Player of the Year candidate in Ryan Thompson and a strong supporting staff. Instead, the Riders were among the most-disappointing teams in the conference, going .500 after the Mississippi State victory. Thompson, who is currently playing in the NBA's Developmental League, had three games of 30-plus points but averaged a very pedestrian 15.5 points in his other 30 contests. His statistics went down in every meaningful catagory compared to his junior season.
There have been some comments about this being the first time in six seasons that Rider is without a Thompson ... Ryan's 6-11 brother Jason, now in the NBA, played for the Broncs from 2004-05 through 2007-08. But, there's still one on the roster, 6-4 sophomore guard Jonathon Thompson, no relation to his predecessors of the same surname, and he started the Broncs' first game, a 77-67 setback at UMass on Saturday.
This year's team, though, doesn't have the expectations of a year ago. Not even optimistic coach Tommy Dempsey, who picked his own team to win the MAAC in the preseason coaches' poll last year, picked the Broncs for No. 1 this season. In truth, there's no replacement for the graduated Thompson, so the hope is that the returnees step up a little and the younger players who didn't get much time a year ago mature quickly.
There already seems to be some change of roles as Gadson and Youngblood, both starters for much of last season, came off the bench against UMass. Jonathon Thompson, 6-8 sophomore forward Brandon Penn and 6-7 freshman forward Danny Stewart all moved into the starting lineup. That's 60 percent of the first five, with two previous starters currently displaced. Clearly, there's much transition here.
Ringold, one of the hardest-working players in the league, had a big 21-point, 9-rebound game against UMass, but didn't get much help overall. The Broncs held a 21-point lead at halftime in the game in Amherst, Mass., but fell apart after that getting outscored 53-22 in the second 20 minutes of play. That's not a good sign. Mostly it 's probably a sign that on some nights things could be good and on other nights they won't be so good.
HOW RIDER WILL SUCCEED: Hard to envision the Broncs finishing any higher than predicted, not without a true "elite" player. But, they had one a year ago and only finished a game over .500 overall. So, maybe., a team of solid players will yield better results. That remains to be seen. But, there are nice pieces in place. Ringold is among the better inside players in the conference, but has limitations in range and at the foul line. Robinson is one of the top five or six guards in the conference, but will likely need to do even more this season both in terms of running the team and scoring. If the Broncs continue to start younger players, then a second unit that includes Gadson and Youngblood gives them some offense off the bench. Penn showed signs of being a contributor in a limited role last season and Stewart is one of the more highly-touted incoming freshmen. But, both Penn (205 pounds) and Stewart (210 pounds) are both about 20 pounds of bulk away from being able to withstand the pounding they'll face this season. Still, it should be interesting to see how the young players develop. If the maturation process comes quickly, and the a true team-oriented attack, rather than one that waited for Ryan Thompson to take over last season, is effective, then maybe Rider can move up.
COACH'S COMMENTS: "Justin Robinson's career has progressed nicely and he's ready to break out now," said Rider coach Tommy Dempsey. "He has a chance to be one of the best guards in the league, and we need him to take a step forward. It's intimidating, in a way (to be without the Thompson brothers), but you move on. They gave us everything they had. Now it's up to the other guys to continue that. We have a lot of talent in our program. All three of our freshmen are expected to play in some capacity. They'll have to play a role, but our success will be determined by our juniors and seniors.
PREDICTION: There are reasons to believe Rider can be more than competitive, particularly if you want to believe that the loss of d0-everything Ryan Thompson can be offset by more of a team-oriented style of play. Still, the doesn't appear to be enough talent, compared to teams rated above the Broncs, for them to seriously expect to contend for a league championship. Plus, there's a considerable amount of transition if the starting lineup that includes three new faces that started against UMass remains the same. If everything fall into place, third or fourth place isn't out of the realm of possibility. But it's more likely that the Broncs will fall into the fifth- or sixth-place range.