Monmouth, Siena College men’s basketball head coach Jimmy Patsos said at Friday’s media day event for the Saints, is “clearly going to be the favorite” in the MAAC.
His team, though, won’t shock anyone if it unseats last season’s regular-season champions. Coming off a 21-12 season and a third-place finish in conference play, Siena brings to the floor this season one of its more versatile offerings in many years.
“I know we have a lot of pieces,” Patsos said.
Those pieces can fit together in a variety of ways. Already, freshman guard Khalil Richard and senior guard Marquis Wright are teaming together in a backcourt that’s more of a hybrid partnership than one with two distinct roles. With the bigs, senior forward Javion Ogunyemi and redshirt senior forward Brett Bisping are each capable of playing multiple positions, and have each spent extra time working on their outside shooting.
Then, there’s 6-foot-7
senior Lavon Long, who will fit in wherever needed this season after serving a three-game suspension.
“Lavon can probably play every position on the court, really,” Patsos said.
“Right now,” Bisping said, “we have so many options.”
While the Saints aren’t quite ready to play position-less basketball, this year’s roster is one that’s more capable of playing a variety of different styles than in Patsos’ first three years leading the Saints. That becomes more true for Siena once perimeter players Nico Clareth and Kadeem Smithen, a sophomore and redshirt sophomore each working back from knee surgeries, are able to fully inject their athleticism into the mix.
“What helps us,” freshman forward Thomas Huerter said, “is we have a lot of guys that can do a lot of different things.”
That quality helps make up for some of the overlapping skills within this year’s roster, too. In the backcourt, that’s on display with Richard and Wright. Each player is more of a scoring guard — Wright averaged 14.5 points per game last year, third-best on the Saints; Richard primarily played off the ball in high school — but together they’re meshing into a cohesive pairing.
“They make everything easier for us and they both know the ‘1’ and the ‘2,’ so they can interchange with each other and make everything move smoother,” Ogunyemi said.
Richard has become the primary ball-handler during the Saints’ preseason, and admits that was “unexpected” after committing to Siena, believing Wright would be the point guard. Both he and Wright, though, like the way their pairing has worked out.
“That combination where we can both do both [positions],” Wright said, “I think that’s scary for other people.”
At the very least, it has been tough on the backcourt pair’s teammates during practice scrimmages.
“Together, they’re so tough to stop,” Huerter said. “They’re like water bugs, and you really can’t stay in front of either one of them.”
Siena has a little less than a month until its first game of the 2016-17 season, a
Nov. 13 home date with Cornell. Seven non-conference games are scheduled before Siena’s first MAAC matchup on Dec. 3 against Fairfield, a game in which the Saints’ push toward its first conference title since 2010 will start.
“We’ve got a chance,” Patsos said. “I know that for sure.”
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