Well, another season is in the books, and it was a quiet postseason for metropolitan area schools as only Rider played in a postseason tournament. Alas, their season ended in the CBI with a loss at Old Dominion, but that shouldn’t take away from a season that saw them finish one game away from an NCAA Tournament bid. The injury bug, something that the Broncs didn’t have to deal with all season, came up and bit them during the MAAC Tournament, but they got to the final nonetheless. It was also a good year for Mike Deane’s Wagner Seahawks, who won twenty-three games and finished second in the Northeast Conference. But other than these two, no one else really had a good chance at qualifying for a postseason tournament, something they all look to work on changing as they head into the off-season. Now it’s time to hand out some awards.
Player of the Year: Jason Thompson (Rider)
Numbers: 20.4 ppg, 12.1 rpg, 2.7 bpg
The senior forward from Mount Laurel, N.J., who also won MAAC Player of the Year honors for his efforts, was the centerpiece of the Broncs’ run to a share of the regular season title and a spot in the MAAC Tournament final. Thompson improved both his scoring and rebounding numbers from last season, which is saying something given the fact that he was college basketball’s lone returnee to average “twenty and ten” in 2006-07. Now come the pre-draft workouts for a young man thought by many to be a first-round draft pick, but Rider fans certainly won’t forget the impact that the 2,000-point scorer had on their program.
Coach of the Year: Mike Deane (Wagner)
Record: 23-8 (15-3, 2nd NEC)
This was a tough one, as Tommy Dempsey of Rider has a strong case as well. But Coach Deane’s Seahawks were a factor in the NEC all season long, holding onto first place in the league for most of the first half of the conference slate. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to regain the services of forward Durell Vinson, but this was an excellent coaching job after last season’s 11-19 showing. But 2008-09 brings about the challenge of replacing three double figure scorers in Vinson, Mark Porter and James Ulrich.
Biggest Surprise: Fairfield
Record: 14-16 (11-7, t-5th MAAC)
After watching the Stags wrap up a 7-14 start with an 88-60 pasting suffered at the hands of Canisius (who finished 6-25 on the season), it looked like Ed Cooley’s bunch was headed in the wrong direction. But from there they won seven straight and put themselves right in the thick of the MAAC title race heading into the season’s final week. Of course the loss at Rider ended any shot of getting a piece of the title, but it shouldn’t negate the way in which the Stags recovered from their start. I’ll be honest; after the Canisius loss I didn’t expect them to get up off the mat…but they did.
Biggest Disappointment: Fordham
Record: 12-17 (6-10, 12th Atlantic 10)
For a few seconds I thought about St. Francis (NY), who returned a good amount of talent from last season yet failed to qualify for the NEC Tournament. But there’s no contest for what the Rams did this season. A preseason pick to finish fifth in the Atlantic 10, with five senior starters returning, Dereck Whittenburg’s team struggled to even qualify for the Atlantic 10 Tournament. Not really known as an explosive team on the offensive end of the floor to begin with, the Rams had their trouble on the defensive end of the floor in allowing opponents to shoot 45.5% from the field. Last season, teams shot 43.2% from the field, and Fordham led the A-10 in scoring defense (12th in 2007-08). With the renaissance experiences by the Atlantic 10, the Rams had all the makings of a team that should have been right in the middle of such positive vibes. But they weren’t.
G Antoine Agudio (Hofstra) - 22.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.9 apg
Every opponent of the Pride knew who their primary scoring option was, but it didn’t seem to matter as Agudio paced Tom Pecora’s team in scoring this season and was a member of the CAA’s All-Conference Team (First Team). With Loren Stokes and Carlos Rivera both out of eligibility, the target was squarely on his chest every night. Out of the twenty-seven games Agudio played this season, he eclipsed twenty points in eighteen of those games and failed to reach double figures just once (six points in a win at Drexel). Antoine leaves Hofstra as the program’s all-time leading scorer with 2,276 points.
G Jarell Brown (Army) – 18.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 40.1% 3PT
A member of the Patriot League’s First-Team All-Conference squad, Brown received about as much attention from opponents as Agudio every night. His scoring average was nearly ten points per game more than the next highest Black Knight (Josh Miller- 8.4). A more than capable perimeter shooter throughout his career at West Point, Brown was able to become a more versatile offensive option, helping Jim Crews’ team reach the Patriot League Tournament semifinals for the second consecutive season.
F Brian Laing (Seton Hall) – 18.6 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 45.5% FG
Laing, a senior forward from the Bronx, was named to the Big East’s First-Team All-Conference squad this season due to his hard work on both ends of the floor. While he was the Pirates’ most consistent offensive option, he also had to pick up the slack on the glass due to their lack of size. In each of his four seasons in South Orange, his scoring and rebounding averages improved, and it became quite clear to opponents that if they wanted to beat the Pirates then slowing down Laing was a must.
F Bryant Dunston (Fordham) - 15.5 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 2.0 apg
In an otherwise disappointing season for the Rams, Dunston put up his best rebounding average of his career. If you want to round up the rebounds and give him the season double-double then I’ve got no problem with that; the man has earned it. He also improved his scoring by three points per game, making second-team All-Atlantic 10 in the process. Although five seniors are leaving Fordham, there should be no mistaking who the linchpin of that program has been: Dunston.
F Jason Thompson (Rider) – 20.4 ppg, 12.1 rpg, 2.7 bpg
Player of the Year for these rankings as well as the MAAC, Thompson was the focal point for the Broncs this season. Even when injuries to key contributors during the MAAC Tournament threatened to derail their run towards an NCAA Tournament berth, it was JT who led the way to the MAAC final. Yes, they lost to Siena with the automatic bid on the line, but it’s safe to say that they’re nowhere near that position without Jason’s efforts.
Final Rankings 1-5
1. Rider (23-11)
The Broncs, who were in the top spot for most of the season once they were added in January, finish the year atop the polls. They’re going to have to replace Jason Thompson (along with classmates Kam Warner and Kevin Hickman), but with player such as Ryan Thompson, Harris Mansell and Mike Ringgold slated to return Tommy Dempsey’s team should be in the middle of things in the MAAC.
2. Seton Hall (17-15)
It was an interesting ride for the Pirates, with a five-game winning streak and the resulting optimism giving way to the harsh reality that this team lacked the depth inside needed to make a move up the Big East standings. Add to this the suspension of head coach Bobby Gonzalez for next season’s conference opener due to his behavior during and after the home loss to Rutgers and you’ve got a program with some questions to answer in the off-season. Jordan Theodore is an outstanding guard who should help…but he’s a guard. Look for the Pirates to go after some size in the final days before the spring signing period ends.
3. Wagner (23-8)
Coach Mike Deane will have to replace a pair of first-team All-NEC honorees in Durell Vinson and Mark Porter, but he will have some others returning, such as Joey Mundweiler and Jamal Smith. I would peg this team as middle of the pack candidate right now, but you never know, especially when you factor in the drop Wagner took last year when they were without Vinson.
4. Marist (18-14)
So, who’s the head coach going to be next year? Matt Brady moved on to take the job at James Madison, immediately taking two assistants with him. The third, Rob O’Driscoll, will join him if he’s not chosen to take over the reigns of the Marist program. Besides changing coaches, they’ll have to figure out how to replace mainstays Ryan Stilphen, Spongy Benjamin and Ben Farmer. But there is a talented backcourt slated to be back in the form of MAAC Co-Rookie of the Year Jay Gavin and David Devezin.
5. Sacred Heart (17-13)
A team predicted by some to be the best that Dave Bike has coached in Sacred Heart’s Division I era (they won a national title at the Division II level) fell one game short of the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season. Four seniors leave the program; most notably guards Drew Shubik and Brice Brooks, and forward Luke Granato. Joey Henley was granted an additional season by the NCAA, making him a prime option in 2008-09. But has the window closed on the Pioneers? We’ll have to see about that.
All-Rookie & Ranking 18-23