Could the Broncs Be Gearing Up for a Long March?

The short answer to this is yes, the long answer would be yes but there are a bunch of variables involved. Here today you’re gonna be getting a more analytical view of this squad you’re not used to getting, along with some opinion of what can and should happen.

As I sit here on January 31st, the Broncs are just coming off a win against Fairfield  in a grueling battle. The Broncs improved to 11-9 on the season and to 8-3 in MAAC play and are currently on a 5-game winning streak.

My first point goes along with this quote from Rider Head Coach Kevin Baggett “We’re starting to come together as a team again. More guys are starting to help.” This quote fills in two of the points of why the Broncs could make a run. 1st the coaching and 2nd the depth.

Coaching Around Holes

Kevin Baggett - Wikipedia

Head Coach Kevin Baggett has accumulated a record of 172-161 as the coach of the Rider Broncs and this year it’s really displayed his coaching prowess. That’s because the Broncs are shooting a poor 31% from downtown and if you’re aware of trends in basketball you know the key to winning games now is the way of the three ball.

I asked Baggett during a press conference following the win against Manhattan how he’s able to win these games or keep them close with the three ball not being a factor. He basically summed it up by saying we can shoot, but we’re streaky. So Baggett realizes this problem and now the Broncs have done a good job to finish the shots inside the arch

Baggett has been really good at coaching around this obvious flaw and what has really helped him with that has been the contributions from the bench which displays why the Broncs have one of the deepest teams in the MAAC.

Impactful Transfers 

The four transfers for Rider have all been a key piece in their own way. Wake Forest transfer Tariq Ingraham has thrust himself into some starting lineups with his bully ball mentality averaging 6.0 PPG on 57% FG. Adetokunbo Bakare has been a spark when given the opportunity, 11/18 from three which equates to 61% 3PT and on defense dishes out energy and has the ability to stop crucial shots like Josh Roberts against Manhattan.

Zahrion Blue was a star at Lincoln University and even won CIAA Player of the Year. Zahrion still is trying to find that groove as a Bronc but as a guy that averaged 19 PPG the scoring will find its way it’s just a matter of time.

Allen Betrand was one of the top MAAC transfers and rightfully so, averaging 20+ PPG at Towson University and then transferred to Rhode Island University and his time there got plagued with injury, Betrand came in with a chip on his shoulder. Being inserted into the starting lineup instantly, Betrand has been a reliable guy who still has a bunch of upside to his game. Shooting 34% from deep and has a EFG% of 51%, Allen is gonna be a big part of what will make or break the Broncs in March because everyone knows the scouting report of Dwight Murray Jr and Mervin James but that wild card can be Allen Betrand.

The Rocks Stay Solid

Talking about Dwight Murray Jr and Mervin James, both men are having an All-MAAC season with DMJ already getting All-MAAC 1st team talk along with Mervin James getting 2nd team talk.

Dwight Murray Jr already having a MAAC All-Championship Team selection and All-MAAC 2nd team selection under his belt, Murray Jr has taken his game yet again to another level.

As someone in the MAAC space, there has been a lack of talk of Dwight Murray Jr being in contention for MAAC POTY and that’s because this is what we’ve come to expect from Dwight Murray Jr. averaging 16.5 PPG and nearly 5 AST.

Mervin James has taken that next step the Broncs needed him to take. “Absolutely man. And Mervin will tell you last year I was on him early. I think it was just an adjustment period.” Said Head Coach Kevin Baggett about Mervin James and if he’s just for getting All-MAAC talk.

So what has changed for Mervin? Well Mervin James told us that coaches told him to lay off fouls and let plays play out because costly fouls would later hurt the offense in the late stretches. James has boosted his averages up in most departments, 13.2 PPG, 6.9 REB on 49% shooting. 

The way the game of basketball is going, the playstyle of Mervin James shouldn’t be work that well but he makes it work and it’s really revolutionizing how the Broncs have played this season. Once Mervin James touches the ball in the paint his PPP (Points Per Possession) is 1.351 which ranks out as very good.

It’s not only on the offensive side of the ball, Mervin James has been shut down on defense. Opponents when guarded by James were shooting 28% from the field and had a current PPP (points per possession) of under 0.800 and in the paint that number drops to 0.571.

Both Dwight Murray Jr and Mervin James have been the solid rocks for the Broncs and going into March teams are gonna be gameplanning around them so it’s gonna have to be other players that step up and is one of the keys to success.

Murray, Men's Basketball Stun Iona, 70-67 - Rider University Athletics

Finding the Keys to Success

In March, anything can happen and literally anything. Just last NCAA Tournament a MAAC team in Saint Peter’s made the Cinderella run and memorized the whole entire country. So why not the Broncs?

1: Culture

The keys to March are a factor of luck and companionship. The Broncs have one of the more experienced teams in the MAAC. Experience wins and not overall talent most of the time, Duke had the top 3 recruits in Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish and got knocked out by a Michigan State team that had experience with each other. 

The culture of this Broncs team is off the charts, observing their mannerisms the energy they have compared to others teams is miles apart. Mervin James described the bond as “very tight” and says the team does EVERYTHING together and he thinks that’ll be a big factor in a March run.

2: Staying True to Themselves

The Broncs are not a team that’ll shoot the lights out the building being one of the worst 3PT shooting teams in the MAAC. So in March they need to stay to their story of working inside-out. The Broncs have the 2nd highest 2FG% in the MAAC and have a top-30 2PT point distribution in the country.

They’ve been winning and keeping all of their conference games close with this outline and will it be changed for March? We don’t know that yet but don’t turn away from what got you to the dance and for which case for the Broncs is keeping the shots inside the arch.

3: Stepping Up  

Rider has one of the deepest benches in the MAAC and was considered that in preseason. You know what you’re gonna get out of Dwight Murray Jr and Mervin James in the starting lineup but who else is gonna step up? Corey McKeithan is a good candidate for this spot, McKeithan is a guy who can be a knock down shooter for the Broncs and has shown flashes of his ability to shoot off the dribble and be a lightning in a bottle defender.

Ajiri Ogemuno-Johnson has been getting around 20 minutes per game and he’s gonna be the size and strength for the Broncs in March. Ajiri has been an ELITE offensive rebounder for the Broncs giving them chance after chance. Being ranked 30th in the country in OR% could be really beneficial in a Cinderella run.

The “Joker” card for this Broncs team is going to be the consistency of Allen Powell. The senior guard has been a lightning rod for the Broncs in previous years but has struggled from behind the arch with a career low 28% 3PT. Powell is just starting to find his groove again and once that happens the Broncs would have 4 guys in the starting lineup that could be game changers. March is all about hot streaks and this Broncs team is the CEO of streaky when it comes to shooting so if the Broncs get hot, summer could be coming early in March.

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