It was an eventful week, on and off the court, for the Capital Region’s Division I basketball teams. The Siena men and women each split a pair of games, the UAlbany women held on late against Binghamton to remain undefeated in the America East, and the UAlbany men suffered a third-straight loss. The week also featured Siena women’s head coach Jim Jabir’s return after a school investigation into inappropriate comments, and UAlbany men’s head coach Dwayne Killings pleading not guilty to an assault charge in Kentucky that stems from the November 2021 locker room incident that led to his five-game suspension early this year and a lawsuit against himself, athletic director Mark Benson and the university.
This week, the Siena men play a highly anticipated home game Friday against Iona before turning around Sunday to visit Marist, while the Siena women host Rider on Thursday and visit Quinnipiac on Saturday. The UAlbany men visit New Hampshire on Wednesday and host Maine on Saturday, with the UAlbany women facing the reverse of that — home against New Hampshire on Wednesday, at Maine on Saturday.
Michael Kelly, Adam Shinder and Will Springstead cover college basketball for The Daily Gazette, and each week set the scene for the upcoming action.
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Takeaways from the last week
The Siena men’s basketball team, which plays Iona Friday in a showdown for first place in the MAAC, has experienced a truly tragic stretch away from the court.
Sunday, hours before the Saints lost to Fairfield, the team found out that forward Michael Baer’s dad, John Baer, had died from cancer at age 61. John Baer had visited with the team earlier this month, and had been a fixture around the Saints all last season.
Then, Monday, honorary team member Evan Franz — an 18-year-old from Brunswick — died after a lengthy battle of his own with cancer.
“Our hearts are broken to lose a member of our family,” Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello said Tuesday in a statement released through the school’s athletic department. “Evan exemplified all we strive to be. Even as his battle with cancer forged on, he still lived with enthusiasm, appreciation, and toughness each and every day. Not a day goes by where we don’t think about the joy he brought us all, and he will be dearly missed. We love you, Evan.”
THE UALBANY MEN ARE SPIRAILING
This has not been an easy season for the UAlbany men’s program. No true home court, a tough schedule, an absurd preponderance of key injuries, plus whatever impact head coach Dwayne Killings’ off-court legal drama has brought along with it. The Great Danes are 6-15 overall, 1-5 in the America East and tied with Maine for last place in the league. Those two teams meet Saturday in what will be a crucial game to stay out of the league’s basement, as only eight of the nine teams in the America East qualify for the conference tournament.
SIENA WOMEN SHOW GRIT
The Siena women went 1-1 last week, but were impressively tough in both games. Against Fairfield, the Saints suited up just six players due to a rash of injuries, but somehow hung on by a thread and survived to pull out an overtime win against the defending MAAC champs. Against Iona, Siena fell into an early 15-4 hole before bouncing back to take the lead by the end of the first quarter. The first-place Gaels eventually came away with the win, but both games were more proof that this incredibly young Saints team makes every single game difficult on its opponents.
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Questions for what’s ahead
SHOULD TERRY PRIMM BE IN THE CONVERSATION AS MAAC WOMEN’S COACH OF THE YEAR?
Shinder: Full disclosure here, I came up with this question and put it in our working document about 30 seconds after Primm coached a six-player Saints team to an overtime win at Fairfield, which was also before it was announced that Jim Jabir would be returning to his coaching duties.
So, based purely on a sample size, the answer will end up being no. A seven-game stretch won’t be looked on the same way as a full season. But, he was certainly on track for consideration. The Saints played hard for Primm, shrugging away off-court distractions and injuries to post a 6-1 record with him in charge
Primm won’t be in the awards conversation, but don’t be surprised if he’s in the conversation to get a head-coaching job of his own next year.
Springstead: Not only do I think he should, I think he should receive multiple votes. Take over a very young team still trying to find its identity, with no one knowing if the head coach will return and perform outstandingly? What’s not to vote for? Now, I can see a number of reasons why he won’t get it: he’s no longer the acting head coach, he didn’t coach a full season, the belief by other schools that he merely performed his role during a difficult period of its own doing, etc. So if he gets no votes, I will think the other schools cowardly, but I won’t be surprised, either.
Kelly: He won’t be — but Terry Primm should get Jim Jabir’s vote.
ARE THESE NEXT TWO SATURDAYS THE MOST IMPORTANT FOR THE UALBANY WOMEN?
Springstead: Undoubtedly, yes. First, the Great Danes are at Maine this Saturday for a 1 p.m. contest, and then on Feb. 4 they’re at Vermont for a noon tip-off. If Maine only had last year’s loss to UAlbany in the America East championship as motivation, it would be enough, but it’s the last league opponent the first time around for UAlbany, so it’s had plenty of time to scout. Coach Colleen Mullen’s adage about being 15 points better on the road may have to get upped. And then the next week, take on the only team that beat Maine so far and that’s currently riding a five-game win streak.
Shinder: I’m going to go the other way on this. As big as the two road games are, I’ll take Saturady, Feb. 18, when Maine visits Hudson Valley Community College for UAlbany’s senior night game. It’s the Great Danes’ penultimate regular-season game, and a win there could cement a regular-season title and home court advantage for the conference tournament.
And, if we’re looking at other days of the week, the most important dates for UAlbany are Wednesday, March 1, Sunday, March 5 and Friday, March 10. Those are the dates for the America East playoffs, and in a one-bid league, that’s where your success for a season is ultimately defined.
Kelly: I’m with Springstead. If the Great Danes win those two Saturday games, all those America East playoff games that Shinder referenced will be played at the “home court” for UAlbany at HVCC. And, if UAlbany is playing those games at home, head coach Colleen Mullen’s club is dancing into March Madness for a second year in a row.
THE SIENA MEN AND IONA PLAY FRIDAY AT MVP ARENA. HOW MANY MORE TIMES WILL THE SAINTS AND GAELS MEET UP THIS SEASON?
Kelly: As unpredictable a ride as the MAAC tournament tends to deliver, I’ll go with “two” as my answer. Siena and Iona meet again in late February in New Rochelle, and there will be the third meeting in Atlantic City in March. The recent stretch has been somewhat rocky for both clubs, but I still think Siena and Iona are the top teams in the MAAC and play their latest trilogy this season.
Shinder: I’m in agreement that, on balance, Siena and Iona are the MAAC’s two best teams. But, I’ll say we only get one more Siena-Iona matchup after this Friday night. The MAAC tournament is an absolute meat grinder, to the point that the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds haven’t met in the final since 2016. I’m confident that one of these two teams will win the MAAC tournament, but I think the other will leave Atlantic City earlier than hoped. Which team does which? Honestly … beats me.
Springstead: When I look at the scores the MAAC has produced this season, the idea of saying “twice more” feels like betting a 99-1 shot with an apprentice jockey aboard. I concur with Adam that I think one of those teams will win the MAAC tournament, but for them to play twice more would surprise me.
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Numbers to know
Wins by both the Siena and Iona men’s basketball teams against each other in an all-time series that’s tied heading into Friday’s matchup at MVP Arena. Siena’s won three of its last five against Iona, turning around a run that saw the Gaels win 14 of 15 against the Saints from 2013-19.
Minutes and seconds the Siena women survived with just five available players in last Thursday’s overtime win at Fairfield. The Saints started the game with six players, and were down to five when Teresa Seppala fouled out 17 seconds into the fourth quarter.
The UAlbany men’s record when it records at least 15 assists per game. Sharing the ball and finding the right shot has been a problem, with the team only having six assists in its loss to Binghamton last week, tying a season low.
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‘They said it’
“I’ve got to become more aware of what I say and how it sounds, and how people I’m talking to are going to take it.”
— Siena women’s basketball head coach Jim Jabir, on Friday, addressing reporters upon his return to his coaching duties following a three-week school investigation into racially insensitive and misogynistic comments he made to players on the team.
“I think the biggest key is no emotion. We don’t want to play anything on emotion. We want to be able to fundamentally and systematically execute our game plan with how we want to defend and score the basketball. If we can kind of limit the noise and distractions, I think we’ll be in a good place and have a chance to win the game.”
— Siena men’s basketball coach Carmen Maciariello, on balancing the emotion of playing Iona on Friday with the actual game plan.
“I think we’ve always kind of had that underdog mentality, which is really good for us.”
— UAlbany women’s basketball redshirt junior guard Morgan Haney, on keeping a level head while nearing the halfway point of America East play with an undefeated conference record.
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All four area teams shared in the haul this week, with UAlbany’s Kayla Cooper winning America East Women’s Player of the Week, plus three rookie of the week honors — Siena’s Teresa Seppala and Michael Eley, and UAlbany’s Jonathan Beagle.
Cooper put up 18 points and 13 rebounds last week against Binghamton to earn her first player of the week honor this season. She’s the third UAlbany player to earn the award this season, with Ellen Hahne and Helene Haegerstrand taking the honor twice each.
Beagle scored 17 points against Binghamton en route to his sixth overall — and third straight — America East rookie honor. The Hudson Falls native has now matched Justin Neely’s total of weekly awards from last season, and sits one behind Jon Iati’s record haul of seven from 2003-04.
Siena continued to dominate the MAAC rookie awards, with Eley earning his fourth of the season to match Canisius’ Tahj Staveskie for the most in the conference among men’s players. Eley’s four wins are the most by a Saint since Jalen Pickett’s conference-record 11 awards in 2018-19. For Seppala, the awrad was her fifth of the season and second in a row.