The Division Series
But they won, saving themselves the embarrassment that would have surely come from losing to a team presumably worse than even the worst Division I team in the country.
Here though, is something to keep in mind, especially as Rider fans look forward to the Broncs' exhibition game Saturday against Division II East Strousburg: Losing exhibition games to Division II teams is by no means a good way to head into the regular season. It is not, however, something that guarantees an unsuccessful season, or something that should be met with much more criticism than a sloppy win against a weak Division I opponent in November.
This is particularly relevant this year, because with Justin Robinson (knee), Jermaine Jackson (knee), Lamar Johnson (concussion) and Brandon Penn (suspension) out for Saturday's game, and with only eight players at Tommy Dempsey's disposal, there is a real chance Rider could lose.
East Strousburg, a run-and-gun team that uses full-court pressure almost throughout and went 18-10 last year, is exactly the type of team that could beat the depleted Broncs, whose bench will consist only of backup shooting guard Pat Mansell and seldom-used forwards Robbie Myers and Kevin Vosilla.
With his lack of personnel, Dempsey is correct to worry that things might not go well. Certainly, a loss could be demoralizing for the players, it could turn away some fans, and it would draw ridicule from college hoops junkies across the country who would see the score on the ESPN sports ticker and assume, wrongly, that Rider is going to lose 25 games.
I'm not saying that's what's going to happen. For all I know, Ryan Thompson might prove too much for East Strousburg to handle, Novar Gadson might dazzle in his collegiate debut (Dempsey was raving, with good reason from what I could see, about Gadson today after practice), and Rider might win by 25.
But here's a message to Rider fans: If it does happen, do not -- I repeat, do not! -- hit the panic button.
If it does happen -- and again, I'm not predicting it will -- it will be a result of Rider playing the wrong team with the wrong lineup at the wrong time, not an indictment on the ability of a team that won 23 games last year and might be just as good or better this year.
And if it does happen, Rider fans would be wise to look at history, which shows that although losses to lower division teams are never a good thing, they aren't always a sign of horrible things to come.
Sometimes, they ARE a sign of horrible things to come. In 2006, Iona lost to Division III Rhode Island College, then went on to lose its first 21 games of the regular season before beating -- guess who? -- Rider to end the nation's longest losing streak.
Sometimes, though, they don't mean much. Case in point was last year, when eighth-ranked Michigan State -- with nowhere near the injury issues Rider has right now -- lost at home to Division II Grand Valley State. The high point in the program's history? Certainly not, but the rest of the season wasn't canceled, Tom Izzo wasn't fired, and the Spartans went on to have a very respectable season in which they won 27 games and advanced to the Sweet 16.
A week later, another Big 10 team -- Ohio State -- lost to Division II Findlay. The Buckeyes didn't make it to the Final Four or even to the Big Dance, but they did win the NIT, an accomplishment plenty of teams would love to claim.
Lastly, IF the Broncs lose, it'll be important to remember that especially in exhibition games, when getting people playing time and testing things out, a close loss -- which would get national attention -- isn't much worse than a close win, which gets almost no attention.
Case in point: Louisville got all it could handle Saturday in a thoroughly unimpressive 74-67 win over Division II Georgetown College. But people aren't exactly jumping off the Cardinals' bandwagon, nor should they be.