Ray Floriani covers the MAAC for RushTheCourt. When he’s not doing that he can be found covering college basketball at College Chalktalk as well as the Basketball Times, Hoopville and contributes to Villanova by the Numbers. He went to St. Peter’s dramatic double-overtime home win over Niagara Monday night.
Ray Floriani: A slight edge to Iona but this is really tough because the teams are fairly similar. They both defend and force turnovers. Iona’s turnover (forced) rate is 23% of opposition possessions while Fairfield is 22%.
In the non-league schedule I give Iona a slight nod. They defeated Creighton at the very competitive Old Spice Classic in Orlando and knocked off Providence on the road. Fairfield’s non-MAAC slat was not as tough as Iona’s but it was close and competitive and they gave Rhode Island a good game before dropping a close one.
Derek Needham is doing a great job at the point for Fairfield. Yorel Hawkins and Anthony Johnson can score for the Stags. Scott Machado is an excellent talent at guard for the Gaels. Iona has a number of weapons as 6-11 Jonathan Huffman who can step outside and hit the three.
Fairfield hosts Siena on Saturday with a prime opportunity to prove me wrong.
SienaSaintsBlog: Who would you label as your surprise team this season?
Ray Floriani: Would have to say Iona. As noted they have great guard play with Machado , Kyle Smyth and Jermel Jenkins just to name a few. They defend and a key factor is the ability to succeed on the road. They knocked off Providence but in conference they have impressive wins at Niagara and Rider. They are 3-3 in conference but some of those wins we discussed caught the attention of many observers and not just those who follow the MAAC.
SienaSaintsBlog: When are we going to see the real Rider Broncs show up?
Ray Floriani: From a tempo free perspective Rider’s numbers are revealing. Overall the offensive efficiency is 98 and defensive is 101. In the MAAC those numbers are 93 and 97. In both cases the Broncs have a negative margin (offensive minus defensive efficiency) which does not bode well for any hopes of making a run for the title. It is still early and the Broncs are 3-3.
Their turnover rate is under 20% so they are caring for the ball but as a team they are shooting 41% from the field. That low percentage is especially harmful given an interior defense that is allowing opponents to shoot 50% from two point range.
Rider has four players averaging double figures but coach Tommy Dempsey is getting little help from his bench.
As noted, there is time but there are corrections needed on both ends of the floor. On the other hand maybe that great opening win at Mississippi State left us all expecting more than we expected.
SienaSaintsBlog: Is Ryan Thompson playing his way out of Player of the Year?
Ray Floriani: I think he’s a great player. Thompson averages 14 PPG because he is so unselfish and doesn’t force things. Those qualities were also opinions of the nine or so NBA scouts who saw Thompson in Rider’s OT loss at Rutgers.
Thompson does not have POY numbers at this juncture. But down the stretch Dempsey will probably encourage him to be less unselfish and look for his shot especially in close contests. The remainder of the season will determine if Thompson gets that POY hardware in Albany come March.
Ray Floriani is the RTC correspondent for the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and the Northeast Conference. Ryan Restivo is the RTC correspondent for the Colonial Athletic Association.