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Sports Illustrated puts Saints at No. 20

Sports Illustrated puts Saints at No. 20

More national recognition came Siena’s way this week when the Saints slipped into the last spot on S

Siena basketball players find themselves beginning a lot of sentences with “Again, . . .”

They’re doing it — again — this week.

More national recognition came Siena’s way when the Saints slipped into the last spot on Sports Illustrated’s top 20 list in the magazine’s annual college basketball preview issue.

It includes a one-page scouting report and a photo of point guard Ronald Moore dribbling during the 79-72 NCAA tournament second-round loss to overall No. 1-seeded Louisville in Dayton, Ohio.

The Saints, the smallest school, by enrollment, to make the 65-team NCAA field last season, have already shown up on the fringe of most preseason top-25’s, including lists compiled by ESPN’s Andy Katz (20th) and Dick Vitale (35th), Gary Parrish of CBS Sports (19th) and Jeff Goodman from FOX Sports (23rd).

Before Tuesday’s 59-53 win over Northeastern in the home opener at the Times Union Center, Siena found itself the points leader among teams who didn’t crack the Assoc­iated Press top 25 that was released on Monday.

Siena was also tied with Illinois for No. 25 in the preseason rankings by the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, considered the bible of college basketball.

The two-time defending Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference reg­ular-season and tournament winner was a clearcut pick to repeat as conference champion, so there’s been a lot written about the Saints before they had even tipped off the season.

The latest honor, by Sports Illustrated, could be viewed as another log on a growing fire of hype around a team that boasts four returning starters, but the Saints reacted to it with typical insouciance.

“I saw the page with my picture on it. It’s a nice writeup,” was Moore’s polite, understated response.

It’s worth noting that the team picked one spot ahead of Siena by Sports Illustrated, Georgetown, was lucky to escape with a 46-45 victory over Temple during the ESPN

24-hour Hoops Marathon on Tuesday afternoon; Temple is the Saints’ next opponent, and the Owls were in great position to beat the Hoyas, but missed free throws down the stretch.

Siena got plenty of RPI juice from its non-conference schedule the last two seasons. That won’t be the case in 2009-10, so the Saints will have to win a high percentage of their games.

That factor alone should quash any temptation to get caught up in the national spotlight.

“This, along with the rest of the accolades, they’re all good, giving the school and the program recognition,” Moore said. “But again, all of this is in the past. The rankings that are out now, I guess we’re 26th overall, and we really can’t worry about being in the top 25. We’ve got to let each game take care of itself.”

THEIR JUST DESSERTS

If anything, the Sports Illustrated article should broaden the scope of attention toward Margaret McCaffery’s expertise at concocting mouth-watering desserts for the team.

Writer Pablo S. Torre mentions in the lead that head coach Fran McCaffery’s wife has had a subtle but forceful hand in helping recruit out-of-town players who might be concerned about missing the comforts of home.

“What happened there was, you know, they’re pretty thorough, when they’re talking to the kid, and it just kept coming up,” Fran McCaffery said. “So then he started asking me about it, and then he asked me for her phone number.

“We do try to create a family atmosphere, we want the kids to feel comfortable, and we recognize that they’re away from home and going through a very long season. We want them to know that there’s people who really care about them. To be recognized that way is great, and she deserves it.”

“We’ve all had a sample, either as a player or a recruit,” Moore said. “It gives you that family environment, being able to go over to coach’s house and eat. I think that’s why a lot of parents like it, whose child is being recruited. They’re comfortable with their child coming here because they have a family away from home.”

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