Siena has been “arriving” a lot in recent years.
They arrived as a serious NCAA tournament participant two yars ago, they arrived as a team even the top-ranked programs have to take seriously last year, and this year, the expectation is that they’ll arrive in the top 25 when the major preseason polls come out later this month.
The trick for the deep, talented, experienced Saints will be staying there.
On the heels of a 27-8 season that ended with one of the most talked-about games in the NCAA tournament, the Saints’ double-overtime defeat of Ohio State in the first round, Siena brings back three seniors and two juniors on its starting lineup, including all-Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference players Edwin Ubiles, Ronald Moore and Alexander Franklin.
Bolstered by what promises to be a stellar freshman class, Siena, which will open the 2009-2010 season at Tennessee State on Nov. 13, has already been ranked No. 21 on rivals.com and will likely be in the top 25 when the AP/ESPN poll comes out on Oct. 30.
“I don’t know that we’ve ever come into a season where we’ve been ranked nationally at this point in time,” head coach Fran McCaffery said during media day at the Alumni Recreation Center on Friday. “With that comes responsibility, because the next loss could mean that you’re no longer ranked.
“Not that it’s that critical that we be ranked every week, but it’s something that we’ve all looked forward to and hoped that one day we would arrive at this point. When you get there, you want to stay there. We want to establish the fact that we can consistently be a top-25 program. That’s what I aspired to do when I got here, to get our program to the point where we were thought of on the national level. This team is capable of doing that.”
And Siena fans on campus are letting the Saints know it.
The buzz around school is so intense that the players don’t even have to check the Internet to find out what the experts and basketball fans around the country think about Siena.
“You really don’t have to look on-line,” said Franklin, a 6-foot-5 senior power forward who averaged 13.6 points and 7.5 rebounds last season. “People are coming up to you and saying it all the time. You hear it, but you have to just take it and not look into it, because we haven’t proven anything yet. The season hasn’t started.
“I’m loving this team. This team has a lot of expectations. But we really have a group of guys that can handle that and be something special.
We’re going to try to keep living up to those expectations, and try to exceed them. I know there’s a lot on us, but we can handle it.”
“I’ve never been too into that stuff, but I’ll be going into the cafeteria, getting something to eat, and someone’s like, hey, you guys are 26 in this poll, so it’s great that the students and the community’s so into it,” junior center Ryan Rossiter said. “We just try to play, and know that we have their support.
“Coach McCaffery does a pretty good job of keeping us grounded. He always say, never too high, never too low. That’s one of our mottos. We’ve done a good job of never feeling like we’ve achieved something. The preseason, Coach Mac always says this team hasn’t accomplished anything yet, with these current guys, so, really, it’s the rankings at the end of the season that concerns us.”
There was evidence that Siena had made a widely detected blip on the national radar when the coaches needed most of the summer just to fill out a non-conference schedule.
The Saints will play in the Philly Classic early in the season and travel to Atlanta for a game at Georgia Tech on Dec. 2, but they’ll probably have to wait until the NCAA tournament to play another team from the big conferences.
“Nobody wants to play us anymore; we can’t do anything about that,” Franklin said. “We’ll just lace them up and play the game.”
“It’s put us on the map on a national level, being talked about and being in the top 25,” Moore said. “We’re not sneaking up on anybody anymore. We still have that hunger and that drive, and we know it’s going to be even harder, for the simple fact that we’re not sneaking up on anybody. Everybody’s aware of our talent and our success in the past two years, so day in and day out, we’re going to have to work hard to get back to where we were last year.”