Time, now, to begin previewing the MAAC men's tournament, beginning with Thursday's preliminary round games.
No. 8 SEED RIDER vs. No. 9 SEED MONMOUTH, Thursday, 5 p.m.
TEAM RECORDS: Rider is 9-11 in MAAC play, 13-16 overall; Monmouth is 5-15 in MAAC play, 11-20 overall. Rider won both regular-season meetings, 77-71 in overtime and 89-83.
WHAT RIDER HAS: A team good enough to have strongly contended for a top-five finish until the final three weeks of the regular season. Seniors guard Anthony Myles (16.2 points, 4.4 rebounds) and forward Daniel Stewart (15.0, 6.1) are both among the league's better players. Jimmie Taylor has been a revlelation as a first-year point guard. He was handed the team's reins and coach Kevin Baggett allowed him to play through early season mistakes and mature quickly. He averages 12.0 points and 3.4 assists. The team also has superb outside shooting, including the best three-point accuracy (39.9 percent) in the conference. Taylor (48.3 percent on 42-of-87 treys) tops the MAAC from long range, while Pereira is also a capable distance threat (40-of-98 from beyond the bonus stripe). As a team the Broncs have six different players with at least 20 made three pointers this season.
WHAT MONMOUTH HAS: Two outstanding swing players in 6-6 juniors Deon Jones (15.0 points, 7.0 rebounds) and Andrew Nicholas (14.4, 3.2, 62 made three-pointers). Add 6-2 freshman guard Josh Jones (8.3 ppg.) for a solid trio from the guard/small forward spots. Another swing player, 6-5 sophomore Tyrone O'Garro has been effective off the bench (4.0, 6.1). The team has more than its share of height and has been starting a pair of 6-10 freshmen, Zac Tillman and Chris Brady lately. Brady had a recent 8-point, 12-rebound game vs. Iona. And, the Hawks have been close in both games with Rider, losing one by six and the other in overtime.
WHAT RIDER DOESN'T HAVE: Confidence, for some reason. After an 8-5 start to league play the Broncs went 1-6 down the stretch. "It was the confidence part, and I don't know why we lost so much confidence," says coach Kevin Baggett. "We're not so much the same team as we were early. We've got the talent. We've just can't have a woe-is-me attitude." The team also lacks a true inside force. Only one conference team has a leading rebounder getting as few as the 6.1 rebounds per game Stewart gets, although Rider does a good job at rebounding by committee.
WHAT MONMOUTH DOESN'T HAVE: Its point guard, the 5-foot-8 freshman Justin Robinson, who was averaging 7.1 points, 3.0 assists and a knack for leadership and floor-generalship. Robinson has been battling a slight stress fracture in his foot for most of the second half of the season. The injury has worsened and head coach King Rice says that Robinson, who hadn't played for the past two weeks, is shut down for the season. The team also lacks experience, particularly inside with the two big freshmen in the front court.
COMMENT: On paper, Rider looks like one of the best lower-division teams the conference has seen in several years. But, its late-season slide indicates it needs to revert to what it was doing early. Rider could either be an early out, or a dangerous team. Monmouth, though, has been even more ineffective of late, winning just one of its final 11 MAAC games.