LOUDONVILLE — Ten games into the 2022-23 season, Siena men’s basketball appears to be dealing with a bit of a split-personality problem.
“You can see it in the film,” fifth-year senior guard Jayce Johnson said Thursday. “I feel like we’re two different teams.”
On one hand, there’s the Saints who headed to Lake Buena Vista, Florida, over Thanksgiving weekend for the ESPN Events Invitational, a trip that saw head coach Carmen Maciariello’s team score a pair of impressive wins over a pair of power conference opponents in Florida State and Seton Hall while also hanging tough in a loss to Ole Miss.
On the other hand, there’s the Saints who haven’t quite looked the same since returning north, managing a close home win in their MAAC opener against Canisius before back-to-back discouraging efforts last week in road losses to Georgetown and Delaware that have Siena sitting at 5-5 overall heading into Monday’s Br. Ed Coughlin Franciscan Cup matchup against St. Bonaventure at MVP Arena.
“We showed who we really were down there [in Florida],” Johnson said. “I don’t think we played out-of-body or had anything really miraculous happen for us. We just played really well. I think these last two games, we kind of dragged our feet and didn’t really show who were are.”
Given Siena’s tricky non-conference schedule, sitting at 5-5 through 10 games wouldn’t have been a surprising projection at the start of the season.
But the manner in which they’ve accrued that record has been puzzling, with stellar efforts in Florida paired with letdowns like a 96-94 overtime home loss to Army on Nov. 16 and last week’s sloppy performances against Georgetown and Delaware.
“You deal with the hand you’re dealt,” Maciariello said. “I’d obviously love to be 10-0, to have won the ESPN Events Invitational, won the Albany Cup and be ranked in the top 25. When it’s all said and done, you’ve got to get better every day, and we know it [the MAAC] is a one-bid league.”
Maciariello attributed many of Siena’s recent struggles to the team’s recent struggles.
The program certainly covered a lot of miles in recent weeks, with the trip to and from Florida, then bus trips to both Washington D.C. and Newark, Delaware, four days apart.
Since the Nov. 16 game against Army, Siena has played six out of seven games away from home, with the MAAC opener against Canisius being the team’s only game in Albany during that stretch.
“I just told the guys, I’m thankful we had a home game to open the MAAC,” Maciariello said, “because if we had to go on the road there, I don’t know how that would’ve went.”
Tired legs can contribute to ugly play and mental mistakes, which have been the Saints’ biggest sticking points this season.
When the Saints are on their game, they’re humming, as evidenced by an offense that ranks fifth in the MAAC in scoring, third in field goal percentage and first in 3-point shooting percentage.
They’ve been undone by a troubling trend of carelessness with the ball. Siena has committed 15.6 turnovers per game, most in the MAAC, and they’re minus-2.4 turnover margin per game is also worst in the league.
That’s had the domino effect of allowing opponents too many easy baskets in transition, a large factor in Siena sitting second-to-last in the conference in field goal percentage defense.
What makes that all the more troubling, Maciariello said, is that the Saints are doing it to themselves. Nearly all the team’s biggest mistakes, he said, are “self-inflicted.”
“It has to do with guys not making fatigued mental errors,” he said, “and understanding that when they are fatigued, they’ve got to do a little extra, they’ve got to remain a little more focused.
“I do think we’re getting better and we know how to compete. Now, we have to be able to value that basketball a little more.”
Ball security, sophomore guard Javian McCollum said, has been a constant talking point as the Saints have gotten through final exams and are in the midst of an eight-day break between games before Monday’s matchup with St. Bonaventure.
“Just take care of the ball and stop trying to put the ball in tight spots where it’s not going to get there,” McCollum said. “Just value every possession.”
Two players were absent from the start of practice on Thursday. Graduate student center Eduardo Lane was out with an illness, Maciariello said, while sophomore guard Jared Billups was missing while dealing with back pain that also forced him to spend time on a stationary bike during the Delaware game. Maciariello said he was hopeful both would be available for Monday.
Meanwhile, freshman guard Michael Eley was practicing Thursday after missing Sunday’s game due to illness.
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