Monday, November 29, 2010

Five pregame thoughts: Rider

1.) This is a good test for the Flying Dutchmen. Rider was picked fifth in the MAAC preseason poll but looked like it might be the best team in the conference when the Broncs recorded double-digit wins at Southern Cal and over TCU and Loyola Marymount at the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off. Rider cooled off when it fell to Siena in the MAAC opener Friday, but the Broncs still seem to be a legitimate NCAA Tournament contender and will be a good barometer for where the Dutchmen are in the maturation process.

2.) This will REALLY be a good test for the zone defense. Against Wagner, the Dutchmen were content to take away the middle and force the Seahawks to beat them from outside—which they almost did thanks to a superhuman performance from Latif Rivers, who was draped most of the night but was still 6-of-10 from 3-point land. Rider, which fell to the Dutchmen 92-89 in overtime in the Bracket Buster last year, is averaging 72.2 points a game this year on almost 50 percent shooting from both beyond the arc (49.1 percent) and overall (49.5 percent). The Broncs have three starters who stand at least 6-foot-7 but nobody taller than 6-foot-8, so a reverse of the Wagner game plan may be in order. It will be a very good sign for the Dutchmen if this game is played in the 60s.

3.) How will Greg Washington respond to Friday’s forced benching? Washington didn’t get off the bench in the final 17:40 due to foul trouble, but the Dutchmen stormed back from an eight-point deficit and beat Wagner thanks in large part to the stellar play of freshman Stephen Nwaukoni. In four games against Division I foes, Washington is averaging just 2.5 points and 4.0 rebounds. He had no boards at all against Wagner. Mo Cassara has no choice but to give Washington, one of just two players on the active roster who started a game before this season, plenty of opportunity to assert himself, so a demotion doesn’t seem likely quite yet. But Nwaukoni’s performance Friday should have Washington looking over his shoulder and doubly inspired tonight.

4.) Conversely, how much will Nwaukoni and Yves Jules be rewarded tonight? Nwaukoni and Jules were the most unlikely members of the unlikely quintet that pulled marathon duty down the stretch Friday. Nwaukoni was already cementing a role for himself but Jules played half as many minutes Friday (16) as he did in the first four games combined. His defense tonight will be a vital part of limiting the Broncs’ damage from outside.

5.) Will the real Charles Jenkins show up from the tip, or will it take a half for him to shed Cyber Monday Charles? Jenkins’ line about Thanksgiving Charles playing the first half Friday was one of the great quotes of the year, but the Dutchmen can’t win many games if he’s only the real Charles for one half. Expect a far more normal 25-point effort from Jenkins tonight.

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