Thursday, January 22, 2009

Doody Calls - Part Deux

I love when Rider plays Fairfield.

First, truth be told, I'm a Jersey Boy, and have queitly enjoyed the renaissance this south New Jersey school has experienced over the past several years - even though I'm a Stag true and true. In addition, a Fairfield/Rider game now has a lot of implications on MAAC standings and postseason seedings. Plus, this year's contest moves from an exit of I-95 to North Benson Road, a far cry from the meaningless games of year's past at Alumni Hall against Yale and St. Peter's College.

More importantly, though, it is the return of an old friend of ours, Ben Doody, who currently is a beat writer (Rutgers football and Rider basketball) and assistant sports editor at The Trentonian.

Here's our second annual 'Doody Calls' Q and A leading into the 'Clash on Campus' tomorrow evening. Enjoy:

1. Based on the team's preseason ranking, has Rider exceeded/disappointed from your perspective?

Right now, the teams picked in the top four in the preseason coaches' poll are all in the top four, but in a different order, with Niagara (fourth in the poll) in second place, Fairfield (second in the poll) in third and Rider (third in the poll) in fourth. So I guess strictly based on the polls, you'd have to say Rider and Fairfield have slightly underachieved. But based on their own expectations, the Broncs aren't happy being 4-3, just like I'm sure the Stags aren't happy being 5-3.

2. Is Ryan Thompson well on his way to becoming the best player in the MAAC? How vital is he to the Broncs' success?

Is he on his WAY to being the best player in the league? Maybe.

Is he right now? I don't think you could say that because I think if you put Kenny Hasbrouck or Edwin Ubiles on Rider, either one would average as many or more points as Thompson, and if you put Thompson on Siena, his numbers would be down for the same reason Hasbrouck's and Ubiles' are: they have to share the ball with each other and with Alex Franklin.

That isn't to say he doesn't have good parts around him. Harris Mansell still might be the best catch-and-shoot guy in the league (Ed Cooley told me yesterday he thinks that's the case) and Mike Ringgold can be tough to stop in the low post. But if Thompson has an off day in a MAAC game, it'll take something really, really big from somebody else for Rider to win.

I think Thompson will be a first-team all-MAAC pick and that more than half of Rider's games next year will be attended by NBA scouts. So if you're Thompson, that's a good position to be in entering your senior year.

3. Given the graduation of Jason Thompson, doesn't head coach TommyDempsey deserve a lot of credit for the fact that this team is onceagain in contention for the MAAC championship?

He certainly built a team that could survive without Jason and that will probably be really good next year, when essentially everyone but Mansell will be back. I think we'll have to wait until the end of the year to evaluate how he did with this particular group.

4. Name a player on Rider most Fairfield fans have never really heard about, but will notice tomorrow night.

That's a tough one, because it depends what kind of Fairfield fan you're talking about. I bet some of the students who'll be in the Hall have never heard of Ryan Thompson, but JoeStag has heard of Pat Mansell and Robbie Meyers. I'll go with freshman forward Novar Gadson, who's averaging just shy of 10 points per game and will be in the MAAC Rookie of the Year discussion at the end of the year. What a lot of fans probably don't know is that he broke Joe "Jelleybean" Bryant's career scoring record at John Bartram High in Philadelphia. You may have heard of Jelleybean's son, Kobe.

5. As a Fairfield alum, what are your feelings on Fairfield's playthus far this season? Are you at all surprised by Siena's sweep of theStags?

Let's face it: the loss at home to Siena was sickening to Fairfield fans. Absolutely sickening. If you're really the second best team in the league, you don't let the No. 1 team in the league come into your building and absolutely take the place over. It's just inexcusable, and if you don't believe me, ask Ed Cooley.

I'm not necessarily surprised Siena swept the series, but I'm surprised last Saturday's game was so lopsided. With that said, a win tomorrow night and they're 6-3 in the league. That's certainly not a bad place to be.

6. I have to bring it up: Harbor Yard vs. Alumni Hall.

In a way, it's a lose-lose situation.

Harbor Yard is the easiest venue to play in for a visiting team in the MAAC, and you'll have a hard time finding a coach, player of AD who will tell you otherwise. Even if you get 3,000 people there and they make some noise, it doesn't compare to having 2,500 on campus in that noisy little band box.

But Alumni Hall is not a Division I college basketball facility. Everything from the stands to the locker rooms would need significant upgrades if they were ever going to move back there full time, and I doubt that will happen, especially given the school's commitment to Harbor Yard. And I can all but guarantee you that if they played every game there, they wouldn't sell out every game. Go back and look at the attendance figures from the 80s and 90s and compare them to what they've been for the couple of games they've played there over the last couple of years. If the novelty were to wear off, the place wouldn't be packed every night unless the team was REALLY worth watching.

What I'd like to see happen is for the school to build a 4,000-seat arena on campus that could also serve as a convention center. But with the lack of land on campus, the town's strict zoning regulations and the state of the economy, that's not going to happen any time soon.

So here's my proposed solution: 1) Win; 2) Win some more; 3) Make sure that the students are well aware that you're winning and that they're missing out if they don't show up.

7. Does either team - Fairfield or Rider - have a legitimate chance of cutting down the nets at the Times-Union Center come March?


I wouldn't be shocked if Siena ran the table in the regular season, or if after a while they started receiving votes in the Top 25. And they'll be playing on their home court, with bigger and louder crowds than the ones they attract in the regular season. You could argue that even without the double bye that teams used to have, they'll be the biggest favorite entering the tournament in league history.

But no one's invincible. How many people, for instance, thought undefeated Ball State would lose to Buffalo in the MAC championship football game? Or that the undefeated Patriots would lose to the Giants last year in the Super Bowl? I could go on and on.

Fairfield and Rider both played them tight in Albany and both are capable of doing the same thing in March. Were they to do that, then get a few lucky bounces down the stretch, they could slay Siena and cut down the nets.

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