"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Monday, August 28, 2023

Rider Preview, 2023-24

Rider Broncs

November 10, 2023, Fiserv Forum

Head Coach: Kevin Baggett (177-166)

Three-Year NET Average: 245.7

Three-Year kenpom Average: 248.7

Projected 2023-24 T-Rank: 239

Projected Starters: PG Allen Powell (6'2" 5th), SG T.J. Weeks (6'4" 5th), SF Tyriek Weeks (6'6" So), PF Mervin James (6'7" 5th), C Tariq Ingraham (6'9" Sr)

Kevin Baggett has a MAAC POY Candidate in Mervin James

Photo courtesy of Rider Athletics

The Broncs showed flashes of potential in non-conference play last year. They had a double-digit lead in the second half at Providence before falling 66-65 and were within one possession at Georgia in the final minutes of an eventual 78-72 defeat. They put it together in MAAC play, starting an 8-game winning streak with a victory over Rick Pitino and Iona. They went on to finish second in the league before being upset by St. Peter's in the MAAC Tournament. While leading scorer Dwight Murray is gone, they bring back an incredibly experienced roster that will likely challenge for the MAAC title, seeking Kevin Baggett's second overall title and first since 2018. The question will be if they can get him to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in his career.

The first thing that jumps out about Rider is how old they are. This is a team with a ton of experience as four of five projected starters are seniors or fifth year players, as is the expected first man off the bench. Allen Powell is the leading returning player in terms of minutes. He can get hot and averaged double-digit scoring each of the past two years but has never had the scoring consistency Murray did. Expect a back court by committee, but Powell will likely get first crack at running the show. Massachusetts transfer T.J. Weeks will round out the back court and provides a reliable ball-handler and shooter. His brother Tyriek is a dark horse to start, but he posted 14.3 PPG/7.4 RPG for Miami-Dade College before transferring as a JUCO. The younger Weeks also shot 40.1% from three, something this team desperately needs. Up front, Mervin James is a MAAC Player of the Year candidate. He put up 12.9/6.8 last year with a 108.0 offensive rating. Wake Forest transfer Tariq Ingraham blossomed down the stretch in 2023, with a 62.7 eFG% in their last 11 games. Depth may be the only place the Broncs have questions. Corey McKeithan will likely be a spot starter after playing in every game last year and backing up the guard positions. JUCO J.T. Langston posted 15.0/7.2 for East Los Angeles Community College, but past that it's a number of unheralded freshmen that will round out the rotation, with D.J. Dudley, Ife West-Ingram, and Ruben Rodriguez looking like the most likely to contribute.

Baggett's teams want to win the fight. Offensively, they will pound it inside and rely on the strength of guys like James and Ingraham to battle on the glass and get second chance points. But they aren't teams that will win shootouts. They barely take threes (#357 in attempt rate) and they only had three guys who shot over 30% last season, all of whom are gone. The Weeks brothers can both make shots from range, which is why both will likely be heavy in the rotation. Defensively, expect them to be just as physical, which is a positive and negative. Their interior physicality allows them to control the glass and limit 2PFG%, but they also foul a lot. That focus also opens up the perimeter and while they make teams work for shots, they allow a ton of attempts from beyond the arc (#330 in defensive three point attempt rate). Make your threes and free throws and Rider will struggle to keep up.

Rider has a solid core with Powell, James, and Ingraham. The Weeks brothers are biggest question for this team. If T.J. can return to the high efficiency scorer he was earlier in his UMass career and Tyriek can provide some reliability from three, the offense should stay near the top of the MAAC. Depth will be the biggest question, as some of the freshmen will likely have to contribute from the start, but if they stay healthy they have an excellent seven-man rotation. With Iona going through a coaching change and massive roster turnover, the Broncs should be one of the favorites to win the league and give Baggett a shot at his first NCAA bid. For a guarantee game, this is a tough out and another game with Quadrant 3 potential.

Marquette Connection: Stevie Mitchell's high school career ended on March 12, 2021 as his Wilson team lost 66-58 to Reading High in the Pennsylvania District 3 Championship Game. The player most responsible for that loss was Reading's then-sophomore star, Ruben Rodriguez, who led the Red Knights with 24 points. Mitchell had a game-high 30 points and 10 rebounds, but his shot fizzled down the stretch as he went 1/4 from the field in the fourth quarter. "We know Stevie's going to get to the basket, and he's gonna get buckets," Rodriguez said, "but we just try to contain him and do the best we could. He's a helluva player." Rodriguez is now a freshman for Rider and Stevie will have a chance to get revenge for that 2021 loss. Ruben Rodriguez also commented after the game, "We knew we couldn't send our seniors home without a championship." That was a championship denied to Mitchell, and he will finally get a chance to return the sting of defeat to Rodriguez on the court.

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