Sunday, July 3, 2011

Off-Season: Rider Maintains Consistency

Here's another in the series examining conference programs.

Up now ...


2010-11 RECORD: 13-5 in MAAC play, 23-11 overall.

2010-11 RECAP: Another very good season, the fifth straight time the Broncs have reached at least the .500 mark in conference play. Only Fairfield's string of .500-or-better records within the conference is as long. The 23 overall victories was the most by the program on the Division I level. Over the past four years Rider has 82 overall victories, another new standard. This past season was enough to get the program to a national post-season tournament for the third time in the past four years, although none of those trips was to the NCAA's or the NIT. The most-recent trip was to the College Insider's Tournament, where it dropped a first-round contest to highly regarded Northern Iowa. The Broncs, a program populated with two of the better conference players in recent history (Jason and Ryan Thompson), did its work in 2010-11 without that type singular star. Justin Robinson was the team's best, and he culminated a very nice four-year career with a 15.7 ppg. average. Mostly, though, what the Broncs did this past season was a product of team play and balance and the result was better than the sum of the parts.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: The 23 wins ... a continuation of a very solid four-year run of success. There is consistent excellence here. Robinson, mostly a role player in the shadow of Ryan Thompson for the past three seasons, made the type of move forward expected of a senior, leading the team in scoring, assists and rebounding. Novar Gadson, a 6-7 small forward, also had a nice season (13.7 points, 5.8 rebounds), while 6-8 senior Mike Ringold turned in his career-long workman-like effort (12.1, 5.4). Brandon Penn, a junior, made more contributions than ever while freshman 6-7 Danny Stewart led the team in rebounding (7.1). There was even another Thompson contributor in Jonathon Thompson (6.1), no relation to the recent Rider standout brothers. And, Anthony Myles (5.9) had a nice freshman season to complete a solid 7-man playing group. Rider, too, got a little beyond-the-conference recognition when it won all three of its games in the Mass Mutual Center preseason tournament, beating USC (in Los Angeles), TCU and Loyola Marymount. A slight slip after that saw the Broncs fall to a 5-4 record but they then went 18-5 after that before losing in the semifinals of the MAAC tournament (to Iona) and, then, in the CIT event.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Rider was good enough to compete with anyone in the league, beating all nine other conference members at least once, but somehow managed to lose regular-season games to Siena (the 7th-place finisher) and Canisius (6th) that cost it a chance to compete for the regular-season crown. Head coach Tommy Dempsey, during the MAAC tournament, spoke eloquently about how his program has attained respectability within the conference and, now, needs to take the next step beyond that. It came pretty close this season, but didn't quite get there, particularly in light of blow-out losses to end things (an 83-59 loss to Iona in the MAAC tournament and an 84-50 setback to Northern Iowa in the CIT). But, Ringold suffered a severe ankle sprain in the MAAC tournament's first round and wasn't close to being productive after that. It was testimony to his toughness that he even played after that. And, Thompson was suspended for an undisclosed team violation at the end of the regular season and did not participate in the post season., compromising Rider's depth.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Definitely more consistency, although maybe not that next step into the conference's upper stratosphere. Then again, your scribe learned a hard lesson about underestimating Rider. In the 2010-11 season preview done for The Sporting News, yours truly picked the Broncs to finish eighth in the 10-team league. And, then, Rider finished tied for the 2nd spot in the regular-season standings. Dempsey, on several occasions, gave thanks to this scribe for providing some bulletin-board material for his team. Glad to help, coach. But, don't expect that kind of aid from here this season. I've learned my lesson. Your blogger sees no worse than a fourth-place finish this time. Any chance of finishing higher depends strongly on how well incoming transfer senior guard Jeff Jones, formerly a part-time starter at Virginia, can step into the role vacated by the multi-dimensional Robinson. But, Jones appears capable. He had some big games (19 points vs. North Carolina, 17 vs. Stanford, 15 vs. Duke) against high-quality opponents while at Virginia. Gadson probably needs to become even more of an offensive contributor. The other graduated senior, Ringold, provided the type blue-collar performance on a nightly basis that won't be easily replaced. Stewart, though, has the potential to step into that role. Myles should make a nice move forward as a sophomore, while the 6-8 Penn supplies more front-court size and consistency and Thompson will continue to supply quality play off the bench.

PREDICTION FOR 2011-12: The official prediction here is for a fourth-place finish. Anything better depends primarily on two things happening: Jones has a major impact on the court and Dempsey can find some quality bench play beyond Jones and the five other returning members of last year's playing group.

NOTE: This concludes the off-season reports on men's teams. There are still four women's reports to come. So, look for them over the next week.

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