Rigorous non-conference schedule helped prepare Siena

Playing the likes of Stanford and No. 1 Memphis has helped prepare Siena for the NCAA tournament.
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The Great Unknown hanging over the Siena basketball team is who they’ll play in the NCAA tournament next week and where, so for the time being, they’re concentrating on what they do know.

Junior guard Kenny Hasbrouck knows he has tests in biology and statistics today and Friday.

Power forward Alex Franklin knows a few days off will be good for his nagging back.

And the team knows that, no matter who they draw in the tournament, the Saints won’t be intim­idated.

The Saints, who will return to practice today for the first time since beating Rider in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship game on Monday, are still emotionally charged by the win, which sends Siena to the NCAAs for the first time since 2002.

Most bracket analysts are projecting Siena to be seeded 13th or 14th in one of the regions. As of Tuesday, Siena’s Ratings Percentage Index ranking was No. 71 in the country. After beating Stanford early in the season, hanging tough against Syracuse and Saint Joseph’s and playing at Memphis, the Saints come into the tourn­ament knowing what it’s like to take the floor against the best teams in the country.

“Thing like this don’t happen very often,” point guard Ronald Moore said. “I think our team is still on Cloud 9 a little bit, and it’s hard to try to get back to schoolwork and stay focused and finish the remainder of the week before spring break. But if we finish the work and get our stuff done during this week, we can still enjoy Selection Sunday and

really get focused on whoever we’re playing.”

“There’s no way we can be any more intimidated than we were against Memphis,” Hasbrouck said. “We played one of the best teams in the country already, and now,

every other team, I think we’re good enough to play against.”

The tournament field will be selected on CBS at 6 p.m. on Sunday.

Siena will hold an NCAA Selection Show party from 5:30-6:30 p.m. in the Maloney Great Room at the Sarazen Student Union. The party is free and open to the public, and the whole team and coaching staff will attend.

The players are caught between the high of Monday’s victory, in which Tay Fisher, the only senior on the team, made six of 10 three-pointers for 21 points on his birthday, and the anticipation of learning their fate on Sunday.

Somewhere in there, they have to still squeeze in schoolwork and tests.

“I’m still excited about it, but you try to move on to the next thing,” Hasbrouck said. “We can’t wait to get out there. It’s real hard. I have two tests this week. I’ve got to pass my test first before I start watching TV.”

“It’s tough. I’m still at an all-time high right now, or as everybody says, Cloud 9,” Fisher said. “I’m still on there.”

Head coach Fran McCaffery loaded the non-conference schedule with difficult opponents with the idea that it would toughen the Saints for the MAAC schedule and tournament.

Siena lost to Syracuse in front of 17,000 fans at the Carrier Dome, 97-89, in the second game of the season, beat Stanford, 79-67, in the Saints’ home opener at the Times Union Center and lost to Saint Joe’s, 74-68.

Siena suffered one of its worst losses as a Division I program when it was dominated by Memphis, a national championship contender, 102-58.

“That gets you ready, especially playing a team like Memphis,” sophomore small forward Edwin Ubiles said. “We played the No. 1 team in the country, and we know what it’s like to play a team like that. And we know that when we go out there, it’s not going to be easy and we can’t take it for granted. We don’t want to go all the way out there for nothing. If we lose, we want to lose going out with a fight.”

Besides Franklin’s back, which has been an issue for the second half of the season, Hasbrouck is still being treated for a sore shoulder, which he injured in the quarter­finals against Manhattan when he was elbowed in the arm while setting a pick.

“We’ve had two days off, which is good for everybody’s body,” said Josh Duell, sporting a slightly discolored right eye from a Jason Thompson elbow to the temple against Rider. “Kenny’s been hurt, I’m beat up a little bit, Alex with his back, so we get to rest for few days, which is huge. I got beat up and battered by a couple big elbows by Jason Thompson.”

Duell, a transfer from Vermont, is the resident tournament expert, having played for the Catamounts as a freshman when they upset Syracuse in overtime in the first round.

Moore said he’s getting advice from his cousin, John Salmons, who played in the NCAAs for

Miami. Moore’s brother, Chuck, played for Seton Hall and Vanderbilt, but never made it to the tournament.

“As soon as he [Salmons] saw it, he gave me a phone call,” Moore said. “He said it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing, don’t let it go, don’t take it for granted. You can be happy, but you can’t be satisfied. You’re

going to the Big Dance to make some noise.”

The eight sites for first- and second-round games are Raleigh, N.C.; Birmingham, Ala.; Denver; Omaha, Neb.; Washington, D.C.; Little Rock, Ark.; Anaheim, Calif.; and Tampa, Fla.

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