As low as the
Siena men’s basketball team felt after losing to Villanova in the second round of the Midwest Regional on Sunday, expectations for next season went through the roof of the St. Pete Times Forum.
The Saints will have everyone back except Tay Fisher, they’re bringing in one good scorer and a junior college transfer who should give Alex Franklin and Josh Duell relief inside and they gained the
experience of having won an NCAA tournament game.
Among the returnees will be two all-Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference first-teamers, Kenny Hasbrouck and Edwin Ubiles, and a second-teamer, Franklin.
The only negative aspect, if you can even call it that, is the fact that Siena will be circled on everyone’s schedule, but that comes with the belief that the Saints will be in a position to make school history, and win two NCAA tournament games and reach the Sweet 16 for the first time ever.
“We want to get further than this next year,” Franklin said after the 84-72 loss to Villanova. “We want to do bigger and better things. We had a target on our back this year, so we know the target is going to be even bigger next year.”
“I certainly think we can be back,” head coach Fran McCaffery said. “That’s going to be our goal, and I talked about that already
after the game, how hard we have to work this spring, summer and fall, because we’re not sneaking up on anybody anymore. We have a solid core of people coming back, we have two people coming in. Now that we’re a little bit older, we’ll be even better.”
The Saints were picked by a slight edge over Loyola to win the MAAC in the preseason coaches poll, and they did that, although they needed help from Marist in the final game of the regular season to win a tiebreaker at 13-5. That ensured Siena a spot in the National Invitation Tournament, but the Saints were far from satisfied with that, and went on to hammer injury-depleted Rider in the conference championship game to earn their first NCAA berth since 2002 and the fourth in school history.
Siena drew a No. 13 seed and a first-round date with Vanderbilt of the Southeastern Conference.
Their game came up third on a lineup of four underdogs beating favorites on Friday, leading to Tampa widely being dubbed “Upset City.”
After back-to-back overtime games, Siena hammered the Commodores, 83-62, then Villanova came back from 18 down to edge Clemson to set up Sunday’s matchup.
Villanova’s guards proved to be just as fast as Siena’s, only they were bigger, too, and the Wildcats controlled the game from the opening tipoff.
Still, it was a valuable lesson that the Saints plan to use next year.
“I really looked at how hard Villanova played on every possession like it was their last, and that’s something that I want to take out of this for next year,” Duell said. “I think we can do that on an
everyday basis, because we have the athletes to do it.”
“This team has a lot of experience now,” McCaffery said.
The Saints will add rugged
6-foot-10, 250-pound junior college transfer Wolfgang Geiler, who
averaged 17.5 points and 13.1 rebounds for Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, Calif.
He’s a native of Bonn, Germany, who played one season at
UC-Irvine before transferring to AHC. He has made a verbal commitment to Siena, but hasn’t signed yet.
Siena will also bring in 6-5,
200-pound Owen Wignot from Wilkes-Barre, Pa. McCaffery successfully outrecruited Penn State and Temple to get Wignot, who is expected to get some time behind Ubiles.
Freshman Clarence Jackson could step in and assume Fisher’s role as a three-point specialist off the bench, and, at 6-3, can also slash for baskets inside.
Another freshman, Chris De La Rosa, improved as the season went on, and will help point guard Ronald Moore stay fresh. De La Rosa had five points and three assists against Villanova.
“Chris is a fierce competitor,” McCaffery said. “He gave us great minutes all year long, playing behind a guy who gave us a great year.”
Siena had a few stretches when it didn’t play well this season, but the dry spells didn’t last long.
Hasbrouck battled through a
variety of injuries all year, and he’ll be a strong candidate for MAAC player of the year.
The hardest task next season could be for the Saints to not get ahead of themselves.
“This has been a long season, and we’ve really grown up,” McCaffery said. “It’s been a joy to see the character on this team. We were picked to win it [MAAC], so there’s a lot of pressure that comes with that. We won the regular season, we won the conference tournament, we beat an SEC team in the tournament, so I couldn’t be more proud of what they accomplished.
“We grew, and you were able to see that, when we were struggling just a little bit about three-quarters of the way through the season. We were OK, but we weren’t playing like a championship team. It was at that point that we committed to each other and started playing the kind of defense we needed to play, and the rest is history.”
“We’re trying to look forward,” Franklin said. “It’s hard to look back on everything we did right now, but we did accomplish a lot. But we had bigger goals, and today, we just fell short.”
“We made a big improvement from last year, so teams are going to be after us, and we’re just going to have to be ready,” Ubiles said. “We’ve got all summer to play with each other due to the fact that we’re going to Italy, so our chemistry is going to be there, we’ll have Kenny and Duell as seniors, so we’re going to have a well grown-up team and we’ll get even better next year and do big things.”