Blogs > The Full-Court Press

The Trentonian's Full-Court Press blog is back and improved. We'll keep you updated on everything you need to know about Rider and Princeton hoops as well as the college basketball landscape.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Live from the Zoo: Saint Joe's at Rider

Friday, November 27, 2009

Iona hangs with Florida State

Let me be the first to wish you a happy black Friday -- and since I'm four minutes late, a belated Happy Thanksgiving.

I'm not rushing out to the mall right this second, though I'm told some stores are already open or will be shortly.

My family eats a very late dinner, so I was still wrapped up in pumpkin pie and post-dinner coffee during Iona's televised game against Florida State. I'm getting a late start on college hoops now by watching Portland-UCLA on ESPN2.

I did, though, take a few minutes to look through the Iona-FSU box score. If you're a fan of offense, you might not want to look. But if you're a MAAC fan, you have to be pleased with how Iona has played so far, and particularly, with how the Gaels hung in there with the Seminoles in a 54-49 loss.

The Gaels showed some resiliency by digging themselves out of a six-point hole and tying the game in the final minutes.

They also played one hell of a defensive game, with 13 steals and a whopping 27 forced turnovers.

Just think: If only they hadn't gone 2-for-15 from 3-point range.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Getting Ryan Thompson going



Through five games, Rider's record is either the same or a game better than most people expected it would be. If the Broncs beat Sam Houston State Wednesday, they'll head home for Thanksgiving having one 4-2 in a tough six-game stretch, something Tommy Dempsey said he certainly would have signed for if offered to him a month ago.

If that's the case, though, they'll have gotten there an unusual way: Without major input from Ryan Thompson.

Thompson played through pain after suffering a right knee contusion Tuesday against Florida A&M and finished with 13 points on 3-for-7 shooting. It wasn't a poor performance, but it was the fourth time in five games that someone other than the preseason MAAC Player of the Year (in this case it was Justin Robinson with 23 points) led the Broncs in scoring.

That Rider can turn to a number of players -- Robinson, Novar Gadson and Mike Ringgold all fit the bill -- speaks to the balance the Broncs have, and to their prospects for staying near the top of the MAAC standings next year, when Thompson will be gone.

But Dempsey conceded Tuesday that for Rider to be as good as it wants to be -- and for Thompson to achieve the personal goals he wants to achieve -- Thompson can't let this early-season funk turn into a prolonged slump.

"We have to get Ryan going," the coach said. "He's off to a slow start. He's got to make sure he's not putting too much pressure on himself. Senior year is a little bit different, especially when you're an NBA prospect. Several scouts were there again today and at the Kentucky game. He's got to make sure he doesn't put too much pressure on himself to be perfect. (He should) just let it rip. That's the biggest thing I need to get across to him."

Rider 88, FAMU 73



Tommy Dempsey paced the sideline Tuesday morning, hoping someone would step up.

Having lost its last two games by a combined 62 points, yesterday’s game against winless Florida A&M in the Cancun Challenge wasn’t a game Rider could have afforded to lose.

The Broncs, though, lacked energy or any semblance of efficiency in the early going. They fell into a 12-point hole, and to make matters worse, Ryan Thompson emerged from a collision with a contusion on his right knee.

That’s when Justin Robinson started to take over.

With Thompson hobbling and Mike Ringgold ineffective, the junior guard helped awaken a team that had been sleepwalking, leading the Broncs to an 88-73 win and a date with Sam Houston State today in the Mayan bracket title game.

“We looked like a team that had been blown out in our last two games,” Dempsey said of the Broncs’ sloppy first half. “We looked a little unsure of ourselves, but we played a good end of the first half, which gave us a little more momentum going into the second half.”

With Robinson leading the way, Rider cut the Rattlers’ lead to 39-37 at the break, then pulled away early in the second half.

Thompson, still in an early-season funk, scored only 13 points on 3-for-7 shooting. Ringgold ended up with 17 points and six rebounds, but played poorly in the first half and started the second half on the bench.

Robinson, though, bailed the Broncs out with a season-high 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting. He made two of three 3-pointers and helped spark the Broncs in transition with four steals.

“He was the key today,” Dempsey said. “Mike didn’t have it going for a while. He had an overall solid game, but Ryan banged the knee and was hobbled throughout the first half. So Ryan’s having a hard go, Mike’s having a hard go, and you’re thinking ‘someone has to step forward to make sure this doesn’t turn into one of those bad games.”

Monday, November 23, 2009

Rider vs. Florida A&M

A look at the Broncs' game with the Rattlers, which tips bright and early at 11 a.m.

WHERE: Moon Palace Resort Convention Center, Cancun, Mexico
ON THE AIR: Radio: 107.7, www.gobroncs.com (Daryl Fein, Steve Rudenstein)
RECORDS: Rider is 2-2-; Florida A&M is 0-4
SERIES: First meeting
SCOUTING RIDER: After winning their first two games by a combined 29 points, the Broncs have lost their last two — at Virginia and Kentucky — by a combined 62, taking them out of the national spotlight, and as coach Tommy Dempsey put it, bursting the bubble they had built after upsetting Mississippi State.
Ryan Thompson, averaging a team-best 15 points, still hasn’t had a breakout game offensively. Novar Gadson (14.5 points, 6.5 rebounds) has been just as effective offensively. The 6-foot-7 sophomore had 14 points at Kentucky after being held to just three at Virginia. Mike Ringgold (11.8 points, 6.3 rebounds) scored 12 points at Kentucky after being held to a combined 14 against Lehigh and Virginia. Justin Robinson (10.5 points, 7-for-12 3-point shooting) will start alongside Thompson in the backcourt. Brandon Penn (4.3 points, three rebounds) is expected to start up front along with Ringgold and Gadson.
SCOUTING FLORIDA A&M: The Rattlers, led by 6-3 senior guard Brandon Bryant, have been outscored by an average of 25 points per game. Their closest loss was a 78-64 setback at Cleveland State last Thursday.
Bryant (9.8 points, 8-for-18 3-point shooting) scored 14 points in a 100-59 loss to Georgia Tech in the Rattlgers’ opener, but hasn’t scored more than 10 points in a game since. Six-eight sophomore Yannick Crowder (Nine points, team-best 6.3 rebounds) is FAMU’s best inside player. He scored a season-best 14 points Saturday in a 99-69 loss at Stanford. Six-six junior Christopher Walker (nine points, 5.8 rebounds) can score from inside and out, as can 6-6 junior Larry Jackson (seven, 5.3). Six-one junior Rasheem Jenkins (5.8 points) is averaging a team-best 2.3 assists:
SIDELINES: Rider will play either Oral Roberts or Sam Houston State tomorrow in the road teams’ bracket of the Cancun Challenge. The home teams’ bracket consists of Kentucky, Virginia, Stanford and Cleveland State. ... FAMU coach Eugene Harris, in his third season, is 25-42.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The bad news and the silver lining from Saturday's games

Rider's Tommy Dempsey was one of several MAAC coaches pondering what went wrong.

Remember last week, when the MAAC was the toast of mid-major college hoops after going 5-2 on opening night?

That seems like 10 years ago tonight, after a day in which seemingly everything went wrong. On a day when Rider was the only team that seemingly stood no chance of winning, the league went 3-5 and Siena took itself out of top 25 consideration by blowing an early lead and losing at Temple.

Making matters worse was the way a few of these teams lost.

Rider went into Rupp Arena hoping to keep the game relatively close and ended up getting its doors blown off by a Kentucky team that suddenly figured out how to play perimeter defense. Saint Peter's, which had been impressive in its first two games, acted out of sorts with a tip later than 6 a.m. and lost at home to Youngstown State. Perhaps worst of all, Loyola shot an absurd 27 percent from the field in a 63-44 loss to Mount Saint Mary's.

Some of what took place Saturday was what many observers expected.

MAAC fans should be pleased that Iona has looked like a truly improved team and that Canisius avoided embarrassment by taking care of a dreadful Saint Francis of New York team. Then there's Manhattan, which lost at home to a good William & Mary team that had no business entering Draddy Gym as a two-point underdog.

There was, though, a significant silver lining on an otherwise gloomy day: On the road against a Central Florida team that had beaten its first three opponents by an average of 12 points per game, Niagara posted a thoroughly impressive 63-46 win.

The Purple Eagles (3-1) held Marcus Jordan and Co. to 31.6 shooting, including an ice-cold 17.4 percent from 3-point range. And that was without Tyrone Lewis, who missed his second straight game with a foot injury.

With Lewis out, Joe Mihalich played his starters a combined 170 minutes, and the Eagles struggled to find offense. But Anthony Nelson (11 points, 5 assists, 38 minutes) helped Niagara come up with more than enough scoring.

After coming unglued in the last two minutes against a lousy Auburn team, the Eagles deserved to take a back seat to Siena and Rider last week in the MAAC pecking order.

But they gave us strong evidence yesterday -- against a team that beat that same Auburn team by 10 points its last time out -- that they haven't regressed from last year, when -- in case anyone forgot -- they won 26 games and reached the MAAC title game.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

One-on-one with Coach Cal



The last time I had talked to John Calipari, I was a 10-year-old at what had become the Bruiser Flint School of Basketball, and Calipari was the newly-hired coach of the New Jersey Nets.

I had signed up for the camp when it was still had Coach Cal’s name attached to it, but that was before Calipari led UMass to the Final Four, the Nets lured him away and Flint – his top assistant – took over.

The highlight of the camp was when Calipari rolled up in a luxury car with tinted windows and Jersey plates, addressed the campers and held a brief autograph session.

I got to the front of the line, handed him my UMass t-shirt (I didn’t have the chutzpah to tell him I was a UConn fan despite living in near-by South Hadley), and mumbled some kind of message of thanks before stepping aside to admire my treasure, which also had the John Hancocks of Dana Dingle, Dante Bright (to the left and right of Calipari in this huddle) and a few other Minutemen.

That 1995-96 season was one to remember in Western Mass, and particularly, at South Hadley Middle School. The Minutemen were the talk of the town all year, wracking up victories and garnering national praise as Marucs Camby blocked shot after shot and Carmelo Travieso drained 3 after 3.

The year got even better when Camby served as a student-teacher at the school. He didn’t teach my class, but he did stop by to say hi and pose for a picture: A 6-foot-11 national Player of the Year candidate surrounded by a group of adoring 10-and-11-year-olds whose average height was somewhere around 4-6.

UMass advanced to the Final Four (which was later vacated because Camby had accepted illegal gifts from an agent), where the Minutemen ran into some team from Lexington and lost in the national semis.

That brings us back to yesterday. Kentucky is set to host Rider today with Calipari on the sideline – a picture that seemed unlikely 13 years ago in Western Mass.

When my cell phone rang last night and Calipari was on the other end returning my call, my first question was: Back in ’96, did you ever think you’d end up coaching at Kentucky? That kicked off our Q&A, which is transcribed below:

A: You hope some day you’ll have an opportunity like this, but you don’t know if it will ever happen because our profession is so topsy-tervy. But when you walk into Rupp Arena in front of 22,000 people who are going nuts, you say ‘I’d love to coach here.’

Q: What’s it been like so far?

A: The one thing here is, I don’t know of any other university that’s sop connected to its state. In Kentucky, there are no pro teams. Our football team played Eastern Kentucky and there were 70,000 people in the building. This is the commonwealth’s university. This is what this state is all about.


Q: Thoughts on this freshman class, which most people consider the best in the country?

A: They’re really trying, but they’re freshmen. We’ve just set records in Rupp in giving up 3s for two consecutive games (against Miami of Ohio and Sam Houston State). The way Rider plays, they’ll run it up if you let them and they’ll play fast if you let them. They’re dangerous.

I watched the tape of the Mississippi State game and they just absolutely blasted them. At the time I said ‘you know what people don’t understand how good teams are. Miami, Rider Cornell, you’re talking about basketball teams that no one knows how good they are. One of the things I’ve tried to do is have us play NCAA-level teams with veteran players, and that’s what they are. Miami has the best point guard in their league. You look at Rider and they have a veteran in Thompson and four guys averaging in double figures. Sam Houston State is picked to be one of the best teams in their league. They shot the living lights out against us.

Q: Do you still think as highly of Rider after watching the tape of the Virginia game?

A: Yeah, I didn’t think Rider ever quit. It was a 15-point game, a 17-point game, they were on the road and they weren’t shooting the ball particularly well.

Q: Does your team have the tools it needs to become a good defensive team?

A: I hope so, because the one thing I thought early was our offense would stink but our defense would be good. It turns out the offense has been great but the defense hasn’t caught up. I’m starting three freshmen, the next two players off the bench are freshmen, and one of the kids is a sophomore who didn't play last year. We're as young as every team in the country.

Q: Your former assistant, Josh Pastner (right), is getting all kinds of good press for the way Memphis has played so far and the No. 1 recruiting class he's brought in.

A. I'm happy for him. He and I talked after the Kansas game (a one-point Jayhawks victory) and I told him you had great substitutions, you had a team that really played for you and played hard, and you played a style that you needed to play to win. And with that recruiting class, I told him now ot's your program. It has nothing to do with me. And that's good for you and it's good for me.

Q: What went through your mind when he told you he had been offered the job?

A. We were at lunch, and he came back in and said 'you know what? They asked me to take the job. What do you think?' I said 'You don't have a choice.' He said 'what do you mean?' I said 'you're not coming with me to Kentucky. You don't have a choice'

Q: Another of your former assistants, Chuck Martin, is now the head coach at Marist. Is he the kind of guy who can turn that program around?

A. What he'll do is, he's one of those guys who everyone likes, and that bodes well in the recruiting process. He's a terrifric basketball coach. None of those jobs when you take over and they've been depleted are easy. Chuck and Derek Kellog (at UMass) took over jobs where the whole team left.

Q: One last one about the MAAC: With Siena threatening to enter the top 25, Niagara coming off a 26-win season and Rider having made some noise early this year, is the league's reputation growing among coaches throughout the country?

A: Here's the thing: You only play those teams if you understand you can lose. You're not playing them to get your Ws. You're playing Rider, Siena or Niagara on the schedule, you're playing those teams with the diea that you're going to learn about your team. They all have terrific players and you're going to find out if you're any good at all when you play them."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

'Back to Earth'



Here's the bad news for Rider: After being demolished 79-46 by the team picked 11th in the 12-team ACC, any talk that the Broncs are worthy of top 25 consideration is history.

The seven points the Broncs received in this week's AP poll? Certain to disappear, unless they can pull off a stunner Saturday in Lexington.

The national attention Rider was given after taking down Mississippi State? Nearly certain to disappear, at least until later in the year.

As Tommy Dempsey put it, "This will bring us back to earth."

Here, though, is the good news: Any talk that Rider was going to end up garnering consideration for an at-large NCAA bid was absurdly premature. Such a circumstance might have been possible eventually, but in order for that to have happened, Rider would have needed to do far more than win Thursday night and turn in a respectable performance Saturday. The Broncs would have needed to crush nearly everyone else on their non-conference schedule and probably lose no more than two games in the MAAC.

Even under those circumstances, an at-large bid would be far from a shoo-in.

With that in mind, appearing on more and more AP ballots in November and early December would have done absolutely nothing to move the Broncs closer to their only important goal: Winning the MAAC.

That means that no matter how loud that statement last Friday in Starkville -- and no matter how hard the thud last night in Charlottesville -- the Broncs' real season starts in December, when they'll host Marist in their MAAC opener.

That isn't to say these games have no value, or that a win Thursday would have been worthless. It isn't to say the Broncs gained nothing from their brief appearance in the national spotlight. It's simply to say that when you haven't been to the NCAA tournament in 15 years, your only important goal is getting there. And anyone who thought this team was going to lose in the MAAC tournament but sneak into the Field of 65 was delusional.

So what do we know about Rider through three games?

For one, they're as dangerous as anyone when they're knocking down 3s, but need to find ways to score when those shots aren't falling. They shot 62 percent from 3 against Mississippi State and 56 percent against Lehigh, but when they missed eight of their first 10 3s Thursday night, their offense fell apart.

Secondly, Ryan Thompson isn't the only player who can take over a game. The preseason MAAC Player of the Year hasn't led them in scoring in any of their three games. But there will be games when Mike Ringgold and Novar Gadson are quiet and Thompson needs to carry them. Thursday was one of those nights, and Thompson wasn't equal to the task, managing just nine points on 3-for-7 shooting.

Thirdly, one of their biggest problems last may not be fully remedied: Wild inconsistency.

Sure, every team in the country is inconsistent in some ways. In fact, it'd be hard to argue there's a team in college basketball history that hasn't had some inconsistencies.

But successful teams generally have a base level of performance that they're sure to deliver. They're capable of either winning games while playing poorly or at least avoiding embarrassing losses like the one Rider suffered last year at Canisius.

This Virginia loss is only one game. It might very well be the only real dud Rider turns in all year. But I was starting to develop an expectation that this team was good enough -- and consistent enough -- to never be embarrassed, no matter the opponent.

I thought a team that posted a double-digit road win against the 18th-ranked team in the country would show up every night, whether it be in Starkville, Charlottesville, Lexington or Poughkeepsie.

It turns out, I was wrong.

But that doesn't mean the Broncs will be embarrassed Saturday at Rupp Arena, or that they can be taken lightly by anyone. And it doesn't mean the trajectory of their season has been radically altered, even if, as Dempsey pointed out, walk-ons were knocking down shot after shot.

Live from Charlottesville: Rider at UVA

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Rider at Virginia



Rider plays at Virginia tomorrow night that poses an interesting test for the Broncs.

These aren't your father's Cavaliers or even your older brother's. They finished 10-18 last year -- their worst record since going 9-17 in 1966-67 -- and coach Dave Laito was fired as a result.

Still, it's a road game against an ACC opponent and an opportunity to head into Saturday's meeting with Kentucky unbeaten and confident.

Is it Cameron Indoor or the Dean Dome? Hardly. But although Rider's already-high expectations have gotten even higher over the last week, it's far from a shoo-in victory.

The game at a glance:

WHEN: Thursday, 7 p.m.

WHERE: John Paul Jones Arena

ON THE AIR: Radio: 107.7 FM, www.gobroncs.com (Daryl Fein, Steve Rudenstein)

RECORDS: Rider is 2-0; Virginia is 1-1

SERIES: First meeting

SCOUTING RIDER: The Broncs, 2-0 for just the second time since 1974-75, have used lights-out perimeter shooting to beat Mississippi State and Lehigh. Rider is 26-for-45 (58 percent) from 3-point range, and made a school-record 16 3s against Lehigh. Novar Gadson is averaging 20.5 points and nine rebounds, both team highs. Mike Ringgold (13.5, seven) is the reigning MAAC Player of the Week after scoring 21 points at Mississippi State. Ryan Thompson is averaging 17.5 points, five rebounds and 3.5 assists. Justin Robinson (14.5 points, team-best four assists) is 4-for-5 from 3-point range. Jermaine Jackson (1.5 points, 3.5 rebounds) has been plagued by foul trouble and inconsistency.

SCOUTING VIRGINIA: The Cavaliers, led by 2009 ACC Rookie of the Year Sylven Landesberg, are coming off a lackluster performance in a 66-49 loss at South Florida in which Landesberg was the only player to reach double figures in scoring. Landesberg, a 6-foot-6 guard averaging 18.5 points, poses Virginia’s biggest threat, but 6-4 guard Mustapha Farrakhan (10 points per game) and 6-8 forward Mike Scott (10.5 points, nine rebounds) are also averaging double figures. The Cavs’ other two starters are 6-4 junior guard Jeff Jones (8.5 points) and six-foot guard Sammy Zeglinski (eight).

SIDELINES: Rider received seven points in this week’s AP poll – the first time the Broncs have received votes in school history. … Tony Bennett, the 2007 national Coach of the Year while at Washington State, is in his first season at Virginia. … Tonight’s game is the first of four Rider will play as part of the Cancun Challenge. The Broncs play at Kentucky Saturday and will take on Florida A&M and either Sam Houston State or Oral Roberts next week in Cancun. … Farrakhan is the grandson of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. ... The Cavaliers are 13-0 against current MAAC members. Their last game against a MAAC team was a 98-59 thumping of Loyola during the 2005-06 season.

... What are everyone's expectations? Should Rider be expected to win? Would it be a big-time win if Rider is victorious?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

From down town ...



When Rider couldn't miss from beyond the arc last night -- the Broncs hit their first five 3-point attempts to open a 19-3 lead -- you wouldn't have blamed fans for expecting a score along the lines of something we'd see if Kansas played NJIT.

That, of course, isn't what happened. The game was never that close -- the closest Lehigh got was within five points mid-way through the second half -- but it wasn't an all-out slaughter, either, and that was predictable. Not ALL of those 3s were going to fall, and since Rider depended on 3s for more than half of its scoring (48 out of 86 points by the end of the night), repeated misses allowed the Mountain Hawks to stick around.

So I had to ask Tommy Dempsey after the game: Are you at all concerned that your team is becoming overly reliant on 3s? His answer said a lot about how Rider has averaged 87 points in its first two games.

"I think what people don't always realize is that you have to take what the defense gives you," he said. "... It wasn't our gameplan as much as it was a product of how Lehigh decided to play."

How Lehigh decided to play -- sagging back to seal off lanes to the hoop -- is the same way Mississippi State decided to play.

Both times, Rider took advantage of wide open shots with great precision. The Broncs shot 62 percent (10-for-16) from 3 against MSU and 55 percent last night, when they hit a school record 16 3s on 29 attempts.

That's a two-game total of 26-for-45 -- a whopping 58 percent.

Perhaps most encouraging for Rider is the number of players who have shot the lights out. Four players last night -- Ryan Thompson, Justin Robinson, Novar Gadson and Pat Mansell -- hit at least three 3s, with Thompson's 5-for-9 performance leading the way.

What remains to be seen is when teams will start defending Rider differently, and how the Broncs will react.

This team considers its athleticism a major strength, especially when Thompson and Gadson are driving to the hoop and Mike Ringgold is beating people in the low post. That's a big reason why Mississippi State and Lehigh both game-planed the way they did.

I'll be very interested to see what kind of defensive game plan Virginia comes out with on Thursday.

Even if the Broncs continue to get wide-open looks, its fairly unlikely they'll shoot close to 60 percent for the rest of the season. But if they're going to, as the old cliche goes, live or die by the three, they've proven when the looks are there, they're far more likely to live than they are to die.

...

Five quick hits:
  • A link to my game story in today's paper. Gotta hand it to Carl Johnson, who played three minutes but still manged to be featured on the back page.
  • Too bad ESPN can't have these college hoops marathons EVERY night. I've got Saint Mary's-San Diego State on as I type this, and I'm tempted to make some coffee and stay up for Saint Peter's and Monmouth, whose 6 a.m. tip is only two hours away.
  • Assuming enough people are up by 8 (or at least 9), the MAAC should get some good publicity today with Niagara playing Drexel at 8 a.m. and Siena playing Northeastern at noon as part of the marathon.
  • If you haven't done so already, take the time to read Chris Elsberry's column on Anthony Johnson's return from the blood clot that sidelined him last year and could have taken his life.
  • I've heard/read in a few places that Rutgers has clearly improved. If beating Marist by seven at home is evidence that you've improved, you have pretty low standards. And if the Knights are so "improved," how high will they finish in the Big East standings? If it's any lower than 12th, I'm not buying the "improvement" talk.

Player, Rookie of the Week

Meant to post this earlier, but never got around to it.

Below is the MAAC's release announcing that Rider's Mike Ringgold and Fairfield's Derek Needham were named Player of the Week and Rookie of the Week, respectively, for the first week of the year.

The MAAC also announced a multi-year deal with ESPN that will run through 2012.

MAAC PLAYER OF THE WEEK

MIKE RINGGOLD, RIDER
Junior, Forward, 6-7, 215, Philadelphia, Pa./Roman Catholic

Ringgold, a junior forward, scored 21 points and grabbed six rebounds to lead the Broncs to an 88-74 win at #18 Mississippi State. He also tallied one assist and one block while connecting on 52.6 percent of his attempts from the field (10-19). Rider led, 44-42, at the half, with 10 points from Ringgold.

MAAC ROOKIE OF THE WEEK

DEREK NEEDHAM, FAIRFIELD
Freshman, Guard, 5-11, 180, Dalton, Ill./De La Salle Institute

Needham, a freshman guard, led the team in scoring overall with 16.5 points per game and was tops with 10 assists and six steals over the two games. He tallied a team-high 19 points in the win against Fordham, and tallied 14 points in the Central Connecticut win despite playing only nine minutes in the second due to foul trouble. Defensively, he held A-10 preseason All-Rookie player Chris Gaston to six points after he tallied a double double in Fordham's season opener.

Monday, November 16, 2009

CoveritLive: Lehigh at Rider

Guys who voted for Rider

According to pollspeak.com, here's who voted for Rider in this week's top 25:

Two voters -- Dave Jones from the Harrisburg Patriot-News and Mark Berman from the Roanoke Times -- ranked the Broncs 24th, giving them two points apiece.

The other three points came from 25ht-place votes from John Feinstein of National Public Radio, Patrick Stevens of the Washington Times and Tim Hall from WCMC Radio in Raleigh, N.C.

Seven votes for Rider; Siena just short of AP top 25

Rider received seven votes in the AP poll released today, while Siena fell just short of moving into the top 25.

The Saints are first in the receiving votes category, with 125 points -- 42 short of No. 25 Maryland. They're second in the receiving votes category in the coaches' poll, 22 points behind Maryland. Syracuse is ranked 24th in the coaches' poll but is unranked in the AP poll, causing the Saints to drop one spot behind in the coaches' poll.

Siena likely needs only one team in the 20s to lose this week in order to move into the rankings.

As for Rider, the Broncs' run in the receiving votes category could be lengthy if they upset Virginia Thursday, especially if they're competitive Saturday at Kentucky.

Catching up with Jason Thompson



Had Jason Thompson fouled out 10 minutes into the Kings' game last Friday against the Rockets without scoring a point, it still would have been a good night for the Thompsons.

Sure, Ryan was relatively quiet in Rider's win over No. 18 Mississippi State, but he still helped lead the Broncs to their biggest regular-season win in school history. So if Jason had bombed, you wouldn't have blamed him for being upbeat anyway.

But when I talked to him yesterday, he was in good spirits partially because he had thrashed the Rockets Friday with 27 points and 11 rebounds.

"Before the game I tweeted (about the Rider)," Thompson said. "People were trying to say 'you guys aren't going to get a win,' but then I was asking around and we won, and I got even more hyped for our game. I can only imagine how it felt for them because I know how hyped I was, and I wasn't even there."

JT is on a roll of late, averaging 20.2 points over his last five games. Making the run more fun is the high hopes he has for the Broncs.

"I was excited for them before (Friday's) game," he said. "I wished them good luck throughout the week and said I hope they get the upset. They started the season on a good note in a hostile environment."

"(Ryan) stepped up," Thompson said. "So did Mike (Ringgold) and Novar (Gadson). My brother might be the go-to guy, but they have a lot of weapons."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Lehigh at Rider


Greetings from the Trentonian newsroom. I'll have plenty more later on Rider's home opener when there's no more football agate to compile, but for now, here's the game day box:

WHO: Lehigh at Rider
WHEN: Tonight, 7 p.m.
WHERE: Alumni Gym
ON THE AIR: Radio: 107.7, www.gobroncs.com (Daryl Fein, Steve Rudenstein)
RECORDS: Rider is 1-0; Lehigh is 0-1
SERIES: Rider leads 30-20
LAST MEETING: Rider won 69-68 last year in Bethlehem
SCOUTING LEHIGH: The Mountain Hawks, picked second in the preseason Patriot League coaches’ poll, lost their opener 65-53 last Friday at Richmond. Lehigh led 41-37 with 13 minutes left before the Spiders came back, then pulled away late. ... Six-foot senior guard Marquis Hall, the preseason Patriot League Player of the Year, averaged 13.9 points and a team-high 4.1 assists last year. He struggled last year against Rider, managing only seven points on 2-for-11 shooting. ... Six-seven senior Zahir Carrington averaged team highs of 14 points and 8.6 rebounds last year. He’ll start in the frontcourt along with 6-9 freshman Gabe Knutson, who had four points and six rebounds in his collegiate debut at Richmond. ... Hall will start in the backcourt along with 6-3 junior Rob Keefer (8.8 points per game last year) and 6-4 senior Dave Buchberger (7.1)
SCOUTING RIDER: The Broncs upset No. 18 Mississippi State last Friday for their first win over a ranked opponent. ... Mike Ringgold and Novar Gadson scored 21 points apiece, and Gadson added a team-high 11 rebounds. ... Ryan Thompson (16 points Friday) led the team in points (18 per game), rebounds (6.5) and assists (3.2) last year. He’ll start in the backcourt along with Justin Robinson (15 points Friday), while Gadson, Ringgold and Jermaine Jackson (two points, five rebounds) will start up front,

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Stunner in Starkville: Rider 88, Mississippi State 74


This isn't always the case when a MAAC team plays at the 18th-ranked team in the country, but I talked to Tommy Dempsey and Rick Stansbury before Rider played Mississippi State, and both coaches seemed to legitimately think Rider had a chance to win.

Stansbury raved about Rider's size and athleticism.

Dempsey, consistent with the tone he's taken since September, said he believed the Broncs could win.

I'm sure neither coach knew it would play it quite the way it did: An 88-74 Rider win.

Mike Ringgold, who Dempsey called "the toughest dog in the fight," took the ball right at reigning NCAA shot-blocking leader Jarvis Varnado, and ended up with 21 points, helping the Broncs beat a ranked team for the first time in school history.

Novar Gadson muscled his way to a 21-point performance of his own. Rider won despite only 16 points from Ryan Thompson -- two points below the 18 per game he averaged last year.

Dempsey told me the Broncs aren't "as shocked as everyone else is" that they won.

That's sure to enrage some of his detractors, but the reality is that through one game, his players have justified the confidence he's showed in them.

Does that mean Rider is now favored to win the MAAC? No. Siena entered the season as a borderline top 25 team for a reason, and in their dismantling of Tennessee State, the Saints didn't show any signs of being overrated.

But it does mean Rider has to be viewed as the kind of team that the MAAC should be proud of, and as a team that should be taken lightly by no one. It means there's no reason to think they can't come out of the non-conference portion of their schedule looking very, very good.

How good, obviously, remains to be seen. It's possible Mississippi State will turn out to be a complete fraud and in January, this win won't look as impressive as it looks now.

It's also possible, though, that the Broncs could be as good as Dempsey thinks they are. And as he's said on numerous occasions, he thinks pretty highly of them.

That's why when I talked to him on the phone after the game, he gave no "holy-crap-I-can't-believe-this-is-happening"-type speech.

His comments actually sounded a lot like comments he'd have made if Rider had beaten Iona instead of Mississippi State.

"We played hard," he said. "We had no turnovers in the second half, and we never really let them get on a run. Is it a statement win? I don't know. I don't think we're as shocked as everyone else is. I think we have a good team. I think we're going to have a better team than last year. We wouldn't have won this game last year."

And Dempsey concluded his remarks with a dose of coach-speak that may drive fans nuts -- but also may work in the locker room.

"They deserve to be congratulated," he said. "They got a huge win for the university, but we have no time to sit around and have people tell us how good we are.

"... We have to prepare for Lehigh."

***

A few more notes before I hit the road for a jaunt to Western Massachusetts. (Plenty more when I return on Sunday):
  • A link to the AP gamer, in which Mississippi State's Kodi Augustus took a few shots at Stansbury. "I talked to my dad," Augustus said. "He said we got outcoached. I don't know. But I looked at it, I only played 15 minutes the whole game. Yeah I'm (upset), but like I said, I can't do nothing about it. I played all those minutes the exhibition games and then you come and play me 15 minutes? Wow."
  • The box score: The stat that stands out the most is Rider's 3-point shooting: The Broncs were 10-for-18 from behind the arc. Thompson (4-for-6), Gadson (2-for-2), Justin Robinson (2-for-2) and Pat Mansell (2-for-3) were a combined 10-for-13 from long distance. But this wasn't just a case of an underdog gun-slinging its way to victory. Rider also out-rebounded the Bulldogs 38-37.
  • I can't recall a better night for the MAAC in non-conference play. The league went 5-2, and those two losses -- Saint Peter's at Seton Hall and Niagara at Auburn -- BOTH came after the MAAC team had the lead with less than a minute remaining.
  • Speaking of the MAAC's out-of-conference performance: What is it with underdog MAAC teams playing opponents from the SEC? First Siena clobbered Vanderbilt in the 2008 NCAA tournament. Now Rider has crashed Mississippi State's SEC-tournament-championship-banner-raising celebration, and had it not been for an awful last two minutes, Niagara would have made it 2-for-2 tonight for the MAAC.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Opening night



Happy new year, hoops junkies!

It's opening night for a bevy of teams throughout the country, including seven teams in the MAAC.

With that in mind, a trip around the league:

In the Albany Times Union, Pete Iorizzo writes that Siena's opponent is an unknown.

In the Niagara Gazette, Jonah Bronstein writes that Niagara's potential at-large status might hinge on tonight's game at Auburn.

In the Connecticut Post, Bill Paxton previews tonight's Connecticut Six Classic clash between a banged-up Fairfield team and Central Connecticut State.

In the New York Daily News, Sean Brennan writes that Kevin Willard is looking forward to playing a more up-tempo style as Iona gets ready to host Boston University.

In the Bergen Record, John Rowe writes that Seton Hall -- which takes on Saint Peter's tonight in a battle of North Jersey Catholic schools -- thinks it has something special.

Then there's that game tonight in Starkville, which pits Rider against defending SEC tournament champion Mississippi State.

If anyone has a link to a Loyola-UVM preview, send it my way and I'll post it.

Marist (at Rutgers) and Manhattan (at home against lowly NJIT) open tomorrow, while Canisius won't play until Tuesday at Loyola-Chicago.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Rick Stansbury on Rider



I talked to Rick Stansbury earlier today, and the Mississippi State coach had plenty of praise for Rider.

The next time a coach says of an opponent, "oh yeah, we'll beat them by 40" will be the first, but I got the sense Stansbury thought it was at least POSSIBLE his team could lose tomorrow night when the teams open their seasons in Starkville.

"They're very good," Stansbury said. "No. 1, the league they're in, people who follow basketball know that Siena and Niagara are consistently good, and Rider's right there with them."

"We know we have to play a very good Rider team," he continued. "They're very good, and there's some pieces we don't have from last year. We'll have to play exceptionally well to win the game. ... The first time you overlook someone, you're going to be in a lull and someone's going to beat you."

Danny Stewart signs

(Photo: Catholic Standard Times)

After signing a letter of intent today at a televised press conference with three of his Neumann-Goretti High School teammates, Danny Stewart is officially Rider-bound.

Stewart, a 6-foot-7 forward who averaged 11.5 points and 8 rebounds for a 26-3 N-G team last year, will take up one of the two scholarships that Rider has to award. Rider was hoping to give the second scholarship to Stewart's AAU teammate, Archbishop Carroll point guard DJ Irving, but Irving committed to Boston University last week.

The Broncs are done recruiting for the fall signing period. They'll add either a high school player or a transfer in the spring signing period. Given the lack of playing time they have to offer -- Ryan Thompson is the only player in Rider's regular rotation who won't be back next year -- a transfer who can sit out next year and become eligible in 2011-12 may be more likely.

As for Stewart, he gives Rider yet another Philadelphia player with athleticism and size.

"We're excited about Danny," Tommy Dempsey told me. "We worked really hard to get him. I think at one point he had 17 scholarship offers, and you sit there and look at that and say 'Oh God, what are we going to do to separate ourselves? But we just kind of kept plugging away. Our players did a good job selling the program, and that cerainly helped us get him.

"As far as a player goes, he'll be a really good fit for us: a high-flying athlete, a very exciting player who will fit in very well with the style we're trying to create here."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

No letter yet from Stewart

Mainly, just a programming note: Thought I'd have a signing day post about Danny Stewart tonight. That won't happen because his letter of intent hasn't arrived at Rider.

When it arrives -- likely tomorrow -- Rider's coaching staff is allowed to comment on him. Until then, he's officially no more a member of the 2010-11 team than Chris Christie.

Stewart, a 6-foot-7 forward from Neumann-Goretti High School in Philadelphia, is one of four N-G players who were set to sign letters of intent today, according to coach Carl Arriagle.

Guards Tony Chennault (Wake Forest), Tyreek Duren (La Salle) and Mustafaa Jones (Hartford) are also going to Division I schools.

"It's a credit to all four of them," Arrigale told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "It's a special time for the program. We're proud of it."

Sunday, November 8, 2009

DJ Irving to BU


Rider lost out on one of its top recruiting targets when Archbishop Carroll High School point guard DJ Irving committed to Boston University last night.

Landing Irving would have brought an early, happy ending to the Broncs' recruiting process. The Broncs have two scholarships to give, and one is already taken by Danny Stewart, Irving's AAU teammate.

Rider has developed a strong recruiting presence in Philadelphia, the home city of Mike Ringgold, Novar Gadson, Brandon Penn and Stewart. Rider's hope was that the Philly-dominated roster -- coupled with the addition of Stewart -- would be enough to land Irving.

Instead Irving will head to Boston, where he'll platy alongside Rider transfer Matt Griffin -- another Philadelphian -- in the Terriers' backcourt.

Here's a link to the story in today's Delaware County Times (The Trentonian's sister paper), by Chris Vito.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Glogging live: West Chester at Rider

Time to get going



I'm in a good mood today.

My Turnpike commute is far more enjoyable on sunny days than cloudy ones, and there's plenty of college football on the airwaves to hold me over until 4 p.m.

Best of all, though, is basketball is finally here. Sure, preseason polls and practices are fun, but they're nothing compared to games. And even though today's Rider-West Chester tilt doesn't count for anything, it'll still be the first college basketball game I've covered since the Trenton regional semifinals of the NCAA women's tournament in March.

In case anyone missed them, a couple links: A story from two days ago on Justin Robinson's quest for a spot on the British national team, and a story in today's paper advancing the exhibition game.

I met with Tommy Dempsey yesterday, and from a motivational standpoint, he was happy a few Division I teams had lost to DII teams. He and Ed Cooley are good friends, so I'm sure he'd rather Fairfield not be one of the teams that went down, but the Stags -- undermanned as they were heading into their game against Bridgeport -- provide a good example to the Broncs of a pretty good team that ended up getting embarrassed by a lesser opponent.

The biggest question mark, as I wrote in today's story, is which groups will work best together for Rider.

The Broncs have four players who will definitely be in the starting lineup and play major minutes, no matter the opponent or the situation: Ryan Thompson, Justin Robinson, Novar Gadson and Mike Ringgold.

They have at least four other players who will be in the rotation, but have to earn playing time: Jhamar Youngblood, Jermaine Jackson, Brandon Penn and Jon Thompson.

Jackson will start today, in what Dempsey calls his "big group." That means a two-guard lineup with Gadson at small forward. But Dempsey also has the option of going with three guards and inserting Youngblood into the lineup in place of Jackson.

It's likely Rider will use some variation of each lineup in just about every game, but it's possible by early December one look will have proven to be more effective than the other.

Jon Thompson and Penn will both likely come off the bench no matter the matchups, but both will have to earn playing time as the season gets going.

Dempsey loves the fact that Thompson is versatile enough to fit in with either group. It'll be interesting to see how Penn develops after a freshmen year in which he provided an occasional spark off the bench but wasn't a major part of the gameplan.

As I type this in the Trentonian news room, we're about two hours from tip. I'm not sure what kind of wireless connection I'll be able to get in the Zoo, but if I have a good one I'll see if I can fire up the CoveritLive software or at least have an open thread on the blog like the one I put up for MAAC media day.

Internet or no Internet at the Zoo, I'll have a blog post later tonight breaking down the game and looking ahead to Mississippi State.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Rough times at my alma mater


Every story about a Division I team losing an exhibition game to a Division II team has to come with the following disclaimer: Two years ago, Michigan State lost to Division II Grand Valley State. By the end of the year, the Spartans were in the Sweet 16.

But Fairfield got a major reality check last night when the Stags turned in a lackluster performance and fell to Division II Bridgeport, 75-69. I've yet to meet anyone affiliated with MAAC basketball who doesn't feel bad for Ed Cooley because of what's happened over the last two years.

He's done a good job recruiting, an excellent job trying to energize the university community, and at times, an amazing job getting results out of second-tier players who have been forced into action. (Case in point, the last two months of last year).

But the two best players Cooley inherited from Tim O'Toole were Jonathan Han and Greg Nero (who never played for O'Toole but signed with him in the fall of 2005).

Han caused major distractions last year before leaving the team, and Nero is likely out for the season this year, leaving Cooley without a player who, if healthy, would be a double-double machine and an emotional leader.

Add to that the ankle injury that has Warren Edney playing with pain for the bulk of the season, and the Stags NEED big years from freshmen guards Derek Needham and Colin Nickerson or it'll be very difficult to finish in the top half of the MAAC standings.

Fairfield's problems, though, are not limited to basketball. The University has a PR nightmare on its hands as Doug Perlitz, a 1992 alum, faces charges that he sexually abused children while doing service work in Haiti.

And now, from an administration seeking greater influence with the school's independent student newspaper, comes a letter that declared the school's contract with the paper null and void because of supposed violations relating to a column.

As a former Editor of The Mirror, I'm admittedly biased. But I've always maintained a strong, independent student newspaper reflected better on a school than just about anything else. It provides examples of students producing a thoughtful, creative, insightful product without administrators holding their hands. Better than anything else, it speaks to students' intellectual capacity and productivity.

Here's to hoping editors and administrators can work something out that enables The Mirror to keep doing what it does best: Serve as an independent student voice without any further meddling from the administration.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Rider's homecoming


Happy Election Day, folks.

With the World Series on an off day (fewer pages, less work here in the news room), I figured it'd be a good time to look ahead to Rider's exhibition game Saturday against West Chester.

The Broncs are practicing today for the final time at the Trenton Mercer Airport. They have the day off tomorrow and will hold their first practice on the new floor tomorrow at the Zoo.

No one, publicly or privately, expressed any doubts to me that it would get done on time. But whether it's a whole new arena or just a floor, you never know with these things.

Rider, which scrimmaged Columbia last Saturday, will take the floor publicly for the first time Saturday. Fans will get their first look at Jhamar Youngblood in a Broncs' uniform. They'll also be able to watch Jonathan Thompson, Carl Johnson and Dera Nd-Ezuma for the first time.

Youngblood, who will start in the backcourt along with Ryan Thompson and Justin Robinson, led the Broncs in scoring at Columbia. None of the freshmen will be featured close to as prominently as Novar Gadson was last year and Robinson and Mike Ringgold were in 2007-08, but Thompson will likely be part of Tommy Dempsey's rotation.

A 6-4 wing with athleticism and a nice stroke from the perimeter, Thompson can defend three positions and score if needed.

Johnson could be Rider's starting point guard down the road, but it's hard to envision him playing any meaningful minutes this year barring an injury to someone ahead of him on the depth chart.

Nd-Ezuma, entering just his third year or organized basketball, is the project of all projects. He's 6-10 with a wing span that tops seven feet, and he runs the floor well for a guy his size. Eventually, he could be a shot-blocking machine who grabs seven rebounds per game and has a nice touch around the hoop. Now, his basketball skills are far, far behind his physical tools, but it'll be interesting how he looks on the court Saturday.