LOUDONVILLE — There are games to get ready for this weekend, and that’s not something to take for granted during this college basketball season.
The Siena men’s basketball team hasn’t played yet this month because of its latest pandemic-related pause. That’s scheduled to change this weekend when the Saints visit Niagara for back-to-back noon games on Saturday and Sunday.
“We’re just excited for the challenge,” Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello said Thursday during a teleconference with reporters. “That’s what this is about.”
Maciariello made clear that “obviously, there’s many things that are bigger than basketball” that have happened in the last year, but these Saints just want to play, to get back to work on a season they still see as able to end in memorable fashion with the program’s first trip to the NCAA tournament since 2010.
“Everybody loves going out there and playing, so we’re going to be eager to get back out there,” Siena junior Jalen Pickett said of the 8-2 Saints.
Pickett was one of the first Saints this season to test positive for COVID-19, and Maciariello was one of the most-recent Siena program members to have that happen. Maciariello said he feels “good” this week, but said that two players — who he didn’t identify — could miss this weekend’s game as they work through return-to-play COVID-19 protocols. Moving forward, though, Maciariello said his team is unlikely to need to cancel or postpone any of its games because of test results within its own program, as a majority of the Saints are “previous positives” who could potentially play, even if the program experiences another positive test among its Tier 1 personnel members.
Like many coaches this season, Maciariello said he’s concerned with the mental health of his players given all the uncertainty and stop-and-start nature of this season played amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“But I also think these guys cherish the fact that they can win games through all this, and I think this made us a better team,” Maciariello said.
LOOK TO THE STANDINGS
With the MAAC’s decision to seed for its tournament by total conference wins rather than conference winning percentage, Siena — the league’s top team in winning percentage — is currently in second place in the league standings at 8-2.
Monmouth at 10-4 is in first place, while Marist (7-7) and Saint Peter’s (7-5) are tied for third place.
Niagara (6-8) is in fifth place, while there are three-way ties for both sixth and ninth place in the league’s standings.
Every MAAC team has at least four conference wins.
FROM THE LINE
During Siena’s break from action, Maciariello had able-to-work-out players shoot a “couple thousand” free throws as part of an effort to improve the Saints’ accuracy from the foul line.
“Obviously, we want to make sure we’re getting to the free-throw line and making more than our opponent attempts, but, at the end of the day, I think it also comes down to a mindset, and just being able to step to the line and have confidence knocking those down — and I think we’ll do a great job of that,” Maciariello said.
Siena ranks last in the MAAC in shooting percentage on foul shots at 65.2%. That rank, though, is slightly misleading since the team’s highest-volume shooters from the foul line — senior Manny Camper and sophomore Kyle Young — are also the team’s worst from the free-throw line this season. Camper has made 58.3% of his team-high 60 foul shots, while Young has made 57.9% of his 38 free throws.
Meanwhile, the team’s starting backcourt — the Saints most likely to have the ball in their hands at the end of a close game — has been solid from the foul line. Pickett has made 76.2% of his foul shots, and sophomore Jordan King has made a team-best 80%.