By Michael O’Brien
It’s rare that a team’s expectations are changed in one moment in the offseason. For the men’s basketball team, it came just before MAACness, when junior transfer guard Nurideen Lindsey received a call from new Head Coach Kevin Baggett that informed him his waiver to play for the entire 2012-13 season had been removed by the NCAA. With that, the dreams of Rider making the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1994 suddenly skyrocketed.
Though the team lost four seniors including Novar Gadson and Brandon Penn, the team has capable players who can step in and easily make some noise in the MAAC.
Lindsey, who averaged nearly 12 points and five rebounds in nine games with St. Johns last year, has the skills to become one of the best players in the MAAC this season on a team with no preseason awards.
Expect junior Daniel Stewart to be a dominant forward along with sophomore center Junior Fortunat who after missing several games last year because of transcript issues, will be at full strength. He expects to be among the leaders in rebounds and blocks.
Daniel will have the benefit of having his younger brother freshman Derrick Stewart join him as a forward. Derrick Stewart led Neumann-Goretti High School to a Pennsylvania state title and was one of the best forwards in the nation at that position so look for Derrick to see extended time this season.
Senior guard and captain Jon Thompson, who led the team in assists last year, will look to continue in greatness in that category and be very productive behind the three-point arc. Also expect junior guards Anthony Myles and Tommy Pereira to split time at the other guard position along with freshman Zedric Sadler. One freshman in particular who could be the most productive will be guard Khalil Alford, who could start a few games if needed and can score.
The main concern will likely be the defensive side of the ball as shown during the team’s exhibition game against Scranton last Saturday Nov. 3. The open three-pointers showed signs that improvement guarding that shot will be a factor that the team should fix immediately.
The team has high expectations under Baggett. Although he has never been a head coach anywhere previously, he has quickly won over the team and the student body with his enthusiasm and seriousness to make this squad a threat to the rest of the MAAC this year as the conference’s dark horse team. Students should get prepared because the MAAC this year will among the most competitive conferences in all of college basketball.
It is very hard to tell where the whole conference will shape up at this point. All signs point to Manhattan as the favorite with Loyola and Iona as the closest pursuers. As for the Broncs, if they start out strong, continue that momentum throughout the season and do not suffer any setbacks or injuries, a top five finish is highly likely.
Prediction: 4th place in MAAC with no less than 17 wins