LOUDONVILLE — Jared Billups said Wednesday the preseason poll, which came out nearly three months ago and picked Siena to finish eighth in the MAAC this season, hasn’t been a topic of discussion amongst the Saints.
But Siena men’s basketball head coach Carmen Maciariello brought up that preseason poll after Sunday’s win, the Saints’ fifth in seven games following their dreadful 0-4 start. As part of that day’s post-game press conference, Maciariello declared that his team is “no joke” and that “it doesn’t matter what anyone on the outside thinks” of the team’s potential for success this season.
Then, before Siena’s practice a couple days before it plays Friday at Marist, Billups said a key element to this week for his club is to continue to “act like we’re the underdogs,” that the Saints “remember us being picked eighth,” and that the selection “was kind of disrespectful to us.”
But . . .
“It hasn’t been talked about at all,” Billups said.
Apparently, it doesn’t need to be, since that preseason ranking — and perhaps some of the social-media chatter during the Saints’ series of blowout losses to start the 2021-22 campaign — has stuck with Maciariello’s group.
And he’s fine with that.
“I think they can all have that in the back of their mind, but these guys all want to win. That’s why they came here,” said Maciariello, whose program won at least a share of the MAAC regular-season title in back-to-back seasons ahead of needing to restock its roster last offseason. “And, so, we have a job to do, regardless if we’re picked 100th or first, anywhere in between.”
Soon after, Maciariello added: “I like the fact that they know that. I like the fact that they feel, ‘Hey, you know, when it’s all said and done, this is Siena; so, regardless where you want to pick us in the preseason, we know where we’re going to finish at the end of it.’”
Right now, it certainly seems like anyone around the MAAC has to take the Saints seriously following the way they’ve played since their 0-4 start. Siena is 5-6 overall ahead of its game at Marist, and the Saints are two overtime losses from bringing a seven-game winning streak into their matchup with the Red Foxes.
Maciariello said the Saints still have a lot of work to do, but that he’s “happy” with their progress and confident they have the ability to keep making more of it.
“We can grow as much as we want,” Maciariello said. “We’ve got to continue to believe in each other and hold each other accountable, but I think all the pieces are here for what we need to get done.”
Maciariello said “I hope so,” when asked if Javian McCollum and Colby Rogers will be ready to return to the Saints’ rotation against Marist.
After missing Sunday’s game, the Saints’ first since needing to postpone multiple games due to health-and-safety protocols related to the novel coronavirus pandemic, Maciariello said McCollum and Rogers practiced Tuesday and they participated again during Wednesday’s portion of practice open to reporters.
Maciariello said McCollum was only cleared for non-contact work last week, but is now fully cleared to participate. McCollum wore a pink tank top over his practice jersey Wednesday, seemingly for similar purposes to how football quarterbacks wear a red jersey so teammates don’t hit them, but he participated during 5-on-5 drills.
After not practicing fully last week, Rogers said he’s back to “100%” and “good enough to play Friday.”
Rogers is the Saints’ leading scorer on the season at 13.5 points per game.
FOCUSED ON THE PRESENT
Fresh off Tuesday’s formal announcement of the return of the Albany Cup men’s basketball series with UAlbany starting with a game in the 2022-23 season, Maciariello seemed to want to keep his focus Wednesday squarely on his team’s game Friday.
In response to a question related to the Albany Cup, Maciariello said he couldn’t “care less about that game.”
After a hiatus of multiple years, the men’s Albany Cup will be played next season at MVP Arena. That contest will serve as the first in a three-game agreement between the programs, with the 2023 game at SEFCU Arena and the 2024 game back at MVP Arena.
WOMEN AT MARIST
Fresh off its first win of the season, the Siena women’s basketball team plays at 7 p.m. Thursday at Marist.
For Saints head coach Jim Jabir, in his second tour leading the program, it was his first win with Siena since 1990 — but he said Monday’s 56-51 win against Iona was about his players, not him.
“I feel really happy for the kids because they’re buying in, and they’re working really hard,” said Jabir, whose club lost its first 10 games. “And I just want them to get rewarded for their efforts. So it ain’t about me at all. I’m just pleased for them.”
Siena scored the final 14 points against Iona to record its comeback win. That would be an impressive feat on its own, but was even more of one considering the great burst of play broke a season-long losing streak.
“I noticed a change in our team maybe a week and a half, two weeks ago. I thought our practices were improving,” Jabir said. “We weren’t dealing with a lot of culture stuff; it was more basketball stuff. So it was kind of basketball-related coaching instead of, you know, ‘Cut the attitude out,’ or ‘Stop rolling your eyes,’ or ‘Stop,’ you know, whatever.
“That went away,” Jabir continued, “and we just started coaching, and I think we started improving and the kids are buying in.”
While Marist is the reigning MAAC champion, head coach Brian Giorgis’ team has uncharacteristically struggled this season. Marist is 3-8 overall and coming off a 27-point loss to Manhattan.
“But they’re still really well-coached,” Jabir said. “It’s going to be a really tough game for us.”