Men’s MAAC tournament preview

By Austin Ferguson

The headaches induced from trying to understand all of the tie-breaking scenarios in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) are over. With the end of MAAC regular-season play on March 6, the field was set for the MAAC tournament and the men’s basketball team will start the postseason from the third seed.

In most seasons, the tournament was a dreaded time for the Rider. This postseason is different.

Rider’s season in brief

Though their 12-8 MAAC record indicates inconsistency on the surface, the Broncs looked strong in most of its league games this season.

Out of Rider’s eight conference losses, two were decided by double digits, while three of those losses were decided by three or fewer points.

 In all of their MAAC season series, the Broncs were only swept by Iona, with both of Rider’s games against the Gaels being decided by one possession. The Broncs swept Marist, Manhattan and Fairfield during the season and split against every other MAAC opponent.

Rider’s shining star this season was redshirt junior forward Dimencio Vaughn, who was unanimously named to the All-MAAC First Team on March 9. 

Vaughn averaged 14.8 points per game on 48.6% shooting and 6.6 rebounds per game in what was widely considered a return to form for the New York City native after an off-year in 2019. Out of the 20 MAAC games the Broncs played this year, Vaughn was the leading scorer in 10 contests and the leading rebounder in eight.

Vaughn wasn’t the lone responsible party when it came to the Broncs’ winning ways. Vaughn was just a quarter of the Broncs’ core starters, joined by fellow redshirt junior forward Frederick Scott, senior guard Stevie Jordan and senior center Tyere Marshall. 

The quartet all finished their seasons with 1000 career points, becoming just one of two NCAA Division I programs with four active 1000 point scorers, defining the success that the four have when they are working on all cylinders.

Behind Rider’s ‘core four’ and a bench that is deep when at its full potential, it has a chance to finally break the curse of the quarterfinals and make a strong run in the MAAC tournament.

Rider’s potential MAAC opponents

Thanks to the Broncs’ seeding, they could be seeing multiple favorable matchups dependent on who advances in the tournament. If the results of other tournament games do not tip in favor of the Broncs, it could be a rocky road for Rider’s quest for its first MAAC championship.

Rider’s quarterfinal opponent: Niagara

The Broncs’ quarterfinal opponent was decided on March 10 when Niagara defeated Marist. 

Niagara’s success relies on star guard Marcus Hammond. The sophomore led his team in points per game, rebounds per game and assists per game en route to its sixth-seed finish. 

Niagara finished the season with a 9-11 MAAC record, putting it in a tie with Iona, which the Purple Eagles won the tiebreaker through their sweep of the Gaels in their season series.

Rider and Niagara split their season-series, highlighted by Hammond’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer to defeat the Broncs on Jan. 17.

Rider’s likely semifinal opponent: Iona Gaels

After Head Coach Tim Cluess stepped down with an undisclosed, non-life threatening medical issue, the Gaels stand to break their streak of four-straight MAAC championships. Seniors E.J. Crawford and Tajuan Agee have tried their darndest to continue Iona’s winning culture, with Crawford earning unanimous MAAC All-First team honors and Agee landing a spot on the MAAC All-Second team.

Iona struggled during the MAAC schedule, taking most of the league by surprise. Even with a late-season surge, the Gaels finished seventh in their league standings. The last time Iona finished out of the top five in the MAAC? 2008. 12 years ago, the Gaels finished the conference season in seventh place.

In the 2008 MAAC tournament, Iona suffered a first-round loss to tenth-seeded Canisius. This season, the Gaels’ first-round opponent was once again tenth-seeded Canisius.

The Golden Griffins failed to replicate history as Iona claimed a 10-point victory on March 10 to advance.

On top of that, the Gaels were the lone team to sweep Rider in the regular-season and they are very-well poised to defeat the Broncs again, this time in the postseason.

Rider’s potential finals opponent: Monmouth

The all-New Jersey MAAC final is a fantasy matchup. For Monmouth, Quinnipiac and Siena stand in its way. For Rider, Iona or Saint Peter’s stands in its way.

The long-time rivals split their regular-season series, with both teams winning their home games. Should they meet again, it will be a fierce contest.

Monmouth is led by All-MAAC First Team selection Deion Hammond, who is flanked by All-MAAC Second Team selection Ray Salnave. The Hawks have had trouble identifying a big man, which leaves it susceptible to an offensive explosion from Marshall.

The lack of size also leaves Vaughn to have a sure-fire double-double, which could decide the game for the Broncs and give them their first-ever MAAC championship.

Game times and where to watch

The Broncs’ quarterfinal matchup with Niagara on March 12 will be broadcast on ESPN3 and is scheduled to be tipped off at 7 p.m.

Should Rider advance to the semifinals, it will play on March 13 with a scheduled start at 8:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPNEWS.

If the Broncs make it to the finals, the MAAC men’s championship game is scheduled to tip-off at 4 p.m. on March 14 and will be broadcast on ESPNU.

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