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What you need to know for 12/16/2017

Siena men's basketball finding rotation ahead of playing Louisville

Siena men's basketball finding rotation ahead of playing Louisville

Game set to be aired on ESPN2
Siena men's basketball finding rotation ahead of playing Louisville
Off two wins in three games, Siena takes on Louisville on Wednesday.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

LOUDONVILLE — Through seven games, Siena College men’s basketball head coach Jimmy Patsos has tried a fair share of different things.

He’s tinkered with his rotation, played big, gone small and used five different starting lineups. In all, nine players have started at least one game and 11 have appeared in at least two games.

“I definitely had a few cakes that didn’t make it,” Patsos said Tuesday of his experimentation with different lineups this season. “I tried to bake a cake with different ingredients and — let’s just admit it — it didn’t work.”

Slowly, though, the Saints are starting to find some combinations that work. The rotation’s shifted dramatically since the season’s opening weekend of games, but is starting to take a more definitive shape as Siena prepares for its Wednesday matchup at Louisville.

“What I’ve liked is — clearly — the young guys and then Nico [Clareth] coming off the bench was impressive,” Patsos said. “He had a great attitude about it.”

Outside of the team’s trio of freshman starters — Christian Bentley, Prince Oduro and Roman Penn — those “young guys” include sophomores Khalil Richard and Ahsante Shivers. That group of five players plus Clareth and junior Evan Fisher make up the main seven-man rotation Siena is likely to continue to build its season around as MAAC play gets closer.

Patsos, of course, often points to the MAAC and March as what he’s building toward. Hours before heading to Louisville Tuesday, though, the coach said he could do a better job of expressing how much November’s and December’s non-conference slate means to his program.  

“Sometimes,” Patsos said, “I don’t let everyone know how important these games are for us now to learn. Yes, I’m worried about the MAAC — sure, the MAAC tournament’s important — but, right now, these games are important.” 

And this week is as interesting as a non-conference week can be for the Saints. Before Saturday’s Albany Cup matchup with the University at Albany, Siena gets its chance to take on an ACC opponent. Siena (2-5) has won two of its last three games after an 0-4 start, while Louisville (4-2) heads into Wednesday’s game off back-to-back losses against Purdue and Seton Hall. Those defeats sent Louisville from No. 17 in the country to unranked ahead of its first meeting with Siena since the teams clashed in a memorable 2009 NCAA tournament game that ended with the Saints just short of making a Sweet 16 appearance. 

Wednesday’s 7 p.m. contest will be aired on ESPN2. Last season, Siena had two games shown on ESPN2 — its loss at Monmouth and its overtime defeat in the MAAC tournament championship against Iona.

Patsos said it will be “very odd” to face Louisville without Rick Pitino as the team’s coach. Louisville replaced Rick Pitino with interim head coach David Padgett after a corruption scandal involving an FBI investigation.

“He’s one of the great coaches ever,” Patsos said of Pitino.

Against Louisville, Siena will continue to try to move forward after a three-game homestand during which it won twice — but there are more experiments coming for the young Saints. Freshman Manny Camper, who was projected to sit out the season, is likely to debut against Louisville, while getting Penn and Richard time together in the backcourt is another priority Patsos listed.

“We’re going to make some mistakes, but I can feel the energy coming,” Patsos said. “Getting a couple wins helped us.”

Reach Gazette Sportswriter Michael Kelly at mkelly@dailygazette.net or @ByMichaelKelly on Twitter. For more college basketball coverage, head to dailygazette.com/blogs/the-outlet.

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