By Steven Eggert
With two weeks left before the opening tipoff of the regular season for the men’s basketball team, Kevin Baggett will replace Tommy Dempsey as the head coach and lead a team that has a good chance of improving on last season’s 13-19 record while going 10-8 in the MAAC.
However, before the season begins, there are a couple of questions that need to be answered about the identity of this team.
First, how will the defense make up for last year’s struggles? Last season, the Broncs started off 1-10 and gave up an average of 81.4 points per game in that time span. By the end of the season, the team had decreased its average to 74.6 points. Despite the improvement, Rider’s defense still ranked 311 out of 338 teams in the nation in scoring defense.
The team has an athletic group of players such as senior guard Jon Thompson senior center Dera ND-Ezuma, junior guard Anthony Myles, junior forward Danny Stewart, junior newcomer guard Nurideen Lindsey and sophomore center Junior Fortunat. Fortunat’s defensive presence was felt after being cleared by the NCAA 10 games into last season.
Baggett recruited freshmen who are both competitive and capable of playing solid defense for the Broncs.
Guard Khalil Alford played three sports in high school, so he adds versatility to the team. Guard Jamal Nwaniemeka averaged 2.5 steals and two blocks per game in his senior year at Conwell-Egan Catholic High School, and guard Zedrick Sadler tallied about three steals and two blocks per game his senior season at Cody High School. Forward Derrick Stewart was named defensive MVP of the Philadelphia Catholic League, and forward Shawn Valentine was named defensive player of the year in Chester County, Pa. his senior year at the Phelps School.
With the combination of the athleticism, energy and experience, Baggett should be able to coach his team to become a better unit on defense.
On the other side of the court, how will the team perform offensively after Brandon Penn, Jeff Jones and Novar Gadsen all graduated from last year’s team? These former Broncs were three of the four leading scorers for the team in 2011-12 and scored almost half of the team’s point total. Also, Jones and Penn accounted for over half of the three-point field goals made by the Broncs last season.
The success of the team this season will be determined by how well the guards make up for the losses of last year’s seniors.
Thompson led the team as the offensive playmaker at the point guard position with 4.7 assists per game while shooting 47 percent from three-point range.
Myles is one of the best athletes on the team, but on top of proving he could finish in the lane for a layup or dunk, he shot well by making 43 three-pointers last season before breaking his hand and missing the final three games.
Lindsey will provide a new scoring presence for the Broncs, but despite averaging about 12 points at St. John’s, he didn’t register a single three-point field goal in 19 attempts during his 11 games before transferring.
These three guys have to take on a larger offensive role at the guard positions because in order to have success in the MAAC conference, the guards’ abilities are important. In addition to having these three strong guards, the freshman class will have to contribute effectively.
So far, it seems that Baggett has addressed issues from last year through recruiting players who fit his system and fulfill the needs of the team. Combining the freshman class with three experienced guards, Thompson, Myles and Lindsey, the team should continue producing on offense under Baggett.
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