Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Mid-Major Madness: Rider

This is the second in a new series here at March Madness All Season. “Mid-Major Madness” is simply a weekly column chronicling the small-conference sleepers that I feel have the best shot at pulling an upset or two during the NCAA Tournament. The only real criterion is that a team has to be a projected 11 seed or lower in the Big Dance and from outside the major conferences. Last week: Virginia Commonwealth Next up: Rider

When people pore over the NCAA Tournament brackets for a potential upset special, one of the key things to look for is a legit go-to-guy who can carry a lower-seeded team to a big win over a major-conference opponent. If that is the case, Rider is in good shape. The Broncs are led by one of the best players in the country, regardless of conference affiliation, in forward Jason Thompson. Thompson is one of just three players averaging at least 20 points and 11 rebounds per game. He has 15 double-doubles on the season, and is coming off a 23-point, 21-rebound and five-assist performance in a road win over previously MAAC-leading Siena. He is also an outstanding shot-blocker and a very solid passer.

Rider started off this season slowly, going 3-3 in its first six non-conference games just 1-2 in its first three league games. However, the Broncs have racked up nine victories in a row to move to 10-2 in league play after knocking off league favorites Siena and Marist in consecutive games on the road. They didn’t make much noise in the non-conference portion of the season, but did pick up victories over Penn State and Rutgers. Four of their last six MAAC contests are at home, but they do have a road trip remaining to Big West leader Cal State-Northridge in the Bracket Busters.

The presence of Thompson, though, makes them a threat to win every game. While he leads the team in a variety of categories, it is not just Thompson that makes this team competitive. His younger brother, Ryan, is the team’s second-leading scorer and rebounder, and leads the team in assists and steals. The 6-6 wing is very efficient offensively and can knock down three-pointers consistently. Starting next to him on the perimeter are Harris Mansell and Justin Robinson. Mansell is a very solid scorer who can get points both inside and outside the arc. He increased production of late has coincided with the Broncs’ winning streak, as he is averaging 14.4 points per game over his last eight contests. Robinson is a solid three-point shooter and distributor who can handle the ball and get the offense started. After scoring in double-figures just four times all year, Robinson has scored at least 11 points in three consecutive games.

Starting down low next to Jason Thompson is the extremely efficient Mike Ringgold, a very solid offensive rebounder who makes the most of his opportunities at that end of the floor. The 6-7 freshman forward shoots nearly 62 percent from the floor. The Broncs are a relatively deep team, as they routinely use 10 or 11 guys in a game. Lamar Johnson is the team’s most explosive bench player, but he has seen inconsistent minutes lately. In the last four games where he has seen double-figure minutes, he is averaging nearly 14 points per game. Fellow guard Patrick Mansell has seen increased time lately, while Matt Griffin has shown the ability to handle the point guard spot. Kamron Warner is a dead-eye three-point shooter despite his limited minutes. Joel Green is the main player off the pine in the frontcourt.

Rider is an up-tempo team that can score in a variety of ways, both inside and outside. The Broncs are very efficient offensively despite their pace, mainly because of the Thompson brothers creating match-up problems all over the court. Rider is ranked in the top-25 nationally in both two-point and three-point field goal percentage. Defensively, Rider is outstanding inside the arc. They are very good at blocking shots and cleaning up the defensive glass, and are also solid defending two-point attempts. If Rider draws a high-seeded team in the first-round that is vulnerable inside and does not defend at a high rate, the Broncs could pull a major upset. In a close game, the all-around ability of Jason Thompson will carry them over the top. He is just that good.

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