LOUDONVILLE — For a night, the Siena men’s basketball program enters into MAAC play.
“I love the timing,” center Jackson Stormo said earlier this week.
There’s good reason for that, as the Saints won two of their last three games — each against high-major foes — at the ESPN Events Invitational that concluded Sunday in Florida. After Friday’s 7 p.m. game against Canisius at MVP Arena in Albany, four more non-conference games await the Saints before they fully turn their attention to league action, so the home game against the Golden Griffins — who have lost their last three games against Division I teams — seemingly hits at the right moment for Siena to start off 1-0 in MAAC play.
Could the Saints potentially look past Canisius after their wins against Florida State of the ACC and Seton Hall of the Big East?
“I don’t think so. I mean, it’s conference play, you know?” Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello said. “If you slip up in conference play, it could be the difference [between earning] a buy and a day of rest [in the MAAC tournament] versus having to play three straight games. So, no, I’m not worried about that — and I’m sure these guys will be focused.”
That’s how Stormo sees it for the Saints. Siena (4-3) earned a lot of respect with its showing in Florida, and the Saints want to build on that against Canisius (2-4) rather than take a step backwards in their league opener.
“We went down there and proved what we can do as a team — when we play how we can — and it’s really just about making sure that we treat every game the same going forward,” Stormo said.
LED BY GUARDS
Siena and Canisius are each led this season by a talented young guard, with Siena sophomore Javian McCollum already in possession of two MAAC Player of the Week awards this season and Canisius redshirt freshman Tahj Staveskie the winner of two MAAC Rookie of the Week awards.
Staveskie, a 6-foot-0 guard, is averaging 13.8 points, 3.5 assists and three rebounds per game. McCollum is averaging 17 points and 5.3 assists per game in his first season serving as the Saints’ primary point guard.
“I just think he’s a sponge,” Maciariello said of his team’s lead guard. “He’s always willing to learn. He loves watching film. He’s a coach on the floor — and that’s what a point guard has to be.”
McCollum and Staveskie both lead their respective teams in scoring. For Canisius, two other players — Jordan Henderson and Jamir Moultrie — averaged double-digit scoring, while Andrew Platek and Stormo join McCollum as Siena’s double-digit scorers.
STRENGTH VS. STRENGTH
Through Wednesday’s action across the country, Canisius was tied for eighth in the country in made 3-pointers per game with 11.2.
“Obviously, you want to take away the 3, you want to pressure the ball,” Maciariello said, “and that’ll be one of the keys to the game.”
Siena has shown the ability to do that. Opponents are only shooting 29.7% from 3-point territory against Siena — and, perhaps more importantly, opponents aren’t taking many 3s against a Siena defense that prioritizes limiting long-range attempts.
This season, opponents are taking 26% of their field-goal attempts from 3-point territory against the Saints. According to the kenpom.com database, that ranks Siena’s defense fifth in the country in terms of percentage of shot attempts allowed from downtown.
Siena is coming off some of its best defensive games of the season. The 55 points Siena allowed against Seton Hall registered as a season-low total, and that game and the win against Florida State saw the Saints produce their top efforts in terms of defensive efficiency.
“Watching back on film, we were playing defense harder than I’ve seen so far,” Stormo said. “We were playing together, playing hard and just really got the job done.”
LOOKING TO BOUNCE BACK
After a strong start to the campaign, Platek scored four points in Siena’s loss to Mississippi before going scoreless in the team’s win against Seton Hall.
Prior to that, the graduate student had scored at least 13 points in each game and had averaged 15.6 points per game in Siena’s first five contests.
Platek didn’t make a 3-pointer in Siena’s last two games after making 18 in the team’s first five. Despite the 0 of 3 shooting from 3 in his last two games, Platek is shooting 51.4% from downtown, which is tied for No. 20 in the country.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
The first MAAC men’s basketball games this season were played Thursday between Fairfield and Manhattan, and league newcomer Mount St. Mary’s and reigning champion Saint Peter’s.
Before any MAAC games were played, the league’s teams combined for a 34-35 mark and ranked as the 20th-best conference, according to kenpom.com’s rating system.
Of the MAAC’s 34 non-conference wins, seven came against non-Division I opponents.
Contact Michael Kelly at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @ByMichaelKelly.