Team of the Week: Rider
Results: W 79-65 @ Marist, W 89-75 @ Siena
Back to back fourteen-point road wins last week put the Rider Broncs in the driver’s seat for the MAAC regular season title. And their current nine-game win streak makes them one of the nation’s hottest teams as well. In the Wednesday night showdown in Poughkeepsie, Rider won the battle on the boards 38-27 and shot fifty percent (8-16) from behind the arc in avenging their January 4th home loss to the Red Foxes. Senior center Jason Thompson led four Broncs in double figures with twenty points, and also tallied nine boards, four blocks and four assists.
The win at Siena on Saturday featured one of the more impressive offensive displays put up in college basketball all season long, with Rider scoring fifty-nine points to take a twenty-five point lead into the locker room. While they didn’t perform as well in the second half, looking somewhat tentative on the offensive end of the floor, Rider had essentially put the game away in the first twenty minutes. Jason Thompson played all forty minutes and put up twenty-three points and twenty-one rebounds, and all five starters reached double figures. Be it Jason on the block, Ryan in between, or sharpshooter Harris Mansell from deep, Tommy Dempsey’s Broncs have a number of scoring options from which to choose.
No disrespect to the fans who decided to spark the “We Own Jersey” chant at the end of the Seton Hall/ Rutgers game Thursday night, but this may be the Garden State’s best team right now.
Honorable Mention: Iona (wins over Manhattan and St. Peter’s to move to 5-7 in the MAAC); Sacred Heart (wins at FDU and St. Francis-NY to move into first in the NEC)
Player of the Week: Jason Thompson (Rider)
Numbers for the Week: 20 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 blocks @ Marist; 23 points, 21 rebounds, 5 assists @ Siena
For those who saw the midseason 30 list for the Wooden Award and thought “Who is Jason Thompson?” last week, the senior big man gave quite the answer in his two appearances. For the season, Thompson now averages twenty points and more than eleven (11.5 to be exact) rebounds per contest. But this shouldn’t be a surprise, given the fact that of the three players in college basketball to average twenty and ten last season, he’s the only one who returned to school. So while the experts focus on the big men in conferences with a higher profile, Jason continues to do what he does best, helping lead the Broncs to wins along the way. If this keeps up, one of those higher profile teams will find out quite a bit about Thompson and his mates in March.
Honorable Mention: John Baumann (Columbia): 19 and 7 @ Yale, 23 and 13 vs. Cornell; Brian Laing (Seton Hall): 23 and 6 @ Rutgers, 24 and 6 @ Georgetown; Drew Shubik (Sacred Heart): 16, 14 and 9 assists @ FDU, 9, 6 and 6 assists @ St. Francis-NY.
Turnaround of the Week: Fairfield winning at Niagara, 76-72, two days after getting blown out 88-60 at Canisius.
Now, the Stags winning at Niagara isn’t an upset along the lines of the Super Bowl that we all just watched. But when you’re coming off of a twenty-eight point loss to a team with one conference win (and three wins total) going into said meeting, not too many people are expecting you to win the game. Fairfield, thanks in large part to the durable Jonathan Han at point, was able to get a split of the trip to Western New York.
Han, a junior from Brooklyn, hasn’t played fewer than thirty-five minutes in a game since logging thirty-two in a game against Holy Cross on November 13th. The floor general has helped keep this team afloat in the MAAC when it looked as if they were earmarked for a finish at or near the bottom of the conference. Five Stags reached double figures, and they also limited the Purple Eagles to 4-22 from behind the arc to move to 6-6 in league play.
Other Observations of the last week
-- St. John’s recovered from an embarrassing effort on Wednesday in beating South Florida on Saturday.
As if last week’s loss to Pittsburgh was bad enough, the Red Storm found a way to fall further on Wednesday, suffering their worst defeat ever in Big East play against Georgetown. In a game where the largest deficit was thirty-nine, St. John’s didn’t score their first field goal of the game until about five minutes remaining in the first half. Fans were even more upset with the team and head coach Norm Roberts, and that game was the type of effort that can implode a season. But give these guys credit, they didn’t allow it to do so.
Yes, the end of their six-game losing streak came at South Florida, a team battling its own issues right now. But to make the big plays down the stretch without the services of one of your best players (Anthony Mason Jr. went down with a sprained ankle late in the first half) shows that this group does indeed have some mental toughness. Next up for the Red Storm is Rutgers at the RAC, another young team that has struggled at times this season and is coming off of a bad loss at Louisville.
-- Even though they’re only 3-4 in the Patriot League, Army owns road wins over both Holy Cross and Bucknell.
The above statement shows two things: just how wide open the Patriot League actually is this season, and the fact that the Black Knights do indeed have a chance to make some noise in the coming month. Army, thanks to Jarell Brown’s twenty-one point effort, left Sojka Pavillion on Sunday with an impressive 68-52 win. Bucknell head coach Pat Flannery missed the game today due to illness, but that should not take away from the fact that Jim Crews’ squad forced twenty-three Bison turnovers in this one.
The issue for Army is to consistently put up efforts like this, as the execution was lacking in their 83-58 loss at Lafayette Wednesday night. If they can, then there is a chance to make a move up the Patriot standings, as they still get Bucknell, Holy Cross and Lafayette at home.
-- In their last two games, Manhattan has forced a combined 43 turnovers. But they lost both games.
Usually, forcing a high number of turnovers will get your team into the win column. But this hasn’t been the case for the Jaspers of late, and the reason is quite simple: they’re not defending well enough when they don’t force a turnover. In the two-point loss to Iona Wednesday night, the Gaels shot 50% from the field despite twenty-one miscues. On Sunday, St. Peter’s wins by ten, shooting 52.1% from the field while committing twenty-two turnovers.
So even though they shoot a respectable 42% from the field themselves, they rank dead last in the MAAC in field goal percentage defense (46.7%). Four of the five best teams in the league in this category are also four of the top five teams in the standings, a good indicator of what the Jaspers need to improve upon if they want to end their current seven-game skid.
-- Thought to be a team that had a chance to compete in the Atlantic 10, Fordham is struggling to keep their head above water right now.
It’s been a good year for the Atlantic 10, but unfortunately for the Fordham Rams they haven’t been part of the renaissance. A team that brings back five senior starters going into the season now finds itself fighting to simply qualify for the conference tournament with a 2-5 league record. Similar to Manhattan, the Rams are last in their conference in field goal percentage defense, an issue all the more glaring when you take into consideration the fact that this is one of the A-10’s poorer offensive teams (11th in field goal percentage) as well.
No one’s expecting the Rams to run up and down the floor, putting up a lot of points in the process. This isn’t that kind of team, but if they don’t get stingier on the other end of the floor they may not be headed to Atlantic City next month. And that would be a bitter pill to swallow for this senior class.
Games to keep an eye on
Marist @ Siena (Monday, 7 PM)
Two rivals get together in Albany in a game that will go a long way in deciding who ends up winning the MAAC regular season title. Part of a three-way tie for second, both are just a game back of Rider in the loss column, a team both have lost to in the past week.
Notre Dame @ Seton Hall (Wednesday, 7:30 PM)
This game should feature a lot of points, as well as a lot of three pointers. The question for Seton Hall will be how they go about slowing down Luke Harangody inside. All three Pirate big men fouled out of the overtime win against Rutgers, but they can’t get away with that in this one.
Wagner @ Mount St. Mary’s (Thursday, 7 PM)
In order for the Seahawks to keep within striking distance of Sacred Heart, they need to get a few road wins. Both of their conference losses came on the road, in blowout fashion at that. The Mountaineers, led by guards Chris Vann and Jeremy Goode, are more than capable of knocking Wagner off.
Niagara @ Rider (Friday, 7 PM)
No television for this one, but this game offers the opportunity to check out two of the MAAC’s best players, Charron Fisher (Niagara) and the aforementioned Jason Thompson. But to focus on just those two would be unfair to the likes of Tyrone Lewis and Ryan Thompson. There’s a lot of offensive talent that will be on display in this one, a game that could be a preview of things to come next month when the MAAC Tournament takes place in Albany.
Providence @ St. John’s (Saturday, Noon)
Two teams who will be in desperate need of a Big East win if they want to qualify for the Big East Tournament. While many expected growing pains for the Red Storm, not too many expected the Friars to scuffle the way that they have for stretches this season. Losing Sharaud Curry hurts, but there’s still some talent on this roster, enough to say that they shouldn’t be 12-9. The winner breathes a temporary sigh of relief while the loser falls deeper into the hole.
Rhode Island @ Fordham (Sunday, Noon)
The battle of the Rams takes place in the Bronx, and this is a game that Fordham must have at this point in the season. And given their defensive troubles of late, welcoming a team with two of the conference’s better scorers (Will Daniels and Jimmy Baron) isn’t the best way to get out of their funk. But no one said this would be easy for Fordham either.
Updated Rankings (last week’s in parentheses)
1. Rider (3)
2. Seton Hall (1)
3. Sacred Heart (5)
4. Marist (2)
5. Wagner (4)
6. Army (8)
7. Yale (6)
8. Iona (13)
9. Rutgers (7)
10. Fordham (9)
11. Columbia (12)
12. St. John’s (10)
13. Long Island (11)
14. Fairleigh Dickinson (14)
15. Fairfield (15)
16. Hofstra (16)
17. Monmouth (17)
18. Princeton (21)
19. St. Francis-NY (18)
20. St. Peter’s (22)
21. Manhattan (19)
22. Stony Brook (20)
23. NJIT (23)