The start of basketball season, an "early Christmas," if you will, not only for coaches and players but fans, too, is only a week away.
And, that means it's preview time.
We'll take a look at each conference program, men's and women's, individually and provide (we hope) as informative, as comprehensive and as up-to-date material as can be found anywhere. So, read early, read often and pass along to family and friends the news that previews on their favorite MAAC teams can be found right here.
We'll do the previews in no particular order, other than if a school's men's preview appears then the next post will be on its women's program (or, vice versa).
So, first up ...
2011-12 RECORD: 10-8 in the MAAC, 13-19 overall and a 65-63 loss to eventual tournament champion Loyola in the first round of the conference tournament.
KEY LOSSES: Guard Jeff Jones (13.4 points, 2.6 rebounds per game), forward Brandon Penn (12.0, 6.5), forward Novar Gadson (10.7, 2.5), guard Eddie Mitchell (4.2, 1.9).
KEY RETURNEES: Daniel Stewart, 6-7 junior forward (11.1, 6.6), Anthony Miles, 6-5 junior guard/forward (10.1, 4.5), Jonathan Thompson, 6-4 senior guard (8.1, 3.5, 4.7 assists), Junior Fortunat, 6-9 sophomore center (3.8, 2.9).
KEY ADDITIONS: Nurideen Lindsey, 6-3 junior guard, transfer from St. John's (11.8, 4.9), Khalil Alford, 6-4 freshman guard), Derrick Stewart, 6-5 freshman forward).
NOTES: Three of the team's top four scorers (Jones, Penn and Gadson) are gone, but Jones never seemed to mesh into a team concept and Gadson wasn't anywhere near 100 percent as he recovered from off-season knee surgery ... Back are the team's top-rebounder in Stewart, who somehow was overlooked by coaches in picking preseason all-star teams, but appears poised to have even a greater impact this season. The front-court should be well-manned with Stewart and 6-9 sophomore Junior Fortunat, who wasn't cleared until the second semester a year ago by the NCAA but showed flashes of being an effective big man in the 20 games he did play ... There's also two strong perimter players returning in senior point guard Thompson, the league's leader in assists among returnees; and, junior guard Anthony Myles. And, the two returning perimeter players are big -- Myles is 6-5 and Thompson is 6-4. Myles will probably end up on the wing, giving the Broncs three perimeter players, but both he and Thompson are above-average perimeter rebounders ... There's also a new coach in place in Kevin Baggett, who takes over from good guy Tommy Dempsey (who took over the program at Binghamton), but the transition should be relatively easy since Baggett had been one of Dempsey's assistants for the past six seasons ... There's also considerable optimism about incoming players, particularly Nurideen Lindsey, a transfer from St. John's where he averaged 11.8 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists in nine games there last season. And, Lindsey, who could have a major impact (think poor-man's Allen Iverson) at this level, got an NCAA waiver and is eligible right away rather than at the start of the second semester. Prior to St. John's, he averaged 22.3 ppg in a junior college season and 35.8 ppg. at Overbrook H.S. in Philadelphia over two seasons there. There are also five incoming freshmen, probably much of the team's bench strength for the upcoming season. Hard to tell how much impact first-year players will have, but 6-5 forward Derrick Stewart, the younger brother of Daniel Stewart; and Khalil Alford, a 6-4 guard who averaged 15.8 ppg. at Fishburne Military School in Virginia last season, appear to have the best chance to contribute right away.
RIDER STRENGTHS: Despite three key graduation losses, returnees include a center, a power forward, a point guard and a wing man, and all are solid players. Then, Lindsey comes in with the potential to put up big numbers and the Broncs should be good again this season. Stewart could be among the best front-court players in the league, and should play with a chip on his shoulder after being slighted by league coaches for preseason all-star recognition. And, Lindsey could wind up leading the MAAC in scoring, particularly playing alongside Thompson, who will be one of the league's best point guards this season. Fortunat, who weighs about 230 pounds, is a true big man inside and there aren't a lot of those at this level. Plus, the four returnees (Stewart, Fortunat, Thompson and Myles) have been together for a year, which could ease some of the chemistry issues the team faced a year ago when it started with just one win in its first 11 games.
RIDER WEAKNESSES: Ensuring there aren't chemistry problems if Lindsey does indeed do most of the scoring, but that's probably not going to be a problem as long as he's not overly selfish and his scoring helps lead to wins.. Then, there's bound to be an adjustment to having a new head coach in Baggett, but at least players and he are familiar with each other based on his previous six years in the program. The other issue might be experienced depth.
REASONABLE EXPECTATION: We'll say this over and over: There doesn't appear to be a dominant team in the conference this year but there are plenty of solid ones. Rider is certainly one of those. We'd be somewhat surprised if the Broncs competed for one of the top two spots, but not overly so. A more likely finish would be somewhere from third to sixth.