Name: Rider University
Location: Lawrenceville, New Jersey
I’m bad at New Jersey geography: It’s effectively in the Trenton suburbs, although on the far edge of them. That means that if you squint, you could consider Rider as part of the larger Philadelphia metroplex. I have probably made several groups of people angry by suggesting that.
Founded: October 1865
Is there a fun founding story? Kind of! You’ve heard of the Bryant & Stratton College outfit? They’ve got three locations in Wisconsin? Yeah, the Trenton Business College was opened as part of that chain. Yes, back in the 1860s.
Okay, so how did it become Rider? Andrew Jackson Rider was the TBC’s third principal, taking on the duties in 1866.... but that didn’t last until August, when Joseph Beecher bought out half of the ownership and became the fourth principal.
I should have gotten a snack and a drink before I asked, right? Rider stayed on as a teacher and Beecher became full owner of TBD in 1867. In 1868, Rider took on half-ownership in TBC. Beecher moved to Newark in 1869, and a year later, he sold his half to William Allen. In 1873, Rider left the school to pursue his real passion: cranberries.
There’s a lot of twists here. In 1878, Rider returned to the school as Business Manager, and then bought out the existing ownership in 1880. Cranberries were big business in the 1870s, I guess. In 1895, Rider renamed the school in his image: Rider Business College.
Anything else? Just the normal college development stuff. The name changed to Rider College in 1921, 20 years after Mr. Rider retired and sold the business. Part of the name change? Accreditation with the New Jersey Board of Education to allow them to issue bachelor degrees. Rider College didn’t become a non-profit entity until 1937, they moved to their current location in 1964, eight years after relocation plans began, and they received university status in 1994.
Enrollment: 3,168 undergraduates and 886 graduate students in the Fall of 2022. Rider reported a 7% increase in enrollment in Fall of 2023, although their press release doesn’t actually say the actual number.
The cranberries return: Rider has hosted a Cranberry Fest on campus since 1979. It’s in September every year, with barbecue, a beer garden, and live music. Mr. Rider apparently introduced cranberries to England’s Queen Victoria, who called him “The Cranberry King of New Jersey.” This is, apparently, why Rider’s colors are cranberry and white, by the way.
The R Factor: This isn’t some kind of internal Rider University advertising slogan, although it 100% sounds like it. No, they’re ripping off Simon Cowell’s The X Factor and hosting a singing competition every September.
Why “Broncs”? It’s surprisingly straightforward and doesn’t involve the always obvious student newspaper campus vote. Clair Bee — yes, that Clair Bee — founded the athletics program at Rider and came up with a guy riding a bucking bronco as the first athletics logo. Get it? A rough rider? Anyway, things shifted as they do, and they ended up as the Broncs, probably because “The Rider Riders” sounds ridiculous.
The Mascot: The Guy In Suit bull mascot at Rider didn’t have a name for a good long while, but back in 2016, they named him AJ. That came by way of a campus vote, with the history of Andrew Jackson Rider prevailing over Andy, Blaze, Brock, and Rowdy.
Notable Alumni: MLB pitcher Al Downing, best known for offering up the pitch that turned into Hank Aaron’s 715th home run; Barbara Park, author of the Junie B. Jones children’s books; and finally, Digger Phelps, former Notre Dame basketball coach and ESPN talking head.
Last Season: 16-14, with a 13-7 record in the MAAC.
Final 2022-23 KenPom.com Ranking: #206
Final 2022-23 T-Rank Ranking: #222
Current KenPom.com Ranking: #227
Current T-Rank Ranking: #239
Preseason Poll: Rider is the preseason favorite in the MAAC, earning eight first place votes to surpass Iona (2 votes) and Canisius (1 vote). 6’7” forward Mervin James was named Preseason Player of the Year and was the only unanimous selection to the preseason all-conference First Team. James was joined on the First Team by fellow Bronc Allen Powell.
Current Record: 1-0 after beating Immaculata 113-67 on Monday night. Rider closed the game on a 107-54 run after falling behind 13-6 in the first four minutes and change. If you prefer: It was a 77-36 run in the final 26 minutes after Immaculata’s Jalen Flowers hit two of three free throws to pull within five late in the first half..... and Rider led by 23 at the break.
Returning Stat Leaders
Points: Mervin James, 12.9 ppg
Rebounds: Mervin James, 6.8 rpg
Assists: Allen Powell, 2.1 apg
Current Stat Leaders
Points: Mervin James, 18.0 ppg
Rebounds: Tyriek Weeks, 9.0 rpg
Assists: Mervin James & T.J. Weeks, 4.0 apg
Bigs? Freshman Moustapha Sanoh is the biggest guy on the roster, standing in at 6’11”, but weighing just 200 pounds. He played 10 minutes in Rider’s season opener, all after the Broncs were up by 30 in the second half. Tariq Ingraham is 6’9” and 255 pounds and started for Rider on Monday, but he only played 12 minutes.... but also chipped in seven points and five rebounds in that limited action. He averaged 6.4 points and 3.6 rebounds in roughly the same type of minutes last season. JT Langston, Jr., is 6’8” and 205 pounds, and he chipped in 14 minutes off the bench on Monday, adding 10 points, three rebounds, and two assists. This is his first season at Rider after spending the last two at East Los Angeles College in the JUCO ranks, where he averaged 15.0 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks while earning conference POY honors.
Shooters? T.J. Weeks fired off eight threes on Monday night, and Allen Powell added five attempts. Weeks hit three of his tries, which is 37.5%, and Powell hit two for a 40% conversion rate. Powell is a career 34% shooter after four seasons at Rider, although a 29% last season is really dragging that number down. Weeks is in his fifth season of college after four campaigns at UMass where he was a 37% shooter and never averaged less than 4.8 attempts per game.
Mervin Jameses? Yes, one of them.
Yeah, I didn’t get to talk about him, so I made a special category for the MAAC Preseason POY. He averaged 12.9 points, a team high 6.8 rebounds, and 1.5 assists per game last season, but he wasn’t dominating the usage for the Broncs because Dwight Murray was their leading scorer. He’s always been able to contribute in the rebounding department, whether that’s been at Rider or at North Alabama before transferring. Whether or not he keeps hitting the boards this year as the presumptive primary scoring threat remains to be seen. James will punish you if you let him get to the line, as he hit 78% of his freebies in 2022 and 83% in 2023. With that said, he doesn’t get to the line that much for a guy with just 156 three-point attempts in 117 career games, averaging 3.1 attempts per game across his two stops.
Head Coach: Kevin Baggett, in his 12th season at Rider and as a Division 1 head coach. He has a record of 178-166. Baggett got his start at Rider as an assistant coach back in 2004, and worked for both Don Harnum and Tommy Dempsey before being elevated to the top job in 2012.
What To Watch For: It’s hard to say, to be honest. Kevin Baggett’s teams don’t really have a standard “we always do this” profile. The one constant on both ends of the floor has been
baseball three-point attempt rate. They don’t shoot many three-pointers, or at least haven’t across the past seven seasons, and they give up an awful lot of them on the defensive end as well.
The Broncs were a great offensive rebounding team a year ago, ranking #27 in the country in rate per KenPom.com. Marquette had a hell of a time pulling in Northern Illinois’ misses on Monday night, and the Golden Eagles were one of the 50 worst defensive rebounding teams in the country last season. As long as MU is causing havoc with their deflections, they can end possessions before a shot goes up to alleviate that problem, but if Rider can pull in 43% of their misses like they did against Immaculata, that’s going to be a problem.
All-Time Series: This is the first ever meeting between Marquette and Rider.