The Siena men took center stage in last week’s Capital Region Division I college basketball action, with impressive wins against Iona and Marist allowing the Saints to consolidate their first-place position in the MAAC. The UAlbany men continued to flounder, tumbling into the America East basement with two more losses. The UAlbany and Siena women each went 1-1, with UAlbany’s loss to Maine ending the Great Danes’ perfect start to conference play.
This week, the Siena men travel to Manhattan on Friday night before returning home for a Sunday afternoon matchup with Niagara. The UAlbany men visit UMass Lowell on Wednesday, then host conference power Vermont on Saturday. On the women’s side, Siena visits Saint Peter’s on Thursday and hosts Mount St. Mary’s on Saturday, while UAlbany hosts UMass Lowell on Wednesday and hits the road to face Vermont 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.
Siena’s Michael Baer only played in one of the Saints’ two games last week, but his inspirational 18-point, 12-rebound effort Friday against Iona in the aftermath of his father’s death from bladder cancer just five days earlier earned the graduate student and former student manager turned walk-on at Iowa his first MAAC Men’s Basketball Player of the Week award.
Meanwhile, Teresa Seppala kept her vice-like grip on the MAAC Women’s Basketball Rookie of the Week title, as the Siena freshman averaged 19.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in a pair of games to win the award for the fourth straight week and the sixth time overall this season.
TAKEAWAYS FROM THE LAST WEEK
SO, LIKE CARMEN MACIARIELLO ASKED . . . HOW DO YOU LIKE THEM SAINTS?
Um . . . a whole heck of a lot? We’ve talked for weeks about the toughness of this Siena men’s team, and that was on full display last weekend. Two double-digit wins, both without your best offensive player, one against the preseason league favorite and the other on the road and with another starting missing.
We’re witnessing some seriously impressive play out of the boys from Loudonville. A different guy is stepping into the starring role every night out, and against both Iona and Marist they showed a knack for finishing teams late that may have been the team’s lone true weakness in the early stages of MAAC play.
Through January, Siena’s the clear team to beat in the MAAC, and there’s no good reason to dispute that.
THE SIENA WOMEN CAN SCORE IN BUNCHES
Siena women’s basketball went two decades without scoring 94 points in a single game. Then they did it twice in less than two weeks — a 94-45 win over Saint Peter’s on Jan. 14, then a 94-63 rout against Rider last Thursday. Against Rider, five different Siena players scored in double figures, with Teresa Seppala putting up 22 points on 8 of 9 shooting in 22 minutes off the bench. With another matchup against Saint Peter’s coming up Thursday in Jersey City, New Jersey, it wouldn’t be a shock to see the explosive Saints light up yet another scoreboard.
UALBANY MUST HATE MAINE
To review, Maine’s men’s team, which had shared the last spot with UAlbany last week, won both of its games last week, including a rallying 72-68 victory over the Great Danes Saturday, and now is two games ahead of them for the potential final spot in the America East Tournament. And the women’s team went to The Pit with a chance to strengthen its grip on first place in the league, got outscored 22-6 in the first quarter and lost by one ginormous point.
QUESTIONS FOR WHAT’S AHEAD
WHAT’S THE BIGGEST OBSTACLE LEFT STANDING BETWEEN THE SIENA MEN AND THE NO. 1 SEED FOR THE MAAC TOURNAMENT?
Shinder: While injuries are a likely candidate — after all, the Saints have had their fair share of them this season — it’s scheduling that could trip this team up. Right now, the Nos. 2-3-4 teams in the MAAC are Rider, Iona and Quinnipiac. Later this month, Siena plays those three teams in a nine-day stretch, including a difficult weekend trip to Rider and Iona on Feb. 24 and 26. If there’s a stumbling block, that’s where it comes.
Springstead: I, too, am tempted to say injuries, though goodness knows they’ve adapted and overcome to date. I agree with Adam, it’s that stretch against the aforementioned three teams. But with everything the Saints have achieved so far, it would be fair for coach Maciariello and the players to say it should never happen.
Kelly: Themselves. Siena’s the best team in the MAAC. The Saints need to be reasonably healthy, like any team, and have to deal with that tough part of the schedule — but Siena controls its destiny to the No. 1 seed. That’s a status the Saints have earned, and one I think they’ll embrace.
THE UALBANY MEN ARE AT 1-7 MIDWAY THROUGH LEAGUE PLAY. THE FEWEST WINS THE GREAT DANES HAVE EVER MANAGED IN AMERICAN EAST ACTION IS TWO. DOES UALBANY SURPASS THE TWO-WIN MARK IN LEAGUE PLAY THIS SEASON?
Kelly: There isn’t a lot of reason to be confident they do that. The home/road schedule was more favorable during the first half of UAlbany’s league schedule. Looking at it, UAlbany should be a slight favorite at home to beat NJIT on Feb. 25, but an underdog in its other remaining league games.
Springstead: I think it will, and I think they’ll come against Maine and NJIT. Obviously, Maine was there for the taking last Saturday. I say they learn and apply a second time around. And maybe just getting NJIT at home can be the difference there.
Shinder: The Great Danes left three winnable games on the table in the first half of conference play — at NJIT, home against Binghamton and Maine — and their lone league win against UMass Lowell looks like an outlier performance. NJIT at home looks like a good spot for win No. 2 — theoretically, UAlbany won’t have only seven players available for this matchup with the Highlanders — but I’m having a hard time finding a spot for No. 3.
SHOULD UALBANY WOMEN’S COACH COLLEEN MULLEN COMPLETELY CHANGE HER STARTING FIVE TO SEND A MESSAGE?
Springstead: The sports reporter in me sees moves such as this as mixed in results. Everyone knows why you’re doing it, so is it ultimately as effective as you’d hoped? The former high school and college athlete in me still remembers moves like this as chilling to the core. You feel exposed, and you vow if you get a chance to redeem yourself, you will. Considering the Great Danes have allowed 20-plus points in the first quarters of their last three games, and also did so Jan. 4 vs. UMBC, a strong message has to be sent to a veteran group that knows better. UAlbany outscored Maine 43-28 in quarters 2 through 4 Saturday, and while that’s good, ultimately it was for naught. I don’t know if this is what’s needed, but if it were done for a minute or two to say what has been is not OK? Maybe.
Kelly: Nope. No. Definitely not. The slow starts are concerning, but making a drastic switch would be more concerning to me. The Great Danes still control their path to the No. 1 seed in the league playoffs and should act like it. A switch here or there is fine, but there’s no reason to hit a reset button as a motivational tactic.
Shinder: Mark me down as a “no” in this column, too — at least for now. Mullen’s regular starting five of Helene Haegerstrand, Kayla Cooper, Ellen Hahne, Grace Heeps and Morgan Haney is probably her most versatile lineup, and starting those five is the easiest way to maximize their minutes together. Some in-game rotation changes, and a willingness to make changes early could be helpful, but rolling with the group that got you to 8-0 in the America East isn’t a mistake.
NUMBERS TO KNOW
Consecutive points the Siena men scored in a game-changing run Friday against Iona. The second-half stretch turned a 38-36 Iona advantage into a 53-38 Siena lead on the Saints’ way to a 70-53 statement win.
Free throws that Jared Billups made in the Siena men’s team’s win Sunday at Marist as part of a career-high 24 points. Billups’ previous season-high points total was 11, so Billups outdid that Sunday with just his foul shots.
Number of times Siena has won the MAAC women’s basketball Rookie of the Week award this season. Six times it has gone to Seppala, and the other three to Elisa Mevius. It’s the first time since the 2014-15 season that’s happened, a year when Margot Hetzke won the award nine times.
‘THEY SAID IT’
“It’s not too far-fetched to think there was some divine intervention, possibly.”
— Siena men’s basketball graduate student forward Michael Baer on his 18-point, 12-rebound performance against Iona, less than a week after his father’s death from bladder cancer and honorary Siena team member Evan Franz’s death from brain cancer.
“I felt like they [Iona] had to be nervous. Not me. Not my teammates.”
— Siena men’s freshman Zek Tekin on overcoming pre-game jitters ahead of starting against Iona in Friday’s first-place MAAC showdown.
“We went to the well.”
— UAlbany women’s basketball head coach Colleen Mullen on her team’s strategy to get back into its game Saturday at Maine. In the 50-49 loss that began with a 20-2 Maine run, UAlbany’s Kayla Cooper scored 23 points to lead the Great Danes.
WANT MORE COLLEGE BASKETBALL?
For more Capital Region college basketball talk, check out this week’s episode of the Full Court Press Row podcast. Adam Shinder, Michael Kelly and Will Springstead break down the latest in area basketball and look forward to the week ahead.
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Categories: College Sports, Siena College, Sports