LOUDONVILLE — Siena men’s basketball head coach Carmen Maciariello wants his team to play with a “big chip on our shoulder” when it starts MAAC play at 7 p.m. tonight against Manhattan in downtown Albany.
The Saints’ third-year head coach wants his team to carry itself with confidence, too.
“But, also, they’ve got to realize, this is MAAC play now — and we’re the defending MAAC regular-season champs,” said Maciariello, whose program shared last season’s regular-season crown with Monmouth.
With a largely revamped roster and departures of the last two MAAC Player of the Year winners in Manny Camper and Jalen Pickett, Siena was picked to finish eighth in the MAAC preseason poll. Then, the Saints didn’t do much in their opening games in terms of providing reasons for optimism, as they started 0-3 with losses by an average of 25.3 points per game.
Siena’s gotten healthier and started to look the part of a team capable of competing in the MAAC. Following a double-digit loss that saw the Saints play well for stretches against Georgetown of the Big East, Siena’s won two of three games, with the loss in that group of games coming in overtime and the second of the wins coming in impressive fashion courtesy of a 55-point second half at Army.
“I think we’re kind of turning the corner now,” said junior Colby Rogers, Siena’s leading scorer at 14.1 points per game. “I think everybody’s getting used to each other. I think we’re building a lot of chemistry now.”
And that’s the type of team Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello said his club prepared to play.
“They’re the defending champs,” Masiello said in advance of his team’s MAAC opener at Times Union Center. “First of all, that’s who they are.”
While Siena is 2-5 through its opening batch of non-conference games, Manhattan is 5-1. The records suggest a mismatch when the teams hit the court, but Masiello said such thinking is wrong. He likes his team and the progress they’ve shown through their first six games, “but, in the same breath, if we were 2-4, I’d say the same thing [because] our record doesn’t really matter” at this point in the season.
What matters is getting better — and that’s why Masiello is preparing (mostly) to play the Siena team of its last several games rather than its first three.
“They’re finally healthy and have the roster that Carm expected to have,” Masiello said. “I think you saw that at Army.”
That trip to Army was the Saints’ first this season with all of its key rotation players available for the same game, and the Saints looked like a team capable of utilizing different styles and options for the first time.
They played a traditional style with center Jackson Stormo on the floor, then mixed in potent small-ball lineups with 6-foot-6 wing player Jordan Kellier manning the 5. Aidan Carpenter, back after missing three games, gave the Saints a downhill, attack-the-rim guard to complement the play of perimeter shooters such as Nick Hopkins and Rogers. Meanwhile, graduate transfers Anthony Gaines and Andrew Platek — incoming players from major conferences — looked more comfortable in their roles as key cogs for the Saints.
“It creates some momentum for us moving forward,” said Siena freshman Jared Billups, whose energy — and activity on the offensive glass — has helped him find a steady role off the bench. “I think that win was the first real [game where] I felt like we all really trusted each other.”
Maciariello saw a team “playing with confidence” in that game, one capable of earning consecutive defensive stops and cashing in on the other end of the court. Above everything else, the Saints’ third-year head coach — who signed a contract extension through the 2025-26 season after
Siena won at least a share of the MAAC regular-season title in each of his first two seasons leading the program — saw a team “buying in and understanding what we’re trying to teach and coach,” and that showed in the team’s offensive execution.
“I really thought it was the shot selection; I thought, for the most part, our shot quality was really good — and I thought we were able to get to the foul line,” said Maciariello, whose offense at Army averaged more than one point per possession for the first time this season. “I thought we were able to drive the ball and get the ball in the paint.”
Doing that is always a bit more difficult against Manhattan, a program that prides itself on defense. The Jaspers, though, are better offensively this season than they were a season ago when they ranked just outside of the bottom 10 in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to kenpom.com. Six different players are averaging more than eight points per game for Masiello, and the team is shooting a solid 47.9% from the field.
“We have a nice balance of guys that can hurt you,” said Masiello, whose leading scorer is Warren Williams at 11.3 points per game, while Jose Perez — a transfer from Marquette — is averaging 9.8 points and 7.3 assists. “That’s an ideal situation for us — but we want to continue to grow our defense.”
In scouting Siena, Masiello said it was clear the Saints started to look like a different team with its game against Georgetown, which was the first Platek — a former Guilderland High School star who spent the last four seasons playing for North Carolina — played for the team. Masiello, though, said his coaching staff spent as much time reviewing Siena’s opening three games as it did the next four.
“Because you want to see if those teams did something that maybe Bucknell didn’t do or Army didn’t against them,” Masiello said. “But what stands out is that Siena got better. That’s a credit to Carm and their kids.”
Against Army, Siena took a pivotal step when it took a second-half lead, and then, expanded it. Too often this season, Rogers said, the Saints’ habit was to “kind of relax” once they built up any type of advantage. Rogers said Siena knows it needs to keep its focus for a full 40 minutes against Manhattan, and be ready to find an extra gear in the final minutes.
“Every game’s going to boil down to a couple possessions that really matter,” Rogers said of MAAC play.