ALBANY — His team finishing off a rare workout at Times Union Center, Siena College men’s basketball head coach Jimmy Patsos brushed off a question Wednesday about the Saints’ next opponent.
“I’m more worried about what Siena does right now than anything,” he said ahead of tonight’s 8 p.m. home game against Quinnipiac. “I can’t lie.”
And the truth is that after a tumultuous 2016 portion of their season, the Saints seem to have found their identity in 2017. Siena (2-3 MAAC, 5-11 overall) has doubled down on relying on its four 1,000-point-scoring seniors — Brett Bisping, Lavon Long, Javion Ogunyemi and Marquis Wright — and has embraced a more methodical and physical approach.
“It starts with those four,” Patsos said of his seniors.
To that end, Patsos said it’s fair to expect Siena to continue its recent reliance on a 2-3 zone. The hope is the alignment will help keep Siena’s top players on the floor for more minutes, while also allowing the Saints to not have to worry about poor cross-matchups when Bisping and Long are playing perimeter positions on offense.
Against Saint Peter’s in last Saturday’s 56-54 win, Siena allotted 67.0 percent of its minutes to its four seniors — and that was despite Bisping fouling out with more than six minutes to play. Around those four players, Patsos gave 45 of the remaining 66 minutes to sophomore Nico Clareth and redshirt sophomore Kadeem Smithen. Going forward, Patsos suggested Wednesday that he will mainly rely on those six players plus freshman Sammy Friday when an extra big man is needed.
“How do you do that most successfully?” Patsos said of his tightened rotation. “Go zone. Keep them out of foul trouble.”
Quinnipiac (3-3, 6-10) has the personnel to challenge Siena’s new strategy. The Bobcats are second in the MAAC in rebounding margin, and four of their main-rotation players are shooting above 30.0 percent from 3-point territory. Against Saint Peter’s, Siena’s zone defense helped it gobble up 58.7 percent of the game’s rebounds — up from the 50.3 percent the Saints are averaging this season — while encouraging the Peacocks to fire away from 3-point range in a mostly unsuccessful 6-of-23 (26.1 percent) showing from downtown.
In tonight’s game against a team more capable of hitting from 3-point territory, Bisping said it’s important for the Saints keep the Bobcats off the offensive glass and away from second-chance opportunities. Deep shots off passes from down low, he said, are one of Siena’s top concerns.
“I think we did do a good job of contesting the original 3-pointers [against Saint Peter’s], but then it’s when they get the offensive rebound and get the second one that really hurts us,” Bisping said.
While Quinnipiac is not the rebounding force this season it has been in recent years, the Bobcats are still formidable on the glass. No Quinnipiac player averages more 5.2 rebounds, but there are five Bobcats averaging at least 4.6 rebounds per game.
“They all just go after it,” Bisping said.
“We just collectively have to come together and make sure they don’t get second and third attempts,” Long said.
If Siena does that, the Saints will put themselves in strong position to record back-to-back wins for the first time this season. Long said there’s “better morale” and “more confidence” around the Saints after they broke their four-game losing streak. Now, Siena needs to build off its momentum.
“That’s how you get a winning streak going,” Patsos said, “and it’s time to get one of those going.”