For a team that locked teams down defensively so much last season en route to a second-place finish in the MAAC, Rider head coach Kevin Baggett knew the new rules might hamper his team’s style.
However a 2-4 start combined with struggles to stop teams defensively was not the 2013-14 season’s expectations. The Broncs are 10th in conference scoring defense, allowing 82.7 points per game.
“It has hurt us because we were aggressive, more physical team last year what I was preaching and then this year I’ve told the refs at times we might as well put skirts on these guys because that’s how they want us to play with these new rules,” Baggett said. “I’m just not a fan of them at all.”
The second year coach said he knew his offense would be ahead of where it ranked last season, but they have only notched victories over Central Connecticut and Rice in non-conference play so far this season.
“We’ve been inconsistent,” Baggett said. “I’m riding our seniors a little harder because I just think it starts and ends with them. The games that we’ve lost, besides from the Purdue game, our seniors haven’t played well.”
Senior Anthony Myles leads the team with 18.7 points per game and his classmate Daniel Stewart is not far behind with 14.7 points per game, but the two have traded off being the dominant scorer in games.
“At the end of the day it really comes down to Daniel and Anthony,” Baggett said. “I thought Danny’s been a little more inconsistent so I’ve been harping on him to get more consistent. I think they have to be more of a vocal leader and hold their teammates more accountable and we haen’t done that yet.”
While Baggett is looking for leadership from the seniors he has thrown freshman Jimmie Taylor into the fire early as the team’s starting point guard and said he is coming along through the early season.
“I knew we were going to go through some growing pains with him, but he’s been able to score the ball, but he’s not been very good defensively,” Baggett said of the freshman who averages 11.7 points per game in six games. “He’s just so used to playing zone in high school, it’s taken him some time to learn how to keep the ball in front of him. It’s a big adjustment for him, but it’s going to take some time and that’s where we’re hurting as well because Jon Thompson was great at guarding the other team’s [point guard].”
The Broncs will open conference play tonight at Monmouth and look to continue to establish their defense, who is currently letting opponents make 44-percent of their three-pointers.
“I know we’re capable [defensively] and guarding people and keeping the ball in front, teams are shooting a ridiculous percentage from the floor on us right now, so we have to get that number back down and get to where we’re used to being,” Baggett said.
Baggett said he expects sophomore captain Zedric Sadler, who missed the entire preseason and the first game of the season and has been bothered with patella tendonitis in his knee, to continue to fight through the injury the rest of the season.
“He’s not totally in shape,” Baggett said of Sadler who has averaged 9.6 points per game in five games. “I don’t think he trusts his knee totally, but I think it worries him a little bit because he still has some pain in the knee, but he’s coming along. I just think it’s a matter of him just getting comfortable and being able to tolerate some of the pain in the knee and just getting back in shape and getting his legs under him.”
The sophomore was held out of practice on Tuesday because of the lingering effects of his injury, but Baggett said he hopes that the captain Sadler will improve as the season continues.
“There’s a time when we may need to shut him down and protect him and his knee,” Baggett said. “Any time he’s in and out of the lineup or in and out of practice, you can’t get yourself totally right. I’m just hoping that it won’t be something that goes all year long. I’m hoping eventually that knee will respond and get better and he can get healthy.”
Ryan Restivo covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and America East conference for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.