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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.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Dempsey will handle Facebook situation internally

Tommy Dempsey told me Sunday he is aware of the Facebook comments made by Jermaine Jackson, Robbie Myers and Kevin Vosilla and will handle the situation internally.

There isn't a whole lot Rider can do about Vosilla, who copied a post calling for Dempsey's firing from a fan on the Rider page and made no effort to indicate it wasn't his own opinion. Vosilla also mocked a Dempsey quote about Myers in Sunday's Trentonian, and Myers responded by writing "f*&# u dempsey."

Jackson, buried on the depth chart behind freshman Dera Nd-Ezuma, complained about his lack of playing time following Rider's blowout loss to Siena on Friday.

Some form of discipline is possible for Myers and Jackson, but Dempsey indicated both players will travel with the team to the MAAC tournament.

Dempsey knew about the comments before Sunday's game but opted to start Myers anyway. After Myers hit a 3 with 11 seconds left, Dempsey praised him in his postgame press conference, saying "the basketball Gods were smiling on Robbie."

Video: Tommy Dempsey after Rider's win

Video: Ryan Thompson Senior Day ceremony

Rider 86, Canisius 70

LAWRENCEVILLE — Ryan Thompson paused for a split second, surveying what was in front of him.

Thompson had the ball on the baseline, about 15 feet from the hoop, needing to beat Canisius’ Tomas Vazquez-Simmons off the dribble.

As it played out, Vazquez-Simmons didn’t have a chance.

Thompson darted past Vazquez-Simmons and disregarded the Canisius players who came over to help, slamming home an emphatic dunk that capped an emphatic win.

Thompson’s final two points of the regular season were two of his loudest. The dunk, with 1:44 left in the game, helped send Rider to an 86-70 win over Canisius before 1,600 at Alumni Gym.
Rider, wildly inconsistent all year, followed a 26-point loss with an impressive win.

The Broncs, who would have fallen into the MAAC tournament play-in round with a loss, trailed 68-63 with 7:15 left. In desperate need of a rally, they got a convincing one.

Rider finished the game on a 23-2 run, putting the Golden Griffins away and locking up a date with Saint Peter’s Saturday in the MAAC tournament quarterfinals.

Justin Robinson scored 27 points on 8-for-10 shooting to lead Rider (16-15 overall, 9-9 MAAC). Thompson scored 17 points and Mike Ringgold added 12 points and nine rebounds. Brandon Penn (11 points) played well in 24 minutes off the bench, and Novar Gadson (10 points) reached double figures for the ninth time in 10 games.

Live from Zoo: Canisius at Rider

Senior Day

Today is Senior Day at gyms throughout the league, including Rider. Today's Trentonian has stories on the Broncs' two seniors: Ryan Thompson and Robbie Myers.

There's been a back-and-forth concerning Thompson all year on in the comments section, so now is as good a time as any to analyze his career.

My take is as follows:

There's no doubt that his struggles are a major reason Rider is one loss away from the play-in round. What's more interesting, though, isn't that he played extremely poorly for the first half of the season. It's that he's been able to take a team that wouldn't have otherwise been worth watching and carried it as far as it's gotten.

In spite of the monster month of February he's had, there's no question his senior year will go down as a disappointment. He was the easy choice for preseason Player of the Year, and isn't even assured a first-team all-MAAC spot. There's also no questioning the correlation between his level of play and Rider's.

But in looking at Thompson's career, what he hasn't done is much less interesting than what he has done.

With that in mind, consider this: Only three players in school history have more points than Thompson: Darrick Suber, Jerry Johnson and Jason Thompson.

Suber's place in Rider history is well solidified, and as proof, a banner in his honor hangs on the wall at the Zoo. But his numbers need to be viewed in perspective because he played in the NEC -- a far less competitive conference than the MAAC.

Johnson, a scoring machine, is unquestionably on a short list of the greatest players in school history, and it's worth noting that the team fell apart after he graduated following the 2004-05 season. But because of his versatility, Thompson has arguably been a better and more complete player.

That means an argument can be made that Thompson trails only his brother on a list of the best players in Rider history.

Has he come up small in some big spots this year? Yes. Could Rider have lived up to its expectations if he had been better in December and January? Quite likely.

But here's a question of equal or greater importance -- one that should always be remembered when talking about his legacy:

Where would Rider have been over the last two years without him?

***

Were I a Rider player, I wouldn't have been smiling Friday when Myers checked into the game. In fact, were I Myers, I most certainly wouldn't have been smiling, given the circumstances. From a player's standpoint, there shouldn't be anything funny about getting bludgeoned on your home court in a conference game. But as I wrote in today's story, the kid has been buried on the depth chart for the past two years and hung in there, by all accounts being a good teammate. That counts for something, and that's the primary reason he'll get such a big hand when he's introduced today.

***

I went 4-1 in my Friday picks (Niagara failing to cover at Manhattan gave me the loss), rallying to bring my season record to 7-6-1. The feature will return for the first Friday of MAAC play next year.

***

A programming note for those who may be new to the blog or those who simply could use a reminder: The blog will have full-throttle, wall-to-wall coverage of the men's and women's tournaments beginning bright and early Thursday morning in Albany.

In addition to continuing the live chat feature that we started during last year's tournament and have continued during the regular season, the goal will be to have postgame video on every game in the tournament, from the women's play-in round Thursday to the men's title game Monday night.

Hope you'll tune and and tell a friend.

What's at stake Sunday

In terms of contingency scenarios, today doesn't have a ton to offer. The top two seeds in the MAAC tournament have been settled, and Rider, which can finish anywhere from fifth to seventh, is the only team with more than two possible seeding slots.

Here, though, is the seeding picture -- and what each team can accomplish Sunday.

Siena -- clinched No. 1 seed
Fairfield -- clinched No. 2 seed
Iona -- can clinch No. 3 seed with a win at Saint Peter's
Saint Peter's -- can clinch No. 3 seed with a win over Iona
Niagara -- can clinch No. 5 seed with a win at Fairfield
Rider -- can clinch No. 5 seed with a win and a Niagara loss; can clinch No. 6 seed with a win over Canisius
Canisius -- can clinch No. 6 seed with a win at Rider
Loyola -- can clinch No. 8 seed with a win over Manhattan, but will be play Manhattan either way
Manhattan -- can clinch No. 8 seed with a win at Loyola, but will play Loyola either way
Marist -- locked into No. 10 spot

The game with the biggest implications is Canisius-Rider, because the loser will fall into the play-in round. That's an important factor for both teams -- for Rider because it would add further embarrassment to an already disappointing season, and for Canisius for this reason:

With Frank Turner set to graduate, this is the end of a cycle for Tom Parrotta. If Parrotta can't avoid the play-in round this year, it'll be awfully hard for him to make the case that he's moved the program forward.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Rider-Canisius

Breaking down tomorrow's game at the Zoo, the loser of which will be stuck in the play-in round next Friday in Albany:

SCOUTING CANISIUS: The Golden Griffins, winners of two straight for the first time since December, can knock Rider into the play-in round for the first time since 2006-07 with a win. ... Senior guard Frank Turner (16.5 points, 5.5 assists) is a first-team all-MAAC candidate, though he scored only 10 points in a win Friday at Loyola. ... Julius Coles (14.4 points, 35 pct 3-point shooting) is a threat from the perimeter but is averaging only 10.3 points over his last five games. ... Greg Logins, 6-foot-7 and 240 pounds, is a low-post presence who’s also shooting 38 percent from 3-point range. He’s scored 15 points in each of his last two games, bringing his scoring average up to 10 per game. ... Elton Frazier (8.1 points) scored 11 points Friday — the first time in six games that he’s reached double figures. ... Tomas Vazquez-Simmons (6.5 points) had just one point in 22 minutes Friday.

SCOUTING RIDER: Ryan Thompson, playing the final home game of a storied career, had just 10 points Friday against Siena after averaging 27 points over his previous four games. ... Novar Gadson has emerged as the Broncs’ second most dangerous threat. The sophomore followed a 16-point performance against Hofstra with a career-high 25-point showing Friday, when he hit 10 of 17 field goal attempts and had a team-high 10 rebounds off the bench. ... Justin Robinson (12.9 points) is shooting 43 percent from 3-point range and 88 percent from the free-throw line. ... Mike Ringgold (10.8 points) has ranged this year from dominant to nearly invisible. ... Brandon Penn, playing well since entering the starting lineup, had eight points Friday in 17 minutes. ... Jhamar Youngblood (7.6 points) has reached double figures just twice in his last 11 games.

Video: Fran McCaffery after Siena's win

Friday, February 26, 2010

Siena 80, Rider 54

LAWRENCEVILLE – This was an all-out lashing – an emphatic reminder of which team has won back-to-back MAAC titles and which team is 8-9 in conference play.

Siena’s 80-54 win at a sold-out Alumni Gym didn’t merely put Siena on the precipice of setting the record for regular season MAAC wins and give Rider no margin for error tomorrow against Canisius.

The rout, decided by the mid-way point in the first half, left Rider a team searching for answers and lacking in confidence as it approaches next week’s conference tournament.

“We just took a beating,” Rider coach Tommy Dempsey said. “We got taken apart in pretty much every aspect. Siena played great, we played poorly, and the results speak for themselves.”

The Broncs, winners of five of their previous seven MAAC games, entered last night’s game looking for a confidence boost against the MAAC standard-bearer.

Instead, it played out in similar fashion to Siena’s 84-62 rout of the Broncs on Dec. 23 in Albany: The Saints scoring at will, bullying Rider in the post and serving notice that the gap between the teams has grown much larger over the past year.

Edwin Ubiles scored 21 points to lead four Saints in double figures. Clarence Jackson had 16 points on 6-for-8 shooting and Ryan Rossiter had 14 points and 13 reounds. The Saints also got 12 points from Alex Franklin and eight assists from Ronald Moore.

Siena outscored Rider 40-20 in the paint and won the rebounding battle 39-30, bouncing back after a 70-53 loss last Saturday at No. 15 Butler.

“We didn’t play very well last time out but I thought we practiced with a great level of intensity this week in preparation for a team that we have a lot of respect for,” said Siena coach Fran McCaffery. “You could see from the beginning that we were focused.”

Novar Gadson scored a career-high 25 points off the bench for Rider, which needs to beat Canisius tomorrow to avoid the MAAC tournament play-in round.

Gadson provided the Broncs (15-15 overall, 8-9 MAAC) with its only positive. The sophomore, talented but raw, had the most efficient game of his college career, finishing 10-for-17 from the floor and 3-for-6 from 3-point range.

“Gadson’s always giving us problems,” McCaffery said. “The thing that was upsetting wasn’t what he did inside, but that we didn’t match up with him on the perimeter.”

Gadson, though, was the only Rider player who played well. Ryan Thompson entered the game on a prolific stretch but was a non-factor last night, finishing with 10 points on 4-for-12 shooting. No other Broncs were in double figures and only Gadson, Thompson and Brandon Penn (eight) had more than five points.

Live from the Zoo: Siena at Rider

Friday pickoff

Here's to hoping that the absence (fueled by the lack of games) of the Friday picks column last week gives the blog an opportunity to regroup after back-to-back disastrous weeks.

After stumbling to a 2-3 record in the inaugural pickoff, my luck didn't get any better two weeks ago, when four underdogs won outright and Marist fought Canisius to a push, sending me to a 1-2-2 week and a 3-5-1 overall record.

In the final pickoff column of the regular season, I need a big night to get back to .500. Here's my best shot at doing so:

Siena (minus six) over RIDER

This is a tough one. I thought the line would be a bit smaller, and if it was, the Saints would be a no-brainer. But in spite of its so-so play of late, I like the Saints to pull away late. Prediction: Siena 82, Rider 74

Canisius (plus 4) over LOYOLA

The Hounds may be at home, but the Golden Griffs are more talented and -- given the fact that they're playing for a spot in the top six -- maybe more motivated. I like the visitors to win outright. Prediction: Canisius 71, Loyola 67

FAIRFIELD (minus 3) over Iona

Another game in which picking the winner straight-up, let alone against the spread, is hard enough. But with second place on the line, I like the Stags to stay hot at home. Prediction: Fairfield 75, Iona 71

Saint Peter's (minus 8) at MARIST

The Peacocks are hardly surging into Poughkeepsie and the Red Foxes are coming off their best performance in a month. But that doesn't mean this will be even reasonably close. Prediction: Saint Peter's 84, Marist 69

Niagara (minus 3 1/2) at MANHATTAN

I'm in no way guaranteeing victory, but I can't help but think this is the easiest pick of the night. The Jaspers came out of the gate on fire against Towson, but Niagara is the much better team and is still in need of a strong finish. Prediction: Niagara 78, Manhattan 71

Pete Iorizzo on Siena

It's Siena-Rider day, which means another round of questions for Pete Iorizzo of the Albany Times-Union.

My answers to Pete's questions are on his blog.

His answers to mine are right here:

Any sense of relief around the program after the Niagara loss?

I don’t know if “relief” is exactly the word I’d use. I think on some level all these guys are glad they don’t have to answer any more questions about going undefeated in the MAAC. Frankly, I think it was a much bigger deal to us and the fans than it was to them.

On the other hand, the Niagara game was an old-fashioned butt-kicking – on national television, no less. If you hadn’t watched Siena all year and didn’t know anything about the MAAC, what conclusion could you possibly draw from watching that game except, “This team is a fraud”?

When you’re a possibility for the Top 25 polls and trying to make your case for an at-large bid, your national reputation takes on new importance. The Saints’ took a hit that night.

The ironic thing is, that game has absolutely zero bearing on Siena’s season. If the Saints had beaten Butler, they would have remained in the at-large conversation. With the loss, they were out – whether they beat Niagara by 100 points or lost the way they did.

If you had a ballot, which Siena players would you vote first-team all-MAAC?

I think Alex Franklin and Ryan Rossiter are locks. I think Franklin will be the Player of the Year because he’s a senior, but you could make a terrific case for Rossiter. Pound for pound, Rossiter might be the most productive guy in the league – he averages a double-double and shoots almost 59 percent from the field. He’s also a better free-throw shooter than Franklin.

Edwin Ubiles will get a lot of votes from the coaches who saw him take over games. But because of injuries, that hasn’t happened as often as some might have expected. His numbers are certainly good enough for first-team consideration, but he may not get there – especially splitting votes with his teammates.

It pains me to say this about Ronald Moore, because I’ve stuck up for the guy every time he got snubbed from the all-MAAC teams. But I just don’t know if he’s a first-team player. The fact that he leads the country in assists is remarkable; in fact, you could argue he’s Siena’s MVP. But his shooting percentages have been so poor that there may be other guys with better all-around numbers.

What in the world happened in the second half at Butler? Watching on TV, that didn't look anything like the Siena team I've watched over the last three years.

Siena couldn’t score. I think that’s the first time in five years I’ve written that sentence. Really, their defense wasn’t awful. The back-to-back 3s from Zach Hahn were inexcusable, especially since Fran McCaffery had just reminded his players that the guy was in the game for no other reason than to fire away. But those wouldn’t have been the death blows they were if Siena could put the ball in the basket. As McCaffery said, when the three seniors shoot a combined 4-for-27, Siena’s not beating anybody.

Which teams, if any, do you think scare Siena most when looking at potential MAAC tournament matchups?

That seems to be the million dollar question around here. My take: Why does Siena have to be particularly wary of any of these teams?

The obvious candidate is Niagara, but that’s also a team Siena pummeled at Times Union Center. Iona has played Siena fairly tough, but does anyone really think the Gaels can score enough points to beat the Saints on their home court? I love what Ed Cooley’s done at Fairfield, but does he have enough horses to beat Siena in a de facto road game?

If Siena plays to its potential three consecutive nights, it will win a third consecutive MAAC title, regardless of the opponent.

I've heard arguments on both sides of this one: Is this Siena team better than last year's?

Great question.

I think Siena was deeper last year. There’s no Clarence Jackson coming off the bench, although getting Kyle Downey (broken foot) back for the MAAC Tournament would be a lift. There have been several times this year when McCaffery has played all five starters the entire second half. That’s not the sign of a deep team.

However, I’m not sure how deep Siena really needs to be. Its starting five is clearly the best starting five in the league. Those guys have been playing 32 to 38 minutes all year, so they’re used to it. McCaffery’s theory seems to be, why not leave them out there?

To answer your question, last year’s team was deeper, but this year’s starting five – with no disrespect to Kenny Hasbrouck – is better. Not because Jackson is better than Hasbrouck, but because Rossiter and Franklin are that much improved.

In the end, maybe that makes the two teams even.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Rider-Siena

Breaking down tomorrow's game at the Zoo, which tips off at 7 p.m. on ESPNU.

SCOUTING SIENA:
The Saints, winners of two NCAA tournament games in the last two years, will be the top seed in next week’s MAAC tournament for the third straight year. ... Alex Franklin, a 6-foot-5 senior averaging 16 points and 7.7 rebounds, is the frontrunner for MAAC Player of the Year. .. Junior Ryan Rossiter, averaging 14.3 points and a league-leadign 10 rebounds, is a virtual lock for first-team honors, while seniors Edwin Ubiles (14.7 points) and Ronald Moore (nation-leading 7.6 assists) are also strong candidates. ... Ubiles, Franklin and Moore, all preseason first-team all-MAAC picks, have won 92 career games over four years — the most by a class in school history. ... Junior swingman Clarence Jackson (14 points) has filled in nicely for departed MAAC Player of the Year Kenny Hasbrouck. ... Backup Kyle Downey is back with the team after missing nine games with a broken foot, but is unlikely to play tonight. Freshman O.D. Anosike is averaging 2.9 points in 13 minutes off the bench.

SCOUTING RIDER: Led by a resurgent Ryan Thompson, the Broncs have won five of their last seven in the MAAC after a 3-6 start. Thompson, so-so for the first two months of the season, has been the league’s most dominant player over the past four weeks. The preseason MAAC Player of the Year is averaging 25.4 points over his last seven games and is coming off a career-high 38 point-showing in an overtime loss last Saturday at Hofstra. ... Novar Gadson, in the midst of an up-and-down season, scored 16 points off the bench against the Pride. He’s averaging 11 points but still playing through pain after sustaining a mid-season high ankle sprain. ... Justin Robinson (13.2 points) is shooting 44 percent from 3. ... Mike Ringgold (11 points) has frequently guarded perimeter players of late — the main reason he’s had single-digit rebounding totals in 15 straight games. ... Brandon Penn (3.9 points) has made three straight starts in place of Gadson.

SIDELINES: Siena has won eight of the last 11 games in the series. ... The Saints’ Dec. 23 win over Rider started a 15-game winning streak. ... Siena is 8-6 all-time at Rider. .. Siena is the only team in the country with four players averaging 14 or more points.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Video: Ryan Thompson on the Siena game

Tomorrow's Trentonian will have the first of two Rider-Siena previews. First, here's Ryan Thompson on the Broncs' chances:

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Press MAAC Index, Week 8: Down the stretch we go

Last week, dramatic change came to the Press MAAC Index. Niagara moved up three spots to No. 3 -- the biggest single-week movement this year.

This week, it's the status quo. That isn't because the blog is resistent to change -- it's because nothing happened on BracketBuster Saturday that was earth-shattering enough to move anyone around.

But with a crucial final weekend approaching, the rankigns are no less fun to examine.

1. Siena: Records: 22-6, 15-1; RPI: 37; Position: Same

I understand Butler is an extremely tough place to play, but I was amazed at how out of sorts the Saints looked Saturday in the second half, when it looked like the last thing any Siena player wanted to do was score. But does that mean they're likely to lose Friday at Rider? I don't think so.

2. Fairfield: Records: 18-9, 11-5; RPI: 107; Position: Same

After he made somewhat of a splash early in the year, I was surprised to see freshman Colin Nickerson relegated to an end-of-the-bench role for a good portion of the season. Now, though, Nickerson appears to be back in full swing. He's scored 33 points over his last two games, picked up the Rookie of the Week award, and looks poised to contribute down the stretch.

3. Niagara: Records: 16-13, 8-8; RPI: 153; Position: Same

When the MAAC appared destined for a dreadful showing on BracketBuster Saturday, the red-hot Purple Eagles delivered with a much-needed win at Milwaukee. When the game tipped, the league had only one win for the day (Manhattan over Towson) and two overall, including Iona's Friday night win over William & Mary. Canisius' win over James Madison helped, but Niagara's was bigger given it came on the road.

4. Iona: Records: 20-8, 11-5; RPI: 87; Position: Same

A great deal of credit is due to the Gaels, who won convincingly Friday against a William & Mary team that had won four striaght coming in. Iona has been erratic over the last three weeks, but with the deepest bench and best assemblage of 3-point shooters in the league, they have the ingredients to make a run in Albany.

5. Rider: Records: 15-14, 8-8; RPI: 156; Position: Same

How well the Broncs do down the stretch depends largely on how well Ryan Thompson plays, and that may be a good sign for Rider. He's been as good as ever over the past four weeks, when he's gone from a disappointent to a strong first-team all-league candidate.

6. Saint Peters's: Records: 15-12, 10-6; RPI: 156; Position: Same

Saturday's BracketBuster loss to Buffalo was hardly devastating, but it's a good example of why the Peacocks still aren't a reliable, top-tier MAAC team. Nick Leon's 3 sent the game to overtime, but even at home, Saint Peter's couldn't finish the job. The Peacocks are 3-4 in their last seven games -- not the kind of stretch that inspires confidence.

7. Canisius: Records: 13-15, 7-9; RPI: 204; Position: Same

Saturday's BracketBuster win over James Madison was hardly invigorating, but it could end up providing a much-needed jolt to the Golden Griffs, who had lost four of their previous five. It's been an up-and-down year for Frank Turner and Co., but at least the Griffs control their own destiny. If they win at Loyola and Rider -- or simply beat Rider if Rider loses to Siena -- they'll avoid the play-in round.

8. Loyola: Records: 12-15, 5-11; RPI:205; Position: Same

I was high on the resurgent Hounds in early February, but they've lost three straight after a one-point setback Saturday against New Hampshire. With Manhattan showing signs of life, the gap between the 8 and 9 spots is shrinking.

9. Manhattan: Reocrds: 10-17, 4-12; RPI: 226; Position: Same

Who were those guys in the white uniforms Saturday and what did they do with the Jaspers? In a 78-62 thumping of Towson, Manhattan scored the game's first 20 points, delivering a rare statement for a bottom-of-the-pack team. With a good recruiting class expected, Barry Rohrssen's job is likely same for at least another year.

10. Marist: Records: 1-26, 1-15; RPI: 333

Surprisingly, there's some form of good news to report about the Red Foxes: After losing by only one point Saturday at UC-Irvine, two of their last four losses are by five points or fewer.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Games of the Week

Buckle your seatbelts. We've finally arrived at the most exciting week of the year -- one in which tournament seeds will be on the line and any number of scenarios can play out.

My favorite day of the basketball season other than conference tournaments is the last day of the regular season, when several games always have direct seeding implications. But of equal importance are some of the games taking place on Friday, which will set up Sunday's storylines.

The Games of the Week list has three from Sunday and two from Friday, starting with ...

5. Siena at Rider, Friday, 7 p.m., ESPNU

This isn't the toss-up game it was last year, when the Broncs handed the Saints their first MAAC loss. But it also isn't shaping up to be an all-out lashing like the teams' Dec. 23 meeting in Alabny. The Saints could use a road win coming off a lackluster second half at Butler, and the Broncs could clinch at least sixth place with a win and a Canisius loss at Loyola.

4. Canisius at Rider, Sunday, 2 p.m.

Yes, it's true that the No. 7 seed will have a virtually automatic win over Marist in the tournament play-in round, but that doesn't mean any team would be happy about playing next Friday night. The Broncs control their own destiny, but if they lose Friday to Siena, they'll need a win here to avoid that 7-10 game.

3. Niagara at Fairfield, Sunday, noon, MAAC TV

Seeding implications aside, few matchups are more intriguing than this one. The Purple Eagles look like they may have turned a corner, while the Stags are rolling despite having been further ravaged by injuries.

2. Iona at Saint Peter's, Sunday, 2 p.m.

How big this game is will depend largely on what happens Friday. But it's possible that the No. 3 seed will be on the line -- an important factor because the 4 seed would be stuck on Siena's side of the bracket in Albany.

1. Iona at Fairfield, Friday, 7:30 p.m.

The Gaels, coming off an impressive BracketBuster win, can clinch the No. 2 seed with a win. The Stags, though, have been tough to beat at home and are playing their best basketball of the season.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Hofstra 92, Rider 89 (OT)

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y – Though Rider has gotten recent contributions from
various players, the Broncs remain Ryan Thompson’s team.

If Thompson is a non-factor, as he was for stretches early in the
year, Rider is anywhere from mediocre to awful. But if Thompson is
dominant, his team is dangerous – a reality that was on display
yesterday in the Broncs’ 92-89 overtime loss to Hofstra.

In stepping out of MAAC play for a BracketBuster game against the
Pride, the Broncs were focused more on their level of play than on the
final result – a situation similar to teams throughout the country who
are far from the NCAA tournament discussion.

In that regard, yesterday was at least a partial success.
Thompson, in the midst of the most dominant stretch of his career, was
at his very best yesterday. The senior guard scored a career-high 38
points, preventing the Pride (16-13) from turning it into a blowout on
several occasions.

“I got a lot of open shots and got to the free throw line a lot,”
Thompson said. “My teammates just got me the ball in good positions.
I was knocking down open shots. It wasn’t anything too different.”

Thompson entered this year having scored 30 or more points only once –
in the Broncs’ quarterfinal win over Saint Peter’s in the MAAC
tournament, when he had 30 exactly. In his last six games, he’s topped
30 three times.

Playing with confidence that was absent for almost all of January,
he’s been every bit the player the MAAC coaches thought he would be
when they voted him preseason Player of the Year. Yesterday he found
free lanes to the hoop all day, never lagging despite playing all 45
minutes.

“He’s in great shape,” Rider coach Tommy Dempsey said. “He’s really
worked hard at his body over the course of his career. He’s a grown
man now. He’s been through the wars before and he knows what to
expect. … Even now, at the end of the season when he’s played most of
the game the whole year, he’s playing his best basketball.”

Live from Long Island: Rider at Hofstra

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Press MAAC Index, Week 7: Niagara wakes up

Joe Mihalich's team is worthy of a significant bump in the rankings.

For the first time in seven weeks, a team is making a dramatic move in the power rankings.

Niagara didn't erase all of its ills in what has been an extremely disappointing season with its blowout win Friday over Siena. But even given that shaky 8-8 league record and the no-show performances that have piled up, the Eagles have to be considered among the most dangerous teams in the league.

By doing what every other team had failed to do through 14 league games, the Eagles are moving on up. How far up? Check out the rankings to see.

1. Siena: Records: 22-5, 15-1; RPI: 35; Position: Same

An undefeated regular season would have been nice, but given the fact that the Saints had already wrapped up the regular season title before losing to Niagara, a win Saturday at Butler would be nicer.

2. Fairfield: Records: 18-8, 11-5; RPI: 100; Position: Same

Another impressive week for the Stags, who held off Rider in overtime and blasted an overmatched Manhattan team. That Fairfield finally won in Lawrenceville -- something they hadn't done in any of Ed Cooley's first three years -- helps demonstrate that this is a different, more dangerous team than in years past.

3. Niagara: Records: 15-13, 8-8; RPI 160; Position: Up 3

How is a .500 team ranked this high? Simple. Most teams could play their best and still not make it a one-possession game against Siena. The Eagles did far more than just make it close last Friday -- they blew Siena's doors off. None of this means Niagara is suddenly the same team that won 14 league games last year. It does mean, though, that they're one of thew few teams that could conceivably beat Siena next month.

4. Iona: Records: 19-8, 11-5; RPI: 96; Position: Down 1

As I wrote in last week's rankings post, Iona could lose all of its remaining games and still have far exceeded expectations this year. But with games at Fairfield and at Saint Peter's remaining on the schedule, what once looked like a great season could end as merely above average.

5. Rider: Records: 15-13, 8-8; RPI: 143: Position: Same

The Broncs are becoming a mainstay in the No. 5 spot -- a testament to how much they've improved over the last month but also to how much work they still have left to do. They're capable of beating almost anyone, but they remain vulnerable against lower-tier teams.

6. Saint Peter's: Records: 14-11. 9-6; Position: Down 2

Yes, I'm aware the Peacocks have a better league record than Niagara and Rider, and that they won both meetings against the Purple Eagles. But they're 1-2 in their last three games with the win coming at home by one point, and I wouldn't pick them to win a game right now against any of the teams listed above them.

7. Canisius: Records: 12-15, 7-9; RPI: 201; Position: Same

We'll find out a lot about the Griffs over their final two league games. They're both on the road -- at Loyola and Rider -- both they're both winnable. If they find a way to avoid the play-in round, it will be a sign that the program is headed in the right direction.

8. Loyola: Records: 12-13, 5-10; RPI: 181; Position: Same

Tomorrow's home game against Saint Peter's is a big one. Win that and the Hounds could be favored in their final two games, needing to win both for a shot at a top-six finish.

9. Manhattan: Records: 9-17, 4-12; RPI: 226; Position: Same

Give the Jaspers credit for upsetting Iona on the road. But getting blown out by a Fairfield team that, for all its strengths, doesn't often win by huge margins, was a setback.

10. Marist; Records: 1-25, 1-15; RPI: 334; Position: Same

For all its struggles, Marist actually managed to win a game in the MAAC tournament last year. At this point, it would be a miracle if the Red Foxes replicated that feat.

Rider postgame quotes

I wasn't armed with a flip camera Monday night in Jersey City, so we'll do this the old-fashioned way and just give you Rider's postgame quotes in written form:

TOMMY DEMPSEY:

I thought overall it was a good character win for our team and our program. We've been kicked around a little bit at times, and it seems like every time we get it going we seem to get knocked down a peg. Then we find a way to dig down and keep the season alive so to speak, and I thought tonight was one of those nights. It would have been tough to come up here and get beat. They're a good team and they're playing well, but I thought we really controlled the game from start to finish in a lot of ways. We might have trailed a time or two, but it didn't seem like by much. A great second half by Ryan and Mike and Justin had eight assists. He really shared the ball well. He's kind of been carrying us with his shooting, and tonight he really helped to run our team well.

Like the way Thompson and Robinson worked together, with Robinson as the primary point guard?

Yeah. They're kind of, it's a little bit of a tag-team effort at times. If Ryan gets the ball he goes and takes it. There are certain sets we have where we put the ball in Ryan's hands. Justin's playing more the typical point position than Ryan right now, but to be honest it's just two good guards out there who are playing well together.

Did you think they were going to triple or quadruple team Ringgold with the way he played in the second half?

It's hard because everyone was playing well, but you can't guard Mike one on one. You just can't. And if you can't dig and you can't bring doubles to him, what Mike's done a good job of lately is passing the ball out of doubles. Our first two 3s they started with inside-out stuff. His vision has gotten better and it's gotten harder to double him. Tonight they decided to play him one-on-one and he got the better of the matchup.

Thompson's mid-range game?

He has a great mid-range game. The guys that are toughest to guard, I always tell my guards that if you can score at the rim, in the mid-range and at the 3, it becomes very difficult to guard. The best guards can do all three. They can finish at the rim, make floaters and stretch it with the 3. That's where Ryan separates himself from most guards in the league because he can do all 3.

Nice to come up here and beat a young, up-and-coming team that beat you guys last year?

We're still going to be a tough team to beat when it's all said and done. I know some of the younger teams have come up and they're young and they're hungry, but as long as we keep our momentum going, we've won in the tournament and there are some other teams that still have to go and prove that when the bright lights come on, they're going to get wins in that tournament. My biggest charge right now is to keep our momentum pushing forward, keep playing good basketball. Even though we lost Friday night against Fairfield we played a good basketball game and things didn't go our way. We're hitting our stride and that was good basketball game we played. I've tried to tell our kids all year, let's not judge ourselves on wins and losses, let's judge ourselves on performances. We've strung some good performances together over the last three weeks. If we can continue to do that for the next three weeks then when the lights shine brightly up in Albany, I'm sure these guys will be ready.

MIKE RINGGOLD

Is passing out of double teams a point of emphasis in practice?

After a while, you get used to it. You just try to trust your teammates to make open shots and make the game easier.

RYAN THOMPSON

Nice having Mike clicking like that?

Yeah. Coach always tells us to start inside-out. When Mike's going to work, I tell him to keep going. Not many people can guard him in the post.

Comfortable with the mid-range game you displayed tonight?

I just take what the defense gives me. I don't try to force too much. I just make it easy on myself, get my teammates open as much as I can and be as aggressive as I can.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Rider 72, Saint Peter's 66

JERSEY CITY Playing on the road against a young but vastly improved team, Rider delivered the kind of performance it had been unable to come up with earlier this season.

The Broncs, needing a win to avoid their third loss in four games, were impressive Monday night from the middle of the first half on. Getting contributions from both likely and unlikely sources, they beat Saint Peter’s 72-66, giving them some much-needed margin for error in their final two conference games.

Ryan Thompson, named the MAAC Player of the Week earlier in the day, was quiet in the first half but dominant in the second. Scoring on a mixture of layups and mid-range floaters, he scored 18 of his 21 points after the break, helping bring Rider (15-13 overall, 8-8 MAAC) back to .500 in the MAAC.

“Overall, a good character win for our team and our program,” coach Tommy Dempsey said. “We’ve been kicked around this year at times and it feels like every time we get going we get knocked down a peg, but we find a way to dig down and keep the season alive.”

Mike Ringgold played his best offensive game in weeks. Nearly unstoppable in the low post, he had 16 points in a game-high 38 minutes. Justin Robinson scored 11 points and had a career-high-tying eight assists and Pat Mansell -- often relegated to the bench -- chipped in with eight points. Jeron Belin scored 15 points and Ryan Bacon added 13 for the Peacocks (14-11, 9-6).

Dempsey ventured away from his regular substitution pattern in the first half, starting Brandon Penn in place of Novar Gadson and playing freshman Dere Nd-Ezuma for a season-high eight minutes.

Nd-Ezuma, averaging 2.7 minutes per game, scored on a turnaround in the low post and had two rebounds –a rare contribution for a player typically only used in garbage time.

Rider needs to win at least one of its final two MAAC games to ensure a top six finish in the MAAC, but the Broncs showed last night they remain dangerous – a team capable of winning games against quality opponents.

“We’re tested,” Dempsey said. “We’ve won in the (MAAC) tournament. There are some other teams that still have to prove that when the bright lights come on they can go and get wins in that tournament. This team has done that. So my biggest job right now is to keep our momentum pushing forward, keep playing good basketball. … We’re hitting our stride, and that was good basketball we played tonight.”

The Broncs were as efficient on offense as they’ve been in quite some time. Rider shot 58 percent for the game and a sizzling 71 percent in the second half. The Broncs finished with two offensive rebounds – a crippling stat in most cases, but one that Monday night was merely a product of only 21 missed baskets.

“I thought we really controlled the game, from start to finish in a lot of ways,” Dempsey said. “We trailed a time or two, but it didn’t seem like by much.”

Games of the Week

I like the concept of BracketBuster games. And in some cases -- Siena-Butler being the case in point -- the games are as big or bigger than key conference matchups.

But BracketBusters are a little like Interleague Play in baseball. Yankees-Mets gets everyone fired up, but Royals-Pirates doesn't exactly do the same. By the same token, for every Siena-Butler there's a a UNH-Loyola or a Marist-UC Irvine -- games that are essentially glorified exhibitions.

So while I would never lobby for eliminating BracketBuster games, they aren't completely harmless. One negative is clear -- they make it harder to compose a list of five meaningful games. Then again, at least this list -- and BracketBuster Saturday -- has Siena-Butler.

My five MAAC games of the week:

5. Rider at Saint Peter's, tonight, 7 p.m., MAAC TV

Both teams need this game, but Rider needs it more. A loss would put the Broncs at 7-9 with a likely loss against Siena next on the schedule. If Rider is 7-10 coming into its regular season finale against Canisius, the loser of that game will almost certainly be in the play-in round.

4. Fairfield at Manhattan, tonight, 7 p.m.

I'm extremely curious to see how the Jaspers look coming off of an impressive win at Iona. A win here would give Manhattan some real momentum down the stretch after it looked like its season was going into a tailspin. As for the Stags, a win would make it three out of four, and 11 league wins with two home games left on the schedule.

3. William & Mary at Iona, Friday, 9 p.m., ESPNU

Nothing would give the Gaels a bigger jolt than an impressive win on national TV against one of mid-major hoops' most pleasant surprises. The Tribe, a perennial CAA doormat, is two games out of first place in the conference and poised for an improbable postseason bid -- maybe even one in the Big Dance. People across the country will take notice of the result.

2. Saint Peter's at Loyola, Wednesday, 7 p.m.

Even after losing yesterday to Iona, the Hounds mostly control their own destiny in their quest to avoid the play-in round. Their final three games are at home and all are winnable. This one poses the biggest challenge, but if Loyola wins, that will leave only home games against Canisius and Manhattan on the schedule, with sixth place remaining a distinct possibility.

1. Siena at Butler, Saturday, 11 a.m., ESPN2

Given the overwhelmingly strong chances the Saints have to win the MAAC tournament, all the NCAA at-large talk is overblown. What isn't overblown, though, is the impact this game could have on potential NCAA seeding. The Saints took a major hit in the polls after losing to Niagara, but could make up that ground and then some -- with voters and, potentially, with the tournament committee -- with an upset in Indianapolis.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Video: Ed Cooley after Fairfield's win

Apologies for the shaky editing here. Thought I had cleaned up the ending to this clip a little bit more, but the clip ends with me asking a question, rather than with Ed Cooley or Anthony Johnson saying anything. ... Also from videoland, there are a couple more videos that somehow got lost in cyberspace between my camera and our web site. As soon as I figure out what happened to them, I'll post them.

Without further delay, here's Cooley talking about Johnson's monster night, and finally winning a game at Alumni Gym.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Fairfield 79, Rider 75 (OT)

LAWRENCEVILLE – This was an instant classic – a game that fans of both teams will likely remember for years.

Rider and Fairfield went back and forth Friday night at Alumni Gym, exchanging blows and scoring in improbable ways at improbable times.

In the end though, this was one that got away from Rider. After rallying to force overtime in the final seconds, the Broncs ran out of answers in the extra session and fell to the upstart Stags, 79-75.

Rider, which lost Ryan Thompson with just over two minutes left when he was ejected for elbowing Fairfield’s Derek Needham, tied the game on a runner by Justin Robinson with 4.8 seconds left in regulation.

Yet Anthony Johnson’s dominance and two costly turnovers turned this into a thrilling win for the Stags and a frustrating defeat for the Broncs.

Thompson carried Rider for stretches in the second half, but the Broncs couldn’t stop Johnson inside. The 6-foot-9 senior was unstoppable in the low post and almost perfect at the free throw line, where he finished 13 for 15.

His basket with 1:50 left in overtime stretched a one-point game into a three-point game, giving the Stags a 76-73 lead. Rider got to within two once, but never got closer.

Thompson scored 18 points to lead Rider. Robinson added 15 and Mike Ringgold 13. But Johnson played an unforgettable game. He finished with 27 points and 14 rebounds, while Needham added 20 points.

When Gadson brought Rider to within one with 3:46 left, Johnson hit another two free throws, stretching the Fairfield lead to 68-65 with 3:03 left in regulation.

The next possession changed the direction of the game – not necessarily for the worse for Rider.

Thompson was called for an offensive foul when he inadvertently elbowed Needham in the face. After the officials met, Thompson was assessed a flagrant foul and ejected.

The ejection, though woke up what had been a quiet crowd, and Rider responded. Younblood scored to cut the deficit to three, and Rider had a chance to tie with 35 seconds left, only to see Gadson miss from the top of the key.

Needham, though, missed the front end of a one-and-one, giving Rider new life. The Broncs opted for a quick two in the form of a Youngblood dunk with 11.7 seconds left, and after a Fairfield timeout, Rider fouled Johnson on the ensuing inbounds pass.

The senior finally faltered at the line, making only one of two and setting the stage for a dramatic Rider possession.

Robinson then scored on a floater in the lane with 4.8 seconds left to tie it at 71.

Needham, trying to hurry the ball up the floor, stepped on the sideline after being forced out by Youngblood.

Rider had a chance to win it with 3.4 seconds left, but Jon Thompson’s baseline runner fell short, sending the game to overtime.

Live from the Zoo: Fairfield at Rider

Firday pickoff

In spite of a 2-3 showing last week, I'm back at it for Week 2 of the Friday picks feature, hoping to at least get back above .500.

Since the Saint Peter's-Loyola game was postponed, we're left with a four-game slate. The picks:

Siena (minus 3 1/2) over NIAGARA

This line is almost exclusively a product of what Niagara did to Siena at the Gallagher Center last year, and the Purple Eagles have demonstrated on many occasions that this is a much different, much less dangerous team. Prediction: Siena 84, Niagara 74

RIDER (minus 1) over Fairfield

The Stags have played great basketball over their last two games, but this just isn't a good matchup for them. Rider has won six of the last seven games in the series, the one exception coming on a fluke 18-point showing by Marty O'Sullivan in 2007-08. The Broncs have been the least predictable team in the league all year, so a 10-point Fairfield win wouldn't shock me. But based on Rider's huge edge in athleticism, the most likely outcome is a win for the home team. Prediction: Rider 81, Fairfield 75

Manhattan (plus 11) over IONA

There's a very good chance the Jaspers are in the midst of a freefall, and to be clear, I don't think there's any chance they'll win. But they should be able to get up enough to keep this one fairly close, especially given the Gaels' lack of impressive play over the last week. Prediction: Iona 72, Manhattan 63

CANISIUS (minus 15) over Marist

Nothing about the Red Foxes' play this year suggests that they'll be able to keep this reasonably close. Prediction: Canisius 88, Marist 65

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Rider-Fairfield

Breaking down tomorrow night's matchup at the Zoo:

SCOUTING FAIRFIELD:
The Stags, among the MAAC’s biggest surprises, have continued winning despite a continuing flow of injuries to key players. Fairfield lost Greg Nero and Warren Edney before the season began. The Stags have since lost forward Yorel Hawkins for the season with a knee injury and are also playing without starting guard Lyndon Jordan. But led by star point guard Derek Needham — a shoo-in for MAAC Rookie of the Year — they blew out Saint Peter’s last Friday, then took first-place Siena down to the wire Monday. ... Needham, averaging 16.1 points and 5.6 assists, scored 26 points Monday at Siena. He struggled against Rider last month but still finished with 20 points and 10 assists, though Rider forced him into a sesaon-high-tying eight turnovers. ... Senior forward Anthony Johnson (14.4 points, 9.1 rebounds) is an all-MAAC candidate and a steady presence in the low post. ... Senior forward Mike Evanovich (6.9 points, .46 percent 3-point shooting) hit his first eight 3-point attempts against Rider before missing his final three. ... Junior guard Sean Crawford, pressed into duty by Jordan’s injury, hit four 3s against Siena and has scored a combined 27 points in his last two games, both starts.

SCOUTING RIDER: Led by a resurgent Ryan Thompson, the Broncs have won four of their last five, pulling themselves out of a deep slump after a 3-6 MAAC start. ... Thompson struggled through December and most of January but is averaging 25.3 points over his last four games. Twice — at Fairfield Jan. 30 and against Niagara Monday — he scored a career-high-tying 31 points. ... His scoring average, hovering around 14 points per game for most of the season, is up to 16.1. ... Justin Robinson (13.3 points, 45 percent 3-point shooting) has scored 14 or more points in four straight games. ... Novar Gadson, still playing through pain after sustaining a high ankle sprain last month, is averaging 11.2 points and 7.8 rebounds. He’s scored in double figures in five straight games after scoring only five points Jan. 22 at Canisius. ... Mike Ringgold (10.7 points, 6.9 rebounds) is last in the nation in free-throw shooting at 29.6 percent. ... Coach Tommy Dempsey is still searching for a fifth reliable contributor, but Jhamar Youngblood (7.6 points) has settled into the starting lineup with Jon Thompson (2.8 points), Brandon Penn (3.8) and Jermaine Jackson (1.3) coming off the bench.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Plenty to play for



My story on Ryan Thompson, who's playing for his cousin's memory -- and for a strong finish to one of the greatest careers in Rider history:


Ryan Thompson often relies on a support system – one that starts with his parents and his older brother, whose retired number hangs on the Alumni Gym wall and whose stature is growing as a second-year pro.

Two weeks ago, though, Thompson lost a key member of that system.

His cousin, Tiffany – who died suddenly of heart failure -- was more than a close confidant. A former standout player at Washington Twp. High School, she was an off-the-floor assistant coach, a person capable of breaking down the holes in Thompson’s game and doling out advice on how to improve.

“A big part of my life,” Thompson said. “She would want me to give my all every day. She would always give me pointers on what to do.”

Thompson played with strained emotions following her death, but is committed to playing his best basketball down the stretch in her honor.

Rider, immersed in a deep and perplexing slump for much of the season, has won four of its last five, in no small part because of Thompson’s play.

In his last four games – including three Rider wins -- he’s averaging 25.3 points and shooting 45 percent from the floor. He’s been unflappable at the free throw line, where he’s 34-for-38 (89 percent) during the stretch.

“He’s playing with the confidence everyone expected him to play with,” Jason Thompson said Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, where his dunk in the final minute of regulation helped send the Kings to a 118-114 overtime win over the Knicks. “You have some things go on during the season, but he’s playing how everyone knows he can pay. Stuff happens. You don’t shoot the ball well at times, but he’s playing how I know he can play, and he has his swagger back.”

Thompson, once listed in mock drafts as a second-round pick, has seen his draft stock drop significantly. The scouts, though, haven’t completely gone away. A strong finish – coupled with good performances at pre-draft workouts – could put him back in consideration.

“Some of the things he can do are undeniable,” said Rider coach Tommy Dempsey. “(Scouts) see how he runs the floor. They see his size and athleticism. What people sometimes forget is it’s a lot like college recruiting. I can go watch a high school player play and know if he can play at our level whether he has four points or whether he has 34. You always feel better if he has 34, but you might still leave the gym thinking ‘this guy has a lot of talent’ and you’ll keep coming back.

“With his numbers back on the rise, even those scouts who may have said ‘maybe he’s not quite good enough’ might start saying ‘I better get back here.’”

Hampered by sky-high expectations and loads of pressure, Thompson played without confidence, without assertion, and without the jump shot that had served him so well last year for a two-month stretch.

In a 74-58 loss at Canisius on Jan. 22, he scored only 10 points on 2-for-10 shooting. It was the sixth time this season that he made fewer than three field goals – a baffling statistic for a player who averaged 18 points per game last year and was an easy choice for preseason MAAC Player of the Year.

Yet when Rider appeared headed for a bottom-of-the-pack finish in the MAAC, Thompson engineered a comeback.

He scored 25 points Jan. 28, helping Rider overcome a nine-point halftime deficit to get past ninth-place Manhattan. A game later, he scored a career-high 31 points in the Broncs’ 88-80 win at Fairfield. After a 14-point performance in an 80-73 loss to Loyola, he scored another 31 Monday in a 70-62 win over Niagara that gave the Broncs a much-needed one-game lead over the Purple Eagles in the MAAC standings.

Asked what the biggest difference was in Rider’s play, sophomore forward Novar Gadson had no trouble answering.

“Ryan Thompson,” he said. “It’s as simple as that. He’s playing great basketball. He’s finding us open shots. He’s a great player.”

Thompson playing well “takes the attention off everyone else,” said junior guard Justin Robinson. “When teams concentrate on just stopping him, it frees everyone else up. That’s been evident in the way I’ve been shooting.”

Rider (14-12 overall, 7-7 MAAC) has a challenging end to its schedule. Three of the Broncs’ final four games are at home, but after tomorrow’s game, their remaining three will be against teams that beat them by double-digit margins the first time around.

Yet with Thompson in dominant form, Rider is a different team. There’s better offensive flow, more energy and more open shots for everyone else when Thompson is in control.

He's rarely been as good as he's been over the past four games.

“There’s always pressure,” Thompson said. “I never had to deal with that before. It’s on your back, and you have to be the leader of your team. There was pressure knowing everyone’s watching you. But then I started to not worry about it.”

How far Thompson can carry Rider remains to be seen. Dempsey, though, said his star is in a better place now – one more befitting of one of the best players in program history.

“I’m really happy to see him get going, and not just for our basketball team, but for him personally,” Dempsey said. “He’s had what has to be considered a top five career at Rider, and you wouldn’t want to see him end it on a sour note.

“Now he’s starting to put things together.”

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Press MAAC Index, Week 6: A lot of unanswered questions

For the second straight week, the focus in the Index is on where teams stand heading down the stretch and what they have to do to earn a favorable seed in the MAAC tournament.

Siena has taken some of the drama away by cruising to a 14-0 start and wrapping up the top seed in the tournament almost a week before Valentine's Day. Similarly, you can bet the house that Marist will finish 10th and Manhattan will finish no higher than eighth.

Aside from that, there's a whole lot left to be decided.

1. Siena: Records: 21-4 overall, 14-0 in the MAAC; RPI: 32; Position: Stayed the same

It's possible Siena will lose a MAAC game at some point, but I sure wouldn't bet on it. It's clear now that Fairfield gives the Saints more problems than anyone else in the league, but even last night's 69-67 nail-biter wasn't quite as close as the score indicates. Although it was a one-possession game in the final minute, the Stags added a meaningless Derek Needham 3 on their last possession to pull with two.

Judging by what we've seen over the past two months, that may best the rest of the MAAC can do.

2. Fairfield: Records: 16-8, 9-5; RPI: 114; Position: Up two spots

How do you move up two spots after a 1-1 week? By taking a good Saint Peter's team to the woodshed, taking a great Siena team down to the final minute, and doing it all without two injured starters -- a sign that as long as Needham and Anthony Johnson are on the floor, Ed Cooley will find a way to make this team a contender.

3. Iona: Records: 18-7, 10-4; RPI: 85; Position: Down one spot

Unless the Gaels completely go into the tank in the last two weeks, this season will go down as a smashing success. Iona was picked ninth in the preseason coaches' poll and will almost certainly finish in the top four, with the top two remaining a distinct possibility. But the Gaels' blowout loss at Siena indicated they're not quite ready for primetime, and their shaky performance the following game against Marist showed they're not quite as good as they looked during their eight-game winning streak.

4. Saint Peter's: Records: 14-10, 9-5; RPI: 146; Position: Down one spot

Thankfully for the Peacocks, they found a way to get past Canisius and avoid back-to-back losses. They clearly still belong in the same grouping with Fairfield and Iona, but they need good showings in their next two games -- at Loyola and at home against Rider.

5. Rider: Records: 14-12, 7-7; RPI: 143; Position: Stayed the same

Another week, another set of ups and downs. It's becoming more and more difficult to know which Rider team will show up: The one that won impressively at Fairfield and took it to Niagara in the second half last night, or the one that lost at home to Loyola. The schedule is manageable but not easy, meaning anything from 3-1 to 0-4 is possible in the Broncs' final four games.

6. Niagara: Records: 13-13, 6-8; RPI: 174; Position: Stayed the same

Before the season began, I thought the loss of Benson Egemonye made Niagara slightly less dangerous than Rider. Little did I know that while that appears to be true, it would mean the Eagles are a bottom-half team that could end up in the play-in round. Like Rider, the talent is undeniable. The question is, can Niagara play with enough discipline to stay afloat down the stretch?

7. Canisius: Records: 11-14, 6-8; RPI: 198: Position: Stayed the same

The Golden Griffs really could have used Sunday's game at Saint Peter's, in which they forced overtime only to lose partially because of an unintentionally made free throw by Frank Turner. The Griffs are almost certain to split their next two league games -- against Marist and Siena -- meaning their final two -- at Loyola and at Rider -- will decide where they fall in the final standings.

8. Loyola: Records: 12-12, 5-9; RPI:185; Position: Stayed the same

That the Hounds aren't a mortal lock for the play-in round after all they've endured -- losing Brett Harvey and Jamal Barney, their two top scorers and two best players, for a combined 10 games -- is a testament to the job Jimmy Patsos has done. If they manage to get hot and finish in the top six, it will be one of the most impressive turnarounds in the league.

9. Manhattan: Records: 8-10, 3-11; RPI: 245; Position: Stayed the same

The Jaspers' home loss to Loyola made it a near certainty that they'll finish ninth, making Barry Rohrssen's job status the biggest question down the stretch.

10. Marist: Records: 1-23, 1-13; RPI: 336; Position: Stayed the same

You can't help but feel bad for Chuck Martin. The losses have piled up to such a degree that the Foxes know they're going to lose before they step on the court -- a daunting challenge for any coach, and an especially tough one for one staring at back-to-back last-place finishes.

Video: Tommy Dempsey after Rider's win

Monday, February 8, 2010

Video: Ryan Thompson after Rider's win

Rider 70, Niagara 62

LAWRENCEVILLE – Once again, Rider was down by double digits, its back against the wall in a game it needed to win.

The Broncs, coming off a damaging home loss to Loyola, trailed by 14 at the half against Niagara, like Rider a talented but erratic team.

Yet for the second time in two games against the Eagles this season, Rider responded. Ryan Thompson, playing his third dominant game in the past two weeks, carried Rider to a 70-62 win that pointed the Broncs’ season back in the right direction.

“A gutsy performance by our guys in the second half,” coach Tommy Dempsey said. “… It would have been very easy at halftime to pack it in and get beat again at home, but we were really resilient.”

Thompson scored 31 points – tying the career high he set just two games earlier in a win at Fairfield. His emphatic dunk capped an 18-1 Rider run that turned an 11-point deficit into a six-point lead, and his clutch shooting helped hold off the Purple Eagles.

Truman High’s Tyrone Lewis scored 17 points and Demetrius Williamson added 13 for Niagara. Justin Robinson (14) and Novar Gadson (12) joined Thompson in double figures for the Broncs.

Rider (14-12 overall, 7-7 MAAC) is alone in fifth place in the MAAC – an important factor since the top six teams receive first-round byes in next month’s conference tournament.

The Broncs completed a season sweep of the Eagles (13-13, 6-8) who have virtually no margin for error down the stretch. Niagara is tied with cross-town rival Canisius for sixth in the league, meaning the play-in round is a distinct possibility.

With its next three games against teams with winnings records in the league, Rider is by no means out of the woods. Yet the Broncs have won three of their last four after a 3-6 MAAC start, and are still capable of playing their best basketball down the stretch.

Trailing by 14 at the half, the Broncs rallied. Robinson’s floater capped a tied the game at 51 with 8:19 left -- the first tie since 5-5. Jhamar Youngblood’s jumper on Rider’s next possession gave the Broncs a 53-51 lead with 7:20 left, and Thompson’s dunk with 5:51 left capped a 15-0 run and gave Rider a 55-51 lead.

Live from the Zoo: Niagara at Rider

Games of the Week

All year, there's a temptation to talk MAAC tournament seeding far before anything will be set in stone. Now, though, it's possible to talk specifics.

Siena can clinch then No. 1 seed, for instance, with a win tonight over Fairfield, while several other games will have major seeding implications.

Here are my top five games of the week, all of which will help determine how the teams stack up at the end of the month:

5. Saint Peter's at Loyola, Friday, 7 p.m.

With back-to-back wins at Rider and Manhattan, the 5-9 Hounds suddenly aren't a lock for the play-in round. With a healthy Brett Harvey being joined in the backcourt by Jamal Barney, it's conceivable Loyola could get hot down the stretch, jump a few teams, and finish in the top six. But if they're going to do that, beating the Peacocks at home is a must.

4. Siena at Canisius, Sunday, 2 p.m.

This game is intriguing primarily because of the bad blood that came out of the teams' first meeting, when the Golden Griffs' Robert Goldsberry took out the Saints' Alex Franklin and tempers flared.

Of equal importance, though, is that it's at least conceivable Canisius could get hot, feed off the home crowd and make this interesting. With Siena closing in on an undefeated regular season, any game that COULD be close deserves added attention.

3. Fairfield at Siena, tonight, 7 p.m. MAAC TV

The Stags, as they will be for the rest of the year, will be playing without Yorel Hawkins. But that didn't stop them from taking it to Saint Peter's in an impressive -- and much-needed -- win last Friday.

Fairfield has played well enough all year that it's not a lock for Siena, but you can expect the Times Union Center to be rockin' with a regular-season title within reach.

2. Siena at Niagara, Friday, 8 p.m., MAAC TV

Even given the Purple Eagles' struggles, this is a losable game for Siena if the Eagles get hot from 3. The Gallagher Center should be hoppin, and it's a big game for Niagara given the Eagles' undesirable position in the MAAC standings.

1. Niagara at Rider, tonight, 7 p.m.

This game has always loomed large on the calendar for both teams, but for reasons wholly different from the ones that matter tonight.

Instead of the teams jockeying for second place in the league and a potential NIT bid, they're battling to avoid the play-in round, with the teams part of a three-way tie with Canisius for fifth place.

The winner will have some breathing room, while the loser will have no margin for error down the stretch.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

What's wrong with Rider? ... Dempsey's take

I didn't get around to posting these quotes yesterday. Given that Rider lost, maybe now is just as good a time as any to put them up.

Tommy Dempsey has had various takes on his team's play throughout the year. He's been dejected at times. He's been defiant, vowing to prove his and his team's critics wrong.

I met with him in his office Thursday to talk about the Loyola game, and as far as I'm concerned, he made his best effort yet to simply tell it how it is. Since our conversation came when Rider was on a three-game winning streak, most of this is in the context of looking back at what HAD gone wrong before the Broncs began what looked like a turnaround.

After Friday's loss, he made it a point to say he didn't feel the same way about the game that had just taken place as he had felt two weeks ago. But nevertheless, he had some interesting things to say about how the season drifted off course. Here are some highlights:

I don't think we were playing hard enough. I attribute a lot of it to that. I think they thought they were playing harder than they were. I was screaming and yelling at every halftime and before every game that you need to play harder, you need to play harder.

There was a sense of 'it's not that coach, we're playing hard.' I think that there was that sense there, and I think that's changed a little bit. I think they've actually played harder, and I think they know that now. I think if they were to look back on it now, they would think 'you know what, we're playing harder now than we were two weeks ago. Yet two weeks ago they thought they were playing hard. Everyone's giving a little bit more of themselves, and I think when you play hard, you get that rhythm, you get some easy baskets, you create some offense with your defense.

... I said to the team at halftime (of the Fairfield game), I got in front of the team and said 'I used to coach a team that played like that.' And I think there was a sense from them too that 'yeah, that felt different. We were playing harder, we were sharing the ball more. Then it started to be that sense of, you hear them talking amongst each other, saying 'yeah, let's share the ball, yeah let's keep playing hard.' I've been preaching to them those things but it hasn't naturally been ticking with this group as well.

I think the light went on in the second half against Manhattan. It was a heated halftime discussion. Not that we haven't had those before, but I pretty much told the team, you're about to get booed off your home court and I didn't necessarily say it in those words. ... I thought that hit them hard, because I didn't think our effort was anywhere near where it needed to be in that game. To let a guy (Rico Pickett) get 28 points and talk to your crowd and talk to your bench, I really challenged some guys' manhood at halftime. I was embarrassed that he had 28. I was embarrassed at the way he acted. I was embarrassed that we couldn't get our crowd into the game because they seemed to be looking at a team that was lethargic.

I told them how disappointed the building was in the way that they were playing and that if they booed us off the court, I wouldn't blame them. It was an animated discussion. That was pretty much the theme of it.

... That first half against Manhattan I considered to be our worst half of the year amongst a lot of bad halves, because they were getting run-out dunks. We weren't getting back on transition defense a couple times. They were dunking the ball. You had the ninth-place team in the league dunking the ball, yapping at your crowd, yapping at your bench, and I was like 'wait a minute, is this where we are?' That's pretty much where I took a lot of frustration into the locker room, thinking 'I can't watch my team play like this for one more minute. Fortunately, from that point on, I haven't had to.'

... I expect to play better (against Loyola). I expect to be in a better place. To me, my approach to these guys is 'don't just talk, go out there and back it up.' I don't want to go out there and have the game go live and be down by 14 points. They don't have, they haven't built my trust yet that that can't happen to us again, because it happened too frequently during that stretch. I think if we go and play really well, they have to get me believing a little bit too. Not that I don't believe in them. I know it's there, but I feel like I've poured more into this team than any other year that I've been here emotionally, and I haven't been rewarded up until, rewarded from a standpoint of them taking ownership of it.

That's what I want. I don't want it to be me constantly preaching to them. I want them to hold each other accountable to play hard. ... It's not about me screaming at (them) all the time, and that's kind of what it turned into for a while. Every day in practice, I was screaming at them to play harder, to rebound harder, to block out, and until they start to get it, to try to be more demanding of each other, it's almost like I feel that I'm banging my head against the wall at times.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Video: Jimmy Patsos after Loyola's win

If there's another coach in college basketball who casually drops Rocky references into postgame press conferences, please let me know. Until that happens, I'll assume Patsos is the only one. I'll also assume that Patsos and Ed Cooley will make for the best postgame posts now that I've got this handy flip camera:

Video: Catching up with Jason Thompson

First, my deep condolences to the Thompson family. Jason and Ryan recently lost their first cousin, Tiff, whose funeral they attended yesterday. Ryan had "TIFF" written on his socks and played with a heavy heart during Rider's 80-73 loss.

Jason was in town for the funeral. He'll be back with the Kings in time to play the Knicks Tuesday at Madison Square Garden, in a game that many of his family and friends will attend.

Here's his take on life in the NBA, Rider's season and the luxury of being a second-year player and not a rookie.

Loyola 80, Rider 73

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Early on, this looked like the continuation of a trend -- Rider finding open shots and hitting them with the consistency the Broncs have lacked for most of the year.

Yet the Broncs, riding a three-game winning streak heading into last night's game against Loyola, went cold quickly. A game that Rider hoped would turn into a track meet settled down, and in the end result was familiar.

In an 80-73 loss before 1,550, Rider fell apart late. The Broncs shot 49 percent from the floor in the first half but 28 percent in the second. They led 15-4 early and 45-43 at the break, only to watch as the Greyhounds hit clutch shot after clutch shot down the stretch.

Loyola (11-12 overall, 4-9 MAAC) has fared poorly against the rest of the MAAC but extremely well against Rider (13-12, 6-7). The Greyhounds completed a season sweep of the Broncs and have won eight of the last 10 games in the series.

Justin Robinson scored 19 points to lead all scorers. The Broncs also got 14 from Ryan Thompson, 11 from Brandon Penn and 10 apiece from Novar Gadson and Mike Ringgold.

Thompson, though never found a rhythm. Playing with a heavy heart the day after attending his cousin's funeral, he finished 3-for-15 from the floor in 37 minutes.

Gadson, talented but often erratic, scored all 10 of his points in the first half. He finished 3-for-11 from the floor, including 0-for-3 from 3-point range.

Brett Harvey scored 15 points and J'hared Hall 14 for the Greyhounds, who got standout guard Jamal Barney back after a five-game absence attributed to personal issues. Shane Walker had 12 points and 12 rebounds and Brian Rudolph 12 points and three steals.

Live from the Zoo: Loyola at Rider

Friday pickoff

With February here, I figured it was time to add another wrinkle to the blog's playbook and post my picks each day. To make things more interesting, I'll pick them against the spread and see how I do for the month.

The first installment:

RIDER (minus 4) over Loyola:

Just because Rider played a hell of a game last weekend at Fairfield doesn't mean the Broncs are going to start steamrolling people. And that home-court advantage has produced two double-digit losses and two wins by a total of seven points. But the Hounds are in a tailspin, I'm expecting the Broncs to keep scoring points and win a game that won't come down to the final possession.

Prediction: Rider 78, Loyola 72

NIAGARA (minus 8) over Canisius:

This is a tough one, because the Golden Griffs beat their crosstown rivals when they met last Friday and are, for the most part, having a better year. But if you give me a healthy Tyrone Lewis, a rockin' crowd in Lewiston and a Purple Eagles team that still hasnt' lost confidence, I'll give the eight points and go with the home team.

Prediction: Niagara 76, Canisius 66

Iona (plus 8) over SIENA

I'd be shocked if the Gaels won, but they're playing too well not to like them with this big a number. The Saints are still banged up, they haven't really drilled anyone in a while, and I think this one will be close until the final minutes, with the Saints hitting enough clutch shots down the stretch to pull away.

Prediction: Siena 82, Iona 75

Saint Peter's (plus 5 1/2) over FAIRFIELD

With these two teams have played over the past couple of weeks, this is a virtual coin-flip game. Gun to my head, I'll take the Stags in a nail-biter, winning by two or three points the way they usually seem to win these type of games at home. But I can't see the Stags winning with any sort of comfort.

Prediction: Fairfield 68, Saint Peter's 67

MANHATTAN (minus 15) over Marist

As hard as it is to give 15 for a 2-10 team, the combination of Marist's complete ineptitude and the fact that the Jaspers will do anything to avoid losing to the Foxes twice means this one will get out of hand.

Prediction: Manhattan 82, Marist 60

Video: Novar Gadson on Rider's offense

Can Rider keep it going offensively? Here's Novar Gadson's take: