Now as one of my final (possible) pieces about the Rider Broncs, they are gearing up for one hell of a week next week in Atlantic City. Coming into the season, the Broncs were heavily favored to be at the top of the MAAC standings and they fulfilled that destiny finishing 2nd in the MAAC. Covering this team the entire way has its pros and cons and bias towards them is certainly a con but here I’ll be backing everything I say with facts and analysis as a possible goodbye to the first team I’ve ever covered.
The Last (Possible) Dance
Dwight Murray Jr, Mervin James, Allen Powell and Ajiri Ogemuno-Johnson have been the core pieces to the Broncs success this season and has been for a couple years now. All 4 men are in their senior campaigns and could be in for a last ride.
Dwight Murray Jr. has been getting looks from NBA teams and could see a possible future at the next level. DMJ’s unselfish ability to be a pass first guard along with the ability to score at any level at any time makes him a very prominent guard for scouts. Averaging 16.2 PPG, 5 REB, 3 AST on 42% shooting and 40% from 3, DMJ has solidified himself again as that dude in the MAAC.
Mervin James took the steps needed to become an All-MAAC player averaging 12 PPG along with 7 REB. James’ ability to create opportunities inside the arch is truly a lost art. Along with the ability to score at will inside the paint, James also has a knack for a vicious defensive gameplan. Opponents against James have a 0.86 PPP (Points Per Possession).
Allen Powell at the end of my last article on the Broncs, I stated he’s the wild card for the Broncs success and man has he kicked in the burners as of late. Since 1/31 (last article) Powell has averaged 13.1 PPG and has boosted his 3PT% to 38% in that span. The card of Allen Powell being able to drop 20 points on any given night along with the points you know are gonna come from DMJ and James can be a lethal trio going into the MAAC and could possibly be THE best trio when clicking.
Ajiri Ogemuno-Johnson had a very tough start to the season and didn’t look like the dominant AOJ we’ve became accustomed to. But Head Coach Kevin Baggett made the change to move AOJ off the bench as the 6th man and really flipped the script for him. Multiple games with double-doubles and the presence of AOJ in the paint on both ends have won the Broncs some games.
Rest of The Pack
Looking at the rest of the pack, Iona, Siena, Quinnipiac and Fairfield in my opinion are the “real” threats for the Broncs. The Iona vs Rider matchup was won by the Broncs in mid January and they own(?) Iona’s number as of late with the stunning win in the 2022 MAAC Tournament.
Iona is the front horse for the MAAC and when you have one of most legendary coaches in college basketball history it’s hard to bet against them. Ranked 74th in AdjEM on KenPom, Iona has been a powerhouse offensively and defensively but you saw some cracks in this team and aren’t unbeatable.
Siena is a weird scenario for the Broncs, first matchup in Loudonville, NY the Saints were missing star guard Javian McCollum and found a way to pull out on the back of Jackson Stormo’s 24 points. But when the Saints came to Lawrenville, NJ with their star guard they lost in a nail biter in a 69-66 loss. Assuming the Saints do their business against the Peacocks, they’ll be heading into the MAAC 1-4 in their last 5.
Quinnipiac has had the Broncs number this season with a clean sweep of the Broncs. With a 9 point win in early January and a 2 point win in 2OT, the Bobcats could favor in a matchup against the Broncs. The Bobcats have 4 players that average double digit points, and what that intakes is there’s a bunch of ways the Cats can scratch and claw at the Broncs.
Even with a sweep of Fairfield I still think the Broncs escaped both games. Fairfield at a point had one of the more dominant defenses in college and now has regressed. If you need a sleeper team in the MAAC, the Stags would be that move. Supreme Cook has been super impressive averaging 13 PPG and 8 REB along with forward Allan Jeanne-Rose who Rider didn’t really have an answer for.
Keys to Destiny
The one main key to success I’ll say is staying true to themselves. If you’ve invested any amount of time in watching the Broncs this season you know their perimeter shooting is sketchy. But you also would know that their bread and butter is clearly attacking the paint and creating shots with positioning and shot selection.
In a recent loss to Mount Saint Mary’s, the Broncs stopped their attack inside the paint and started jacking up shots from deep and shot 1/10 from three in the first half and fell behind because of their shooting. And in a tournament where you can’t make bad runs, the Broncs will NEED to stay to their script of the 2022 season and use and abuse the paint.
The Broncs have a 1.20 PPP inside the paint and once they step outside that paint that number lowers to 0.84. It’s really simple but too simple for opposing defenses to stop so who will step up and be the wild cards?
Adetokundo Bakare (G)
Again if you’ve followed me, you know the takes I’ve had of this man. The Broncs need shooting right? Well maybe inserting a guy who’s shooting 54% from downtown on 26 attempts would help. But not only is he a spark on offense, he brings a fire to the defense shutting down players one through five. In a tournament where streaky players win you games, Bakare needs to find himself more minutes cause he truly can be a tournament winner.
Allen Betrand (F)
Coming over from Rhode Island University off a major injury, Betrand was considered one of the more highly regarded transfers in the MAAC. But only bits and pieces have been picked up at Rider, averaging 6 PPG on 49% EFG% which is 3rd highest on the team which could be a threat with a bigger sample. Shooting 39% from deep is another guy when DMJ and Powell are getting doubled could be a guy that can and could take off.
Zahrion Blue (F)
Another highly regarded transfer, the former CIAA Player of the Year also has the ability to affect the game in a variety of ways. One of the more reliable defenders that coach Baggett has leaned on along with a guy that runs the offense very smoothly. Defense wins championships and Blue’s defense could help the Broncs on route to winning the MAAC.
Finally the Time?
The Broncs have been a part of the MAAC for nearly 25 years and have only seen 2 MAAC Championship games and both of which were blowout losses. If there was a time for this team to win the MAAC it’s this season because the Broncs don’t know what their roster looks like next season with possible departures of 4 starters.
The Broncs have done good at winning at the top but have had trouble with a couple at the bottom, next week they can’t play down to their level. They need to play their bread and butter, attack that paint with Mervin James and AOJ. Use the paint collapsing for open shots for Allen Powell and Betrand.
+200 the Broncs are at odds, the odds have never more been in their favor and the team knows that and Coach Baggett knows that stating multiple times this is the most together team he’s ever coached.
And if there was a season for me to end my tenure with Rider, this is the season and next week is a make or break moment for this team. Anything besides a MAAC Championship is a failure.