The men’s basketball team has been projected to finish third in the MAAC this season by SI.com and
CBS.sportsline.com, and is expected to trump last year’s 16-15 overall record.
The Broncs were picked to finish behind Siena and Loyola, which were set as first and second in the conference, respectively.
“I think that Siena had the experience of playing in the MAAC championship game last year with a lot of young guys so I think that’s why they were picked first,” said Head Coach Tommy Dempsey. “Loyola has pretty much their whole team back. Those are the two teams picked for the favorites and I think the reason why is that most of their guys are back from last year’s team.”
This is the third year since taking over on an interim basis in 2005 that Dempsey will run the bench for the Broncs.
This year the team returns four starters.
“I think that our expectations are pretty high,” Dempsey said. “We’ve spent a couple years coming together with this group, and now we finally have some veterans so we have a lot of players that have seen a lot of minutes. We expect to play well.”
The Bronc who is receiving the most attention this year is senior power forward Jason Thompson. Last year he was one of three people in the nation to average 20 points and 10 rebounds, the other two being Nevada’s big man, Nick Fazekas and 2007 second overall NBA draft pick out of Texas, Kevin Durant.
Thompson was recently placed on the John Wooden Award pre-season watch list, which is the equivalent of college football’s Heisman Trophy.
While Thompson is Rider’s top gun, Dempsey said there are other players on the team who have gained more experience and are ready to make an impact this year.
“I feel like a lot of our guys fall a little bit under the radar just because of Jason’s presence,” he said. “But, I think we have quality players throughout our program and I think that [junior guard] Harris Mansell, [sophomore guard} Ryan Thompson, [junior guard] Lamar Johnson, guys like that who have played a lot of minutes in our program and haven’t gotten a lot of attention will kind of step to the forefront this year.”
They will have to bolster a backcourt that will need to make up for the loss of sharp-shooting guard Terrance Mouton, who was second on the team in scoring with 13 points per game and led the team with 37.5 minutes played per game.
Mansell will play a vital role. Last year he led the MAAC in three-point field goal percentage at a whopping 53 percent, and was third on the team in points (12.4 per game), rebounds (4.7 per game) and assists (75 total).
Ryan Thompson, Jason’s younger brother, was able to gain experience early as he started 23 games as a
freshman, and was second among MAAC rookies in rebounding (5.3), second in free throw percentage (76.9 percent), fourth in assists (89) and ninth in scoring (8.3). Johnson averaged 6.5 points per game last year and proved to be deadly behind the arc when he hit six threes against Loyola last year.
Senior Kamron Warner and red-shirt freshman Patrick Mansell, Harris’ brother, will also play at the guard spots. Warner showed he can step up when he scored 24 points against Canisius late last season. Warner made six of eight from three-point land in the game.
Senior guard Kevin Hickman has been the team’s leader on and off the court and was named a captain for the second straight year. He averages 8.8 points per 40 minutes played.
Dempsey said he is quite impressed with this year’s incoming freshmen.
“We’re really excited,” he said. “[Freshman forward] Mike Ringgold and [freshman guard] Justin Robinson all scrimmaged on Saturday and they all played a lot of minutes and all of them will be in our eight- or nine-minute rotations. We do have some veterans, and we have three freshmen that will be mixed in. So it’s a good mix of guys with experience and new guys with a lot of talent.”
Guard Matt Griffin is the third freshman Dempsey mentioned. Griffin is expected to see minutes because of his high basketball IQ, which is vital to being a guard at this level.
Playing alongside Jason Thompson in the front court will be senior forward Joel Green, sophomore forward/center Robbie Myers and junior forward/center Kevin Vosilla.
Green was a member of the MAAC’s All-Academic team last year and averaged 3.6 points per game with 2.1 rebounds per game. His best game was against Drexel when he played 40 minutes and picked up 15 points.
Myers played in 25 games and shot over 40 percent from the field. Vosilla led the Broncs in field goal percentage for the second straight year, shooting 52.8 percent in 22 games played. His career shooting percentage from the field is 53.7 percent.
The Broncs will have their chance to shine on the national stage when they take part in the Old Spice Classic at Disney’s Wide World of Sports, beginning on Thanksgiving Day. They will take on North Carolina State from college basketball’s powerhouse ACC.
Central Florida, George Mason, Kansas State, Penn State, Villanova and South Carolina will also be in the tournament. If the Broncs can have a successful run down there, they can prove that they’re the real deal.
“I think that we have a chance to be good, but we have to work hard every day,” Dempsey said. “If we work hard, then the sky is the limit for this group. But if we sit around and just think it’s going to happen, then we can end up disappointed.”
In non-conference play, the Broncs will also take on Drexel, Binghamton, Rutgers, Fairleigh Dickinson, Monmouth and NJIT.
The home opener will be a non-conference game against Delaware Nov. 17 at 3 p.m. The conference schedule will begin on Dec. 6 when they go on the road to play Niagara.
The team will travel to Kentucky to open up its season against Murray State tomorrow at 7 p.m.