If Siena is in line to join the schools that are forming a new conference unofficially dubbed the “Catholic 7,” that’s news to Siena athletic director John D’Argenio.
A story by John Feinstein in Saturday’s Washington Post speculated that the sixth member of a six-team East Coast division of the conference would come down to Richmond or Siena, in large part because the Saints’ home arena, the Times Union Center, has a large seating capacity.
D’Argenio said on Sunday that he had read the story, but the school had nothing to do with its name appearing in it.
“Nobody told us,” he said. “We haven’t reached out to them, and nobody has reached out to us. It’s an interesting article and a fun thing to read, but I don’t know if there’s any validity to it.”
The new conference is supposed to include Big East defectors Georgetown, St. John’s, Villanova, Seton Hall, DePaul, Marquette and Providence.
Feinstein wrote that Dayton, Xavier, Saint Louis and Butler are “virtual locks” to be invited, bringing the total to 11. Conference organizers want 12.
D’Argenio said his take on the article was that the Siena reference perhaps was rooted more in speculation by Feinstein than any substantive information.
“I kind of got that impression,” he said. “He was talking to people, and speculating.”
The Saints, meanwhile, are having enough problems in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
Siena was crushed by Loyola, 80-57, on Saturday night, the Saints’ worst conference home loss since a 98-73 setback to Manhattan at the Alumni Recreation Center in 1994, and the worst MAAC loss ever at the TU Center.
That dropped Siena to 4-12 in the MAAC and 6-21 overall, only the third time in program history that the Saints have lost 20 games in a season.
Compounding the loss was an ongoing verbal clash in the second half between third-year head coach Mitch Buonaguro and star forward O.D. Anosike, Siena’s captain and only senior.
Buonaguro pulled Anosike seven minutes into the second half with Siena down by 20, and as it became clear that Anosike, Siena’s leading scorer and one of the top rebounders in the country, wasn’t going to get back into the game, he and Buonaguro began to exchange words during timeouts.
It came to a head late in the game, prompting assistant coach Craig Carter to escort Anosike to the end of the bench for a conference.
After the game, Buonaguro downplayed the series of incidents, saying, “It was nothing. Yeah, I think there was a frustration level on his part. He wants to win . . . It wasn’t a big deal.”
Anosike seemed disappointed, but not angry, during the post-game lockerroom interview.
“I’m not exactly sure why I didn’t play that much in the second half,” he said. “He’s the head coach. I have to respect his decision.”
As of Sunday afternoon, D’Argenio said he hadn’t spoken to Anosike and had briefly talked to Buonaguro in the morning, and chalked the whole thing up to the raw nerve of a dismal season temporarily exposing itself during an emotional point in the game.
“At this time of year, with the type of season we’ve been having, there’s frustration on everybody’s part,” D’Argenio said. “I’m hoping the two folks will iron out any differences they might have. When you’re having a rough year, those type of things are more pronounced. That’s what I think of it as, a heat-of-the-moment thing during a season where something can boil up.”
Buonaguro is in the third year of a four-year contract, and D’Argenio said his job status will be evaluated after the season, as it is under any circumstances.
In this case, the circumstances are that Siena’s record has gotten progressively worse this year after seasons that weren’t far below .500, but nevertheless were losing ones in the wake of a spectacular five-year run by Fran McCaffery, for whom Buonaguro served as lead assistant.
“From a wins and losses standpoint, we’re disappointed,” D’Argenio said. “We thought, coming into the season, that we were going to take a step forward, but the record says that we haven’t.
“I think everyone in our league goes through a down cycle. What you want to do is minimize it so that you’re not doing it every three, four years. That’s the treadmill you’re trying to get off of.”
“I can’t worry about that now; I’m not even thinking about it,” Buonaguro said on Friday, of his job status.
D’Argenio said he’s aware of criticism and complaints from fans, but believes that the majority of Siena supporters will continue to maintain a positive view of the men’s basketball program.
“You get the same group of people that hammer it home, and another group that understands the history of the program and write emails and letters,” he said. “You’ll see them at games, and they’ll talk to you, they’re willing to sign their name to a thought, which I appreciate. The first group that likes to tweet is a much smaller one.”
The obvious areas that can be affected by a string of losing seasons are ticket sales and player recruiting.
D’Argenio said that, at Siena, it goers to an even higher level than that, “because the college’s strategic plan overall puts the success of the basketball program as a way to promote the whole college, not just the athletic department. Yes, we want to see the slope going upward to the point where we can think about winning the league. When it’s going down, it is a concern.”
One thing the school is planning to do to enhance the men’s and women’s basketball programs, but also the athletic department as a whole, is refurbish the basketball locker rooms into better appointed suites, create a separate basketball practice facility by walling off a third of the ARC and renovating and improving the training and strength/conditioning facilities.
There are no plans to build a bigger basketball gym on campus.
“The men’s team is not coming back on campus,” D’Argenio said. “The great differentiator between us and other schools in our conference is the Times Union Center.”