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Welcome back to the Trentonian's Full-Court Press blog. Yes, we're still alive, and with the 2015-16 season rapidly approaching, it's time to fire up the old blog for another season. Check back here throughout the year for updates on all things Rider and Princeton, including coverage of both the MAAC and Ivy League. Feel free to drop me a line on twitter @kj_franko (https://twitter.com/kj_franko) or email kfranko@trentonian.com.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Season in Review: Rider

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Coach Kevin Baggett won 19 games in his debut season/ Photo by JOHN BLAINE

Season in Review

Final record: 19-15, 12-6 MAAC; second place. Lost in second round of CIT

Grading out the Broncs

Kevin Baggett, B+ — A solid debut season for the coach who spent 14 years as an assistant before getting his chance when Tommy Dempsey left for Binghamton. Baggett won 19 games, tying him with Clair Bee for second most victories in program history by a first-year coach. Only Robert Greenwood won more (20 in 1962-63). Baggett said from the beginning his team would defend and it certainly did that, allowing 63.3 point per game, which was down from 74.6 a year ago (that’s an 11.3 ppg difference and a big reason why Rider improved its win total by six games). A five-game win streak to finish the regular-season vaulted Rider to the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament with only a final-day victory by Niagara over St. Peter’s keeping Baggett from piloting the Broncs to a first-place finish.

Like anybody new to a job there’s a learning curve. That he thought Nurideen Lindsey could play point guard is head scratching, but he did remedy that before it was too late, putting the ball in Jon Thompson’s hands. He got hit with an untimely technical foul late in the second half when the Broncs were hanging with Rutgers on the road that contributed to that loss. Grade could have been higher yet if it wasn’t for the quarterfinal defeat to Fairfield in the MAAC tourney. That one is really going to stick with Baggett (and his returning players) until the start of next season. It’s hard to imagine your team can give up 43 points and lose, but when you’re so out of sync offensively (21 turnovers, 0 assists, 10 missed free throws) some of that falls on the coach.

Jon Thompson, A — There aren’t enough good things you can say about his season. The senior guard averaged a career-best 13.1 points per game, earning second team all-league honors. He carried this team for much of the season, making a big shot or coming up with a key defensive stop when needed most. Over the final 17 games — including the two CIT contests — Thompson averaged 15.7 points. He also finished his career with 372 assists, placing him eighth on the school’s all-time list.

Jon Thompson averaged 13.1 ppg/ Photo by JOHN BLAINE

Danny Stewart, B — Averaged 10.6 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, giving the Broncs a nice inside presence. Still needs to work on his mid-range jump shot if he wants to make defenders come out and play him or else he’s useless on the perimeter. Has a nice low-post game but takes a beating on his 6-foot-6 frame when he has to spend all game down there. Will need to increase his scoring next year, while keeping his rebounding numbers around the same level. Stewart, who will be a senior next year, will become the 33rd player in program history to reach the 1,000-point milestone (he has 964).

Anthony Myles, B — The junior guard led the team in scoring for most of the year until Thompson passed him. Myles finished second in scoring, averaging 12.4 points per game. He set a career-high with 23 points early in the season and twice matched it, proving he has the ability to get hot and carry the team. Myles can be a bit streaky — scored 8, 6, 8 and 9 points in the final four games before refinding his stroke in the CIT — and needs to attack the basket when his jump shot isn’t falling. With 914 career points, he’ll become the 34th player to reach 1,000.

Nurideen Lindsey, D — There were high expectations for Lindsey — a transfer from St. John’s — and saying he underachieved is the understatement of the season. In all honesty, he probably didn’t do himself any favors by scoring 26 points in the opening rout of Robert Morris. Fans thought they were getting an all-conference guard and it just didn’t work out that way. He started the year as the point guard, but couldn’t stop turning the ball over, forcing Baggett to move him off the ball in favor of Thompson. Then he couldn’t find his jump shot, going through a stretch in which he went two months without making a 3-pointer. In the end, he averaged eight points per game — thanks largely to an opening stretch in which he scored 26 twice in the first four contests — and spent large chunks of the second half of the year on the bench in favor of Zedric Sadler.

Lindsey has a skill set in which he can still be an asset to this team. He didn’t score all those points in high school or junior college by accident (Note: he averaged 9 ppg in a handful of contests with St. John’s, but that all came against the soft portion of the non-conference schedule. He never appeared in a Big East game).  With Thompson graduating, the Broncs are going to need a lift offensively and the belief is Lindsey can provide that. His game is to put the defense under pressure by attacking the basket. To be successful with that, he has to be more cautious of not picking up offensive fouls (how many times did he get called for pushing off with his off-arm?) and improve his free-throw shooting (63.1 percent).

It was a difficult year for Nuri Lindsey, but he'll have a chance to bounce back as a senior/ Photo by JOHN BLAINE

Junior Fortunat, C — Before the season, Baggett thought Fortunat could average a double-double. Those expectations, even by the coach’s own admission, were way too high. Fortunat did show glimpses that he has that in him, but in order to be a double-double player, he has to stay out of foul trouble — a big problem for him — and work on his hands.

Zedric Sadler, B — Really came to life the second half of the season. Is calm with the ball in his hands and wants to take the big shot. Also defends really well. Will nee to increase his scoring next year with graduation of Thompson. Remember, he was a high-major recruit coming out of high school in Detroit and fell nicely into a Rider’s lap after a coaching change at Kansas State. Assuming he stays out of trouble — grade could’ve been higher if he didn’t have a two-game suspension for a violation of team rules — Sadler’s going to be a big-time player for this program.

Shawn Valentine, C — Did what he could battling against bigger, stronger guys. He’s listed at 190-pounds, but that is overly generous. Will be a key player moving forward, but has to hit the weight room and improve his jump shot.

Tommy Pereira, B- — The British Bomber had a nice four-game run when he stepped into the starting lineup for an injured Lindsey. Has a nice stroke from deep, but went cold following that four-game stretch. Is at his best when he shoots with confidence and will be a guy that Baggett looks to next season to stretch the floor.

The rest — Khalil Alford, Derrick Stewart, Jamal Nwaniemeka didn’t see much time in their first year of college ball. Alford saw the most minutes of the trio, showing he has nice touch on his jump shot and could be a valuable piece moving forward. Stewart got in the doghouse early and didn’t see many minutes. He’s athletic like his brother and has a more developed jump shot. Nwaniemeka is built like a free safety and has the potential to be an elite scorer in this league down the line. He needed this as a learning year, although, Baggett may have been better served to redshirt him.

Senior center Dera Nd-Ezuma gave what he could, dealing with a creaky back most of the year. Nd-Ezuma, a double major in finance and accounting, who wants to go into banking, is going on to bigger and better things.

Zedric Sadler will be a key piece next season/ Photo by JOHN BLAINE

What to expect next season: The expectations will certainly change after racking up 19 wins this year. Replacing Thompson will be the hardest part, but Baggett feels like he has a ready-made understudy in Sadler (don’t be surprised if he’s a team captain next season). The MAAC, as almost always, will be wide open again so after a second-place finish, Rider should fancy itself a contender, especially if Stewart can up his scoring average and Myles can be a consistent threat even on nights his jumper isn’t falling. The returning group has experience with the projected starting five to feature three seniors and a junior so they'll be no excuses of youth or blending new pieces together.

Baggett will have to find a big man on the recruiting trail that is ready to step in and play minutes immediately because Fortunat is his only remaining big. As of now, he has one player signed for next season — Khalil Thomas, a 6-foot-7 forward from Blanche Ely High in Florida.

Projected 2013-14 starting lineup: G-Zedric Sadler (So.), G-Anthony Myles (Sr.), G-Nurideen Lindsey (Sr.), F-Danny Stewart (Sr.), F-Junior Fortunat (Jr.).

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