Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Team Reports: Rider Men Look To Be Solid, Again

Here's another in the series looking back and ahead at conference teams.

Up now ...


2012-13 RECORD: 12-6 in MAAC play (tied for 2nd), 19-15 overall.

2012-13 RECAP: A strong finish (13-6 after a 6-9 start to its season) enabled the Broncs to tie for second in the regular-season standings. Rider then lost its quarterfinal-round game of the MAAC's post-season tournament to No. 7 seeded Fairfield.  Still, Rider went to a national post-season tournament (the Tournament (CIT) for the fourth time in the last six years. There, the Broncs won a first-round game (over Hartford) before losing in the second round to East to East Carolina.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Without a real "elite" player (guard Jonathan Thompson was a second-team all-league pick), the Broncs found relative success with teamwork, hard play and good defense. It was Kevin Baggett's first year running the program, after six seasons as a program assistant, and there might have been some early adjustments when Rider went 6-9 in its first 15 games. After that, though, it went 13-6 down the stretch including a late-season sweep on its Western New York trip, beating both Niagara and Canisius. There was another national post-season trip (the CIT). And, there, Rider won a game (over Hartford), its first national post-season victory since 1957. Thonpson had a very nice season, doing a little of everything that could be measured statistically, and a little that couldn't be (as a standout defender). Forwards Anthony Myles (12.4 points, 4.6 rebounds) and Daniel Stewart (10.6, 7.2, a third-team all-MAAC pick) were also strong. The Broncs also had good dept, with six other players getting at least one start and all of them averaging at least 2.5 ppg. Dera Nd-Ezuma, a senior forward, had 34 blocks while playing just 12.7 minutes per game.

WHAT WENT WRONG: One-year stopover Nurideen Lindsey, a prodigious scorer on the high school level in Philly and a transfer from St. John's, averaged 8.0 points per game, but the expectations were for much, much more. Lindsey didn't disrupt things, but it appeared that he deferred to more-established players and was never the offensive threat his skills indicated he could be. Lindsey, after the season, left school to pursue professional opportunities overseas. The 6-9 start wasn't expected, but was understandable with some of the losses coming against larger programs (South Carolina, SMU, La Salle, Rutgers, Princeton). But, after that things fell nicely into place. Still, Rider seemed cursed against Fairfield, losing both regular-season meetings (65-52, 69-59) and, then, running into the Stags again in the first round of the MAAC tournament, with Fairfield taking a 43-42 victory in which Rider had a 34-30 lead with under six minutes to play.

WHAT'S AHEAD: More solid play, although two starters, Thompson and Lindsey, are gone. Thompson's loss will be particularly difficult since he led the team in scoring, assists and steals and was one of the league's most-unsung quality players over the past couple of years. Nd-Ezuma is also gone, but he was mostly a shot-blocking specialist. Otherwise, there's a good foundation returning, a strong one-two punch with the 6-7 Stewart and the 6-5 Myles, back as proven senior veterans. And, 6-9 Junior Fortunat, a junior (4.7, 3.5) looks poised to take on a bigger role. Sophomores 6-2 Zedric Sadler and 6-7 Shawn Valentine were also in the playing group last year and are likely to improve, and 6-2 senior Tommy Pereira provides long-range shooting accuracy coming off the bench. The program has four good recruits coming in with 6-7 power forward Khalil Thomas and 6-3 point guard Jimmie Taylor, the most likely to get into the playing group quickly.

PREDICTION FOR 2013-14: Rider has been a consistent contender, at least for the upper half of the league standings, for the past several years and the coming season will be more of the same. It's hard to think the Broncs can crack the top three (Manhattan, Iona, Canisius), but it's not out of the realm of possibility if a couple of the incoming freshmen make significant contributions. The likelihood, though, is that Rider will finish somewhere in the fourth/fifth/sixth range.

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