LOUDONVILLE — Siena won 20 games last season, and likely would have won more than that if its season wasn’t shut down when the men’s basketball season — and so much more — was halted last March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Saints were on a 10-game winning streak at that point, and needed to push that streak to a dozen to claim a MAAC tournament title and their program’s first bid to the NCAA tournament since 2010. They looked well on their way to doing that, as head coach Carmen Maciariello’s top-seeded squad lived up to any and all expectations in his first season leading them.
Heading into a season blanketed in uncertainty because of the pandemic, this much is certain: The 2020-21 Saints should be even better than they were a season ago.
Maciariello won’t necessarily say that, but the Siena alumnus remarked at Tuesday’s media day on the Saints’ campus how so much of what his team will be capable of in the season ahead relies on its approach.
“We’ll go as far as our discipline and focus on details will take us,” said Maciariello, whose team’s opening preseason practice is set for Monday and its first game appears likely to take place on Nov. 25 — the sport’s opening night — at Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut against a yet-to-be-confirmed opponent.
Maciariello’s comment, of course, is the type of thing a coach says when he or she knows the talent is there — and this Siena team appears to have more of that for this season than it did for the last. Yes, gone are double-digit scorers in Elijah Burns and Don Carey, but likely the MAAC’s top-two players — senior Manny Camper and junior Jalen Pickett — both wear Green and Gold, and their supporting cast features more firepower and options that the 2019-20 Saints possessed.
Last season’s Saints saw four players score 74% of the team’s points. This time around, Camper and Pickett — both All-MAAC first-team selections last season, while Pickett was the league’s player of the year — will both star, but likely won’t need to fill up box scores every night for Siena. Camper alluded to as much Tuesday, as the versatile 6-foot-7 wing said it’s likely he won’t “have to rebound as much” this season because the Saints have more overall depth at seemingly every spot.
“I’m just going to do whatever I can to win, regardless of if my numbers fluctuate or not,” said Camper, who averaged 13.7 points and 10.4 rebounds per game last season.
Key returners from last season include sophomore Gary Harris whose full-time insertion into the starting lineup last season coincided with the Saints’ dominant run to finish their campaign, as well as fellow sophomores Jordan King and Kyle Young who each project to take on a larger role in 2020-21.
Transfers Dana Tate and Harrison Curry — the former of which needs to finish the fall semester before he’s able to play because of NCAA rules, the latter of which is still waiting on NCAA clearance — add skill and versatility to the frontcourt. Fellow transfer Nick Hopkins adds shooting and brings with him a winning approach from Belmont, where the guard was a part of teams that won 77 of 94 games in the last three seasons.
Then, there are the freshmen. The Saints have three scholarship college rookies in Aidan Carpenter, Colin Golson and Bennett Kwiecinski, and each of them brings something unique. The 6-foot-5 Carpenter is a rim-attacking guard that Pickett labeled Tuesday as “phenomenal,” Golson is a 6-foot-7, 222-pound forward who could challenge Harris as the Saints’ most-athletic player, and the 6-foot-8 Kwiecinski adds another scorer with length and versatility.
“Do you play small? Do you play big?” Maciariello said. “I’ll let that stuff work itself out.”
“There’s a lot of people competing for minutes,” said Pickett, who joined Camper last season as Saints to average more than 36 minutes per game.
Maciariello said his expectation is the Saints will play four games at Mohegan Sun Arena in a span of six days to start their non-conference season. There is time before that for the Saints to build themselves into a cohesive on-court group, but those four games in a short window will provide a crucial chance for Siena’s high-expectations group to show where it stands with MAAC play starting up in less than two months.
“I love our talent; talent doesn’t win you games, though,” Maciariello said. “Talent could get guys feeling good about themselves and, at the end of the day, you come up short. So, for me, it’s about guys just understanding all those small details that add up to a victory.”