In the eyes of the college basketball world, a 14-point opening night upset of the No. 19 Mississippi State Bulldogs transformed the Rider Broncs into a team that could legitimately threaten Siena's pursuit of a MAAC three-peat.
Five games later, the Broncs post a 3-3 record with embarrassing blowout losses at Virginia and No. 5 Kentucky, and, as a result, the win in Mississippi has been titled as a fluke by many.
It's very likely that Rider won't match up against another top 25 team this year—unless, of course, Siena cracks the poll or the Broncs upset the Saints in the MAAC tournament—so the Broncs might not earn a chance to prove doubters wrong. However, I'm not quitting on Rider and you shouldn't either.
Ryan Thompson is the most consummate player in the MAAC. He scores, he shoots for high percentages from all over the floor—his 43.8 percent field-goal percentage is a result of a 1-10 shooting night at Kentucky but will rise to its 2008-09 level—he distributes, and he rebounds. Capable of playing three positions, his versatility is a nightmare for opposing coaches.
Although the graduation of sharp-shooting Harris Mansell detracts from Rider's perimeter game, the immense development of junior Mike Ringgold and sophomore Novar Gadson improve the Broncs' overall attack. Rider has a balanced inside game between Ringgold and Gadson, who can also play the perimeter and slash to the hoop.
Justin Robinson hasn't been the best point guard, but he has averaged 12.2 points per game and has added to Rider's offensive potency. Ask Siena coach Fran McCaffery about the point guard from London, and he'll tell you about the offensive numbers he can post.
In comparison to Siena, Rider lacks depth. However, the Saints out-manned the Broncs last year but fell in a last-second thriller at Alumni Gymnasium.
The duo of Ringgold and Gadson could potentially lead the Broncs past Niagara, who lacks an inside presence.
Rider is a tough team and, although the chances are slim because of conference competition, it has the pieces to bring a MAAC championship back to Lawrenceville, NJ. Don't let this early rough stretch make you sleep on the Broncs.
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis