LOUDONVILLE — A lot has changed since the Siena men’s basketball program last played a game.
That’s no secret.
Neither is what hasn’t changed.
“We’ve got to make sure we realize that we still have that target on our back,” Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello said.
The Saints haven’t played since defeating Manhattan on March 11 in the MAAC tournament quarterfinals, and Sunday’s 3 p.m. tipoff against Monmouth at a fan-free Alumni Recreation Center — Siena’s home court, for now, during this season played amid the novel coronavirus pandemic — will see Siena debut on the 40th day of the Division I season.
Waiting for them?
A talented Monmouth squad (3-1 MAAC, 3-2 overall) that plays fast, features one of the league’s top players in senior Deion Hammond and has the extra motivation of trying to knock off the league’s preseason favorite that swept the Hawks a season ago. As much as Siena wants to play anyone after losing the November and December portions of its schedule because of pandemic-related pauses, the Saints are the team Monmouth — and, really, everyone in the MAAC — has been waiting to match up with on the court.
Siena knows it, too.
“We’ve got to come out with a sense of urgency,” Siena senior Manny Camper said.
That shouldn’t be difficult.
Every returning Siena player remembers the pain of the cancellation of the end of last season, which came with the Saints on a 10-game winning streak and looking ready to earn the program’s first bid to the NCAA tournament since 2010.
Each newcomer joined the Saints knowing that a memorable postseason run was possible this year.
Largely, that’s because Camper and junior Jalen Pickett are still on Siena’s roster, which has seen significant changes since last season. Only four scholarship players from last season are still members of Maciariello’s program, which also lost multiple players — including a starter from last season in Gary Harris — in December. But Camper and Pickett are back, and that means Siena’s starting lineup includes arguably the best two players in the MAAC.
“When you have those two vets like they have [in Camper and Pickett], you know they’re going to be good,” Monmouth head coach King Rice said of Siena’s two returning All-MAAC first-team selections.
Beyond Camper and Pickett, Maciariello has declined to reveal the players that will make up his team’s starting lineup. It appears likely that two of freshman Aidan Carpenter, graduate student Nick Hopkins and sophomore Jordan King will start on the wings, while one of graduate student Harrison Curry, junior Jackson Stormo and sophomore Kyle Young will start at the 5.
Freshmen Colin Golson and Bennett Kwiecinski should get opportunities to play right away, especially the 6-foot-7 Golson, who has earned consistent praise from Maciariello since the start of the team’s preseason. Maciariello said that junior walk-on Rob Mahala, a co-captain along with Camper, will also likely garner minutes.
Playing back to back
Siena and Monmouth meet again Monday. While his team’s conditioning has been hindered because of Siena’s series of pauses since mid-November, Maciariello said he won’t set specific limits on minutes for his players despite the back-to-back games.
“I’m not going to take guys out that are in a groove,” Maciariello said.
The tempo Monmouth plays at is a concern for a Siena team that didn’t have many opportunities for full practices in December. Through Friday’s action, Monmouth ranked No. 7 in the country in adjusted tempo, per kenpom.com, and No. 5 in length of possession.
“They’re going to play free,” Maciariello said. “They’re going to play loose. They have a swagger to them.”
“But we’re going to take our opportunities when we can because we still want to play fast and attack them, as well,” Pickett said.
Every team in the MAAC played at least four games this season before Siena played one.
There is ground to make up, and Maciariello said the Saints want to show from their first game that the way they finished last season “wasn’t a fluke” and that they’re deserving of their preseason hype.
“Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us,” Maciariello said. “We’re not going to feel sorry for us.”
He added: “It’s going to be a challenge, and we’re up for challenges.”