Talented Saints ready for challenging season

Coming off a 23-11 year in which the Saints demolished Vanderbilt of the SEC in the first round of t

Because the Alumni Recreation Center was occupied, the Siena men’s basketball team was forced to move its annual media day to cramped quarters in a building next door on Thursday.

It should be the last small room the Saints see this season.

The little Franciscan college has officially gone national.

Coming off a 23-11 year in which the Saints demolished Vanderbilt of the SEC in the first round of the NCAA tournament, Siena is being projected as one of the top mid-major teams in the country, similar to teams like Xavier, Saint Joseph’s, George Mason and Davidson that have made deep runs in the NCAAs in the last five years.

Head coach Fran McCaffery has loaded the non-conference schedule with road games at schools like defending national champion Kansas and Pittsburgh, and the three-game Old Spice Classic.

It’s designed to get Siena ready for the postseason again, like last year’s brutal schedule did. The difference this time is that the Saints won’t be able to sneak up on anybody. The Saints know they have a good, possibly great, team, but so does everybody else; the biggest challenge will be to weather, and fulfill, an unprecedented level of expectation.

“The publicity we’re getting is a lot of fun,” junior point guard Ronald Moore said. “It was hard to finally get into the limelight; it’s going to be twice as hard just to stay in it. I think we’re very well aware of that.

“We’re not in the shadows anymore. Teams are well aware of us. It’s going to make it that much harder for us to win games.”

Observers aren’t wasting any time hyping the Saints. ESPN.com senior writer Andy Katz has already posted a long, glowing story on Siena, over a month before the Saints’ season opener against defending WAC champion Boise State at the Times Union Center on Nov. 17.

Siena deserves the hype, based on the fact that it brings back pretty much its entire roster from last year.

Senior co-captain Kenny Hasbrouck, the 2008 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament MVP and CollegeInsider.com mid-major player of the year, and junior forwards Alex Franklin and Edwin Ubiles are all potential MAAC players of the year.

Moore has been starting since early in his freshman season, and fifth-year senior Josh Duell, a Scotia native who transferred from Vermont three years ago, has seen it all, experiencing a first-round upset over Syracuse as a freshman with the Catamounts and becoming an integral part of the Saints’ lineup last year.

The Saints appear to have it all: they can run teams off the floor, they can shoot from the outside, they have experience. Rebounding was a weakness last year, but Siena will be much bigger at guard this year and is anticipating a big year from sophomore Ryan Rossiter inside.

The trick will be to not let the expectations and hype outstrip the day-to-day grind required to get through the schedule.

“It’s a different situation for me because I was the one being told [at Vermont] not to listen to everything like that,” Duell said. “Now, I’m the one telling the young guys to do that. You really can’t listen to the hype. You’ve got to go out there and take every game for what it is.”

“There is pressure to repeat what we did last year,” Ubiles said. “We do have high expectations, and other people do, too.”

“It might be challenging, just the fact that there’s so many expect­ations, we’re on ESPN now, all types of sports news channels are talking about our season and saying we might be the ‘It’ team and things like that,” Hasbrouck said. “But the realization will come when we start going against teams that people expect us to blow out, and we’re only beating them by 10 points. Because everybody’s going to be coming

after us.”

Siena is scheduled to play seven games on national television, not counting the possibility of another on Feb. 21, when they’ll play host to an ESPNU BracketBusters game against an opponent and broadcast platform to be determined.

They’ll see Tennessee in the first round of the Old Spice in Orlando, Fla., on Thanksgiving Day, and will play either Georgetown or Wichita State the next day.

Maryland, Michigan State, Oklahoma State and Gonzaga are also in the field, and Siena will play a third game against one of those teams on Nov. 30. They’ll fly straight to Balt­imore from there to open the MAAC season at Loyola.

They’ll play at legendary Allen Fieldhouse against the Jayhawks on Jan. 6.

“The real test will be, can we be mature enough to have a big win and keep winning?” McCaffery said. “The difficulty lies not with the Tennessees and the Pitts and the Kansases, it’s Albany, Cornell, St. Joe’s, Holy Cross, Buffalo. We don’t have a night off. Every game we have is a difficult game, and some of them are on the road. It will take an incredible level of maturity.

“We will not be capable of getting too far ahead of ourselves with the games we have coming up. It’s impossible.”

The Saints have their first off­icial team practice at 7 tonight at the ARC. They’ll play an exhib­ition that replaces the annual Green and Gold scrimmage against Union College at the ARC on Saturday,

Nov. 8. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for children 14 and under.

Categories: College Sports

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