Siena Men’s Basketball: Preseason hype puts pressure on Saints

The genie is officially out of the bottle at tiny Siena College.

The preseason accolades jus


The genie is officially out of the bottle at tiny Siena College.

The preseason accolades just keep coming:

u Sports Illustrated ranked the Saints 29th in its college basketball preview issue this week, and also called Siena one of the “Cinderella teams that will dance deep into March.”

u The Saints received 13 votes in The Associated Press preseason poll and eight votes in the USA Today/ESPN preseason coaches’ poll.

u has Siena rated fifth in the preseason mid-major poll.

u The 10 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference coaches unanimously picked Siena to repeat as conference champ.

u Juniors Edwin Ubiles and Alex Franklin were named to the MAAC preseason first team, point guard Ronald Moore is a national finalist for the Bob Cousy Award and senior captain Kenny Hasbrouck, well, where do we start? Preseason MAAC player of the year, Mid-Major All-American, 2008 Mid-Major Player of the Year, and on and on.

Now, the Saints have to be careful what they wish for.

A return to the NCAA tournament, where they upset Vanderbilt last season before losing to Villanova, is there for the taking, but standing in the way is a brutal non-conference schedule and a tough league that would like nothing more than to knock off the defending champs. As much fun as the preseason hype is for Siena’s fans, the Saints have to make it happen themselves, starting on Monday, when they play host to Boise State at the Times Union Center.

“We’re told that we’re supposed to be good, and we do believe that, but it’s game by game,” Moore said. “Nothing’s ever handed to you.”

“I’m excited about what people are saying about our program, but we recognize the challenge ahead of us,” head coach Fran McCaffery said.

“I think we’ve reached the level where we can compete with anybody,” Hasbrouck said. “I think we’re one of the top teams in the country, at least the top 30. We can upset a lot of teams, right now.

“We have to know for a fact that teams are going to be coming after us.”

That means everyone.

The Saints are probably circled on every calendar in the MAAC. Then there’s the non-conference schedule, which McCaffery assembled with the idea that it will make Siena tougher for the conference tournament and also bolster the RPI when it comes time to pick the NCAA tournament field.

Siena’s non-conference strength of schedule was ranked 13th in the nation last year and will probably be lower this year, with road games at defending national champion Kansas and Pittsburgh, and three games at the Old Spice Classic, starting with Tennessee.

None of those teams are going to want to be a notch in Siena’s belt, like Stanford was last year.

Barring catastrophic injuries, the Saints have all the ingredients to put together as memorable a season, and then some, as they had in 2007-08, when they were 13-5 in the MAAC and 23-11 overall.

Siena lost two players, sharp-shooter Tay Fisher to graduation and backup point guard Chris De La Rosa to transfer, and has experience and depth.

The Saints need to shore up their rebounding, a constant sore spot last year, but perhaps the greatest quality of the team is its unselfishness on offense. With two pro prospects (Hasbrouck and Ubiles) in the lineup and three players who could each “go 24 [points per game],” according to McCaffery, Siena didn’t have a scorer averaging more than 17 ppg last year. McCaffery believes he could have seven different players each be the top scorer in at least one game this year.

“The beauty of it is, when you look at Franklin, Ubiles and Hasbrouck, rarely do you have three players with their ability share the ball the way they do,” McCaffery said. “It all comes back to Ronald Moore.”

Moore has averaged over 31 minutes in each of his two seasons. With De La Rosa gone, McCaffery will turn to Hasbrouck, Ubiles and freshman Kyle Downey to play some point guard and keep Moore fresh throughout the season. Getting those players involved at that position will also serve as an insurance policy if Moore gets hurt.

The Saints can run on anyone, and have so many good shooters that it’s difficult to target one or two defensively.

By all accounts, sophomore Clarence Jackson has moved seamlessly into Fisher’s role as the scorer off the bench, and sophomore center Ryan Rossiter has built up his size and strength enough to become a starter.

Scotia native Josh Duell, a fifth-year senior from Christian Brothers Academy who has NCAA tournament experience with both Siena and Vermont, has been slowed in the preseason by an Achilles’ tendon injury, but he’ll come off the bench to provide a matchup problem as a big man who can pass and hit three-pointers.

“No matter what team I put on the floor, our one, two, three and four can all handle the ball, and oftentimes, it’s the five,” McCaffery said. “Once the first pass is thrown, it’s five guys involved in the offense, all making reads and cuts and screens.”

The only time the Saints get into trouble on offense is on the rare occasion when everyone is having a cold shooting night, or when they get into what McCaffery calls “quick-shooting,” as Siena did for a few minutes against Union that allowed the Dutchmen to make a run in the first half of their exhibition game.

The problem arises when Siena has a hot shooting stretch and then gets away from working the ball for the best shot. It’s a fine balance between having the green light to shoot when you’re open and giving it up to find someone who’s more open.

“It’s understanding game management, and that’s where Ronald comes in,” McCaffery said. “He gets that. The hard thing is we play with a sort of free-flowing style, so what was maybe a really good shot, in the next 45 seconds is not that great a shot, and getting everybody to understand that is not always easy.”

In games against teams like Memphis and Villanova, the Saints learned what it takes to keep an opponent down.

They expect to be in that position a lot this season.

The problem is, they won’t be able to sneak up on anyone anymore.

“Siena’s kids are great players and tough kids and they’ve been there before, so I’m sure they’ll respond, but if they take a night off, they’re always going to get their opponent’s best shot,” Rider coach Tommy Dempsey said. “That’ll be Fran’s challenge.”

“There is pressure to repeat what we did last year,” Ubiles said.

“It’s something we wanted, and we feel like we can handle,” Moore said. “It comes with great responsibility and a lot of hard work. We’re going to put forth the effort to make a huge name for ourselves this year.”

“Every team should believe that,” Duell said. “You have to go in with the confidence every game, or you’re going to get beat up and down the court. At the same time, you can’t be overconfident, you’ve got to go out there knowing that everybody can beat you on any given night.”

Categories: College Sports

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