There was a Siena sighting, however brief, on Friday.
The Saints’ basketball team was on the road for nine days, took Thursday off after arriving back on campus at 3 a.m., then was available to the media for a half-hour on Friday afternoon before they kicked everyone out of what is usually open practice.
There will be plenty of time for spotlights and attention today.
To any Capital Region sports fans who have been in a cave for early hibernation: Siena (3-3) will play crosstown rival UAlbany
(5-2) at 7 tonight at the Times Union Center.
The Saints have an extremely difficult schedule of non-conference games this season, but this one is an animal of a completely different species.
Since the series was revived in 2001, the annual Siena-UAlbany game has grown and grown, witnessed by 13,262 last year. On paper, Siena, a unanimous pick to win the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference after reaching the second round of the NCAA tournament last year, is a clear favorite, but everything changes in this game.
The pressure is so intense that any assumptions about how the game will go get thrown out the window. The players like it that way.
“When I got here, they said that’s the biggest game of the year for the town, to show who’s the boss of the town,” Siena senior co-captain Kenny Hasbrouck said. “It’s always a close game. Even when we were up by 22 the one time, they still came back. We know it’s going to be a hard game and a close score at the end.”
“We’ve got a confident group,” UAlbany head coach Will Brown said. “I’m anxious to see how they respond. They’ll probably be exhausted in warmups.”
The most obvious matchup advantages for each team are Siena’s press and UAlbany’s rebounding.
The Great Danes are quicker at guard than they were last year and will likely put freshman Anthony Raffa and junior Mike Johnson, both point guards, on the floor at the same time for stretches of the game.
Siena was 298th in the country in rebounding differential last year, but the Saints have tightened up that area a little bit, mostly because sophomore center Ryan Rossiter has emerged as a strong presence on the glass.
So perhaps the respective advantages aren’t as glaring as you might expect.
Either way, the Saints are going to press out of their 1-2-2 zone, with
6-foot-6 junior forward Edwin Ubiles out front to harass the passing lanes in UAlbany’s backcourt.
“I’m long and athletic, so I can get my hands on a lot of balls,” Ubiles said. “I get a lot of deflections that way, and that can lead to more fast breaks. It’s tiring, but it works for us and it was a great change for our team.”
“I really think their quickness and athleticism are the key,” Brown said. “We know they are going to press us. As long as we can weather that storm, we’ll be fine. We have to execute and not panic. We’ve got more quick guys this year who can handle that pressure.”
That’s one kind of pressure. The other will come from what is expected to be a bigger, louder crowd than last year’s.
Veteran players from both teams have been telling newcomers about the atmosphere this game brings.
“There’s a lot of people hyped up about the game,” said Siena senior co-captain Josh Duell, a Scotia
native who is the only Section II player on either roster. “We know how important it is.
“It’s unbelievable. The community really shows a lot of support for both programs, and when you’re out there playing, it’s hard to even hear yourself think sometimes.”
“This atmosphere is something that the players really enjoy,” Siena head coach Fran McCaffery said. “It’s a credit to what both programs have been able to accomplish. Ultimately, when a player works this hard, you want what he does to matter. By virtue of a crowd like this, obviously what they do,
people are paying attention to it and it
really matters. It’s really about the players and the fans.”
Despite coming off a rugged road trip and being away for so long, Siena’s coaches have had plenty of time to game-plan for the Great Danes.
The assistants split up the scouting work on the road trip, and Mitch Buonaguro hasn’t been assigned to watch tape on an opponent since Siena played Tennessee on Thanksgiving Day, so he’s been looking at UAlbany since then.
“I like their team,” McCaffery said. “If there’s a better team in the America East, I haven’t seen it. They don’t appear to be the kind of players who will rattle in an atmosphere like this. Raffa, in particular, I’ve been very impressed with.
“You can talk about this game being not different from any others. But it is. When you walk out on the floor and there’s 14,000 people, it’s different. That will impact the game tremendously. There’s a lot more pressure on the players to make plays, but that’s what makes it fun for these kids.”
Categories: College Sports