Rider heads to MAAC tourney with nothing to lose
There isn’t much pressure on his fifth-seeded Broncs to challenge for the title and the league’s automatic NCAA bid.
“The last several years we’ve gone (to the conference tourney) and there has been pressure because we really went up there with the expectation that we were going to win,” Dempsey said. “It’s not that we don’t expect to win, it’s more that nobody else expects us to win.”
That might just suit this team best.
Despite a 13-18 overall record, Rider has won two straight — one coming against Saturday’s quarterfinal opponent Fairfield — and is playing its best basketball of the season.
“We’re probably a little bit better right now that we’ve been most of the year,” Dempsey said. “I think it’s a good position for us to be in.”
Essentially, they are underdogs.
“Being an underdog always helps,” said senior Brandon Penn, who picked up Second Team honors earlier this week. “Hopefully, we go in with the underdog mentality. We go in and play as hard as we can.”
The fact that this team won 10 league games — really 11 if not for some shoddy officiating at Niagara— after it didn’t look like it could win 10 games all year following the first two months at least proves its dangerous.
The Broncs have beat every team in the conference expect regular-season champ Iona. If they get by Fairfield, which is without starting point guard Derek Needham (broken left foot), a semifinal matchup with the Gaels is likely.
But Dempsey won’t even think about that.
He knows the Stags (17-13, 12-6) are the first priority. Rider is coming off a 65-62 victory over Fairfield at Alumni Gymnasium so the two should have a good understanding of each other.
Dempsey said his team shouldn’t have a false sense of security following that victory.
“Many more people are giving them a better chance to win than us,” he said. “We’ll go into the game as an underdog so I don’t think you can have a false sense of security when you’re an underdog.”
Like most conference tournaments, the MAAC has produced its share of surprises. Just look at last season when St. Peter’s snatched the auto berth as a four seed.
Sometimes it is about getting hot at the right time.
Add in a little lucky, and … who knows? Rider might even reach its first NCAA tournament since 1994.
“I don’t think there are any expectations on this team outside of our own locker room,” Dempsey said.
After all, the Broncs are only playing with the house’s money.