LOUDONVILLE — In a lot of ways, they are perhaps the most important minutes that the Siena men’s basketball team needs to handle.
There aren’t many of them, sure, but figuring out how to best approach the few minutes that junior Jalen Pickett — the MAAC’s reigning player of the year — spends on the bench is critical to the Saints’ success as their 2020-21 season debut (again) approaches.
And the Saints appear to have more options for how to handle those minutes this season, which is now scheduled to start Jan. 3 vs Monmouth for a Siena program that is currently unable to conduct in-person team activities because of a positive COVID-19 test result among its program’s Tier 1 personnel.
Last season, Pickett played in 29 of Siena’s 30 games during a 20-10 season that closed with a 10-game winning streak before the season was canceled due to concerns related to the novel coronavirus pandemic. In those 29 games, Pickett played 91.1% of the team’s minutes, and Siena outscored its opponents by 189 points in those minutes.
When Pickett didn’t play last season, Siena was outscored by 53 points in 144 minutes.
Last season, Siena handled those non-Pickett minutes with a mixture of Don Carey and Jordan King leading the offense. While Carey left the Siena program to head to Georgetown, King returns for his sophomore season. Besides King, though, Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello said he’s confident freshman Aidan Carpenter and graduate student Nick Hopkins are capable of running the Saints’ offense when Pickett needs a break.
Heading into the 2020-21 season with an additional player capable of handling point-guard responsibilities was important for Siena. Besides giving the Saints more depth, Maciariello said having an extra ball-handler on the roster was necessary because of how MAAC defenses operate — especially when Pickett, who landed on both the Lute Olson and Lou Henson award preseason watch lists besides being named the MAAC’s preseason player of the year, is on the floor.
“We play a lot of teams that want to trap, so that secondary ball-handler — our 2 guard — has to be able to make reads and make decisions off the bounce,” Maciariello said.
While Maciariello has declined to name a starting lineup, it appears likely that three of Siena’s four top ball-handling options could start. Besides Pickett who is a lock to start, Maciariello previously said either King or Hopkins will start at the 2, while Carpenter or Gary Harris — the latter of whom left the Siena program earlier this month — will start at the 3.
Last season, Pickett averaged 15.1 points and six assists in 36.9 minutes per game.
HARRIS HEADS HOME
It didn’t take long for Harris to find a new program to join.
After entering into the NCAA Transfer Portal on Dec. 18, Harris announced Saturday with a social-media post that he is headed to Loyola Marymount University in his home city of Los Angeles.
Harris averaged 5.3 points per game during his only season at Siena.
AROUND THE MAAC
While Siena is one of only three Division I men’s teams — Fordham and Merrimack are the others — with zero games played so far this season among programs that have attempted to compete, MAAC commissioner Rich Ensor pointed out recently that Siena is “not that far behind” the rest of the conference’s teams.
Through Saturday, no MAAC men’s basketball team had played more than nine games, while the average school — not including Siena’s zero in the mix — has played 5.8 games.
Canisius has only played two games, while Monmouth has played three. Quinnipiac, which has played four games, has not yet played a conference game.
As for the teams that have played the most?
Very different results.
Saint Peter’s has won six of its nine games, and is 3-1 in MAAC play . . . while Fairfield is 1-8 overall and 1-3 in league play.