LOUDONVILLE — Top team, top player.
That’s how MAAC coaches see the Siena men’s basketball team and its lead star Jalen Pickett.
The Saints were named Thursday as the league’s unanimous favorite in the MAAC’s preseason poll, while Pickett — last season’s MAAC Player of the Year — was recognized unanimously as the league’s preseason player of the year.
“It means we’re getting a lot of credit and everyone’s going to give us their best shot,” Pickett said Thursday in a phone interview. “So we’ve just got to work even harder. We’re going to come out and compete hard every day, and we love getting everyone’s best shot.”
Right behind Siena in the league’s poll was Iona, a program now coached by Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame member Rick Pitino. Monmouth and Saint Peter’s tied for third place, while Niagara took the preseason poll’s final top-five spot.
Siena finished 20-10 last season, and was on a 10-game winning streak when its season was prematurely ended when the in-progress MAAC tournament was canceled because of concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic. At that point, the top-seeded Saints were two wins away from clinching their first bid to the NCAA tournament since 2010.
As a sophomore, Pickett averaged 15.1 points, 4.6 rebounds and six assists per game during a campaign that saw him repeat as a first-team All-MAAC selection. Manny Camper joined Pickett on last season’s top all-conference team, and Camper joined Pickett as a unanimous preseason first-team selection this season after he averaged 13.7 points and 10.4 rebounds in the 2019-20 season.
Joining Camper and Pickett on the league’s preseason first team were Niagara’s Marcus Hammond, Monmouth’s Deion Hammond and KC Ndefo of Saint Peter’s.
Siena was picked to finish last in the MAAC during Pickett’s freshman season and sixth last season. The Saints greatly outperformed expectations in both of those seasons. That was fun, Pickett said, but the Saints will gladly take meeting expectations during head coach Carmen Maciariello’s second season.
“You can’t go any higher,” Pickett said of the Saints’ unanimous No. 1 selection. “So we’re just going to try to be first again.
He added: “We have a special group.”
Siena’s 2020-21 season is scheduled to start with games at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. The Saints expect to make their debut Nov. 26 against UMass.
MAAC PRESEASON COACHES POLL
(First place votes-total voting points)
1) Siena (11-121)
2) Iona (0-103)
3) Monmouth (0-89)
4) Saint Peter’s (0-89)
5) Manhattan (0-77)
6) Niagara (0-63)
7) Quinnipiac (0-54)
8) Fairfield (0-39)
9) Marist (0-36)
10) Canisius (0-31)
11) Rider (0-24)