Back by popular demand, the former E-I-C and current assistant sports editor/columnist at 'The Trentonian' was nice enough to sit down and chat with me about tomorrow's game and the state of our teams heading into tourney time. Ben's likely to be helping us (and maybe even crashing with us) with our wall-to-wall covearge in Albany, so be ready for plenty of quality input and insight come next weekend.
And without further adu...
Here's the Q's:
1. What is the fundamental difference between Rider now and the Rider team we saw at Alumni Hall in late January?
Ben Doody: Justin Robinson has moved permanently to the 2 (with Ryan Thompson at the point) and become a very serious scoring threat. Before the first Fairfield game, Robinson had scored in double figures four times in 15 games. Starting with that game, he's done so in nine out of 10 games, including the last seven in a row. One reason for that is he had arthroscopic knee surgery about three weeks before the season started, and it took him a while to get going. Another is that partially because Harris Mansell has been in and out of a shooting slump for most of the year, Rider has gone to Robinson more often. He's shooting 48 percent from 3, so I'd say they've been rewarded for doing so.
2. If Siena and Niagara are 1 and 1A in the MAAC, is Rider the hands-down "next best"?
B.D.: First, I agree that Niagara is No. 1A in the MAAC and not No. 2, which I wouldn't have said until the Purple Eagles took care of the Saints with such ease the other night in Lewison. As for as the best of the rest, you'd have to say it's the Broncs, since they're the only other team to have beaten Siena, and because they split with Niagara. But the gap between Niagara and Rider is bigger than the gap between Rider and the Manhattans and Fairfields of the world.
3. Post-season Awards: Is Ryan Thompson a first-team All-MAAC selection? Gadson a possible ROY?
B.D.: I think Thompson is a shoo-in for first-team all-MAAC and Gadson is in a two-way race with Scott Machado of Iona for ROY. Until the last two weeks, I thought Gadson was the clear frontrunner, but that was before Machado won two more ROWs and Gadson had several off-games. But Gadson took a step forward against Loyola. He was suspended for the first half for violating team rules (which can't help him but probably won't hurt him much either) and Rider trailed by 13 at the break. He scored 12 points in 13 minutes in the second half and Rider came back to win. To me, that's a pretty good demonstration of his value to his team.
4. Just by looking at season results, it seems as if the Broncs have been a bit streaky and an enigma (wins vs. Niagara and Siena, losses to Canisius, SPC). What gives?
B.D.: I think that's symptomatic of young teams. It's easy to forget because Thompson and Mansell are their most visible players, but seven of the first nine guys in their rotation are freshmen and sophomores. When you consider their ability to win without big-time performances from Mansell (the only contributor they'll lose to graduation), they should be better and much more consistent next year.
5. If Rider is to make a noise in Albany next week, (blank) must happen and (blank) must step up. [I think you know where I'm going with there. Any predictions are fine. Be as creative as you'd like.]
B.D.: The answer for the first blank is lights-out 3-point shooting, which they've gotten in both of their key wins this year. They shot 58 percent from 3 against Siena and 62 percent against Niagara. For the second blank, they'll need good performances from just about all of their regulars, but I'll say Mansell. When he's on, they have three very dangerous outside shooting threats (Thompson and Robinson being the others), which many teams don't have.
OT:1. It's baseball season... any bold AL East Predictions?
B.D.: I don't think I wrote this anywhere, so I guess you'll have to take me at my word, but I predicted in our news room last March that the Rays would make the playoffs. Everyone laughed at me, then I laughed in their faces when the Rays went to the World Series. (Then they had the last laugh when the Phillies -- the team of choice in greater Trenton -- beat the Rays into submission in the World Series). Since the Rays making the playoffs is no longer an absurd concept and the Blue Jays and Orioles both totally stink, I don't have anything bold for you. I'll just second Baseball Prospectus' opinion and pick the Red Sox to go 98-64 and win the division and the Yankees to go 96-66 and win the Wild Card. Then the Red Sox will beat the Yankees in six games in the ALCS before losing to the Cubs in the World Series. Now there's an absurd prediction for you.