LOUDONVILLE — A lack of depth and appropriate personnel last season led to the defensive style meant to create “Mayhem” for Siena College men’s basketball opponents rarely appearing, especially during the second half of Jamion Christian’s lone season leading the Saints.
Now, Carmen Maciariello is the Saints’ head coach. He started Siena’s first official practice with defensive work, and that’s something last season’s defensive coordinator plans to do with regularity.
“I always think it’s great to start practice with defense,” Maciariello said back in September, “because you’ve got the guys’ energy and you’ve got their attention. . . . You can make points that kind of stick.”
Siena went through highs and lows last season on the defensive end, producing brilliant stretches and subpar ones. Siena finished atop the MAAC in defensive efficiency for conference games, according to kenpom.com, but ranked in the bottom 100 nationally for its whole season.
For this season, which starts Nov. 5 against American, sophomore Jalen Pickett said the Saints have the personnel in place to be a better defensive team, but that will be a challenge for Siena after losing one of its top perimeter defensive options in Kadeem Smithen and its defensive anchor down low in Evan Fisher to graduation.
“We’re definitely more athletic this year, and we’re probably going to switch a lot and do different things to mess people up,” Pickett said at Saturday’s fan event at Times Union Center in Albany.
And, he added: “We can press this year.”
Last season, Siena played a lot of zone defense, which allowed Pickett plenty of opportunities to play passing lanes and offer rim protection as a help defender. The 6-foot-4 guard starred offensively on his way to earning MAAC Rookie of the Year and a first-team all-conference selection, but Pickett enters the 2019-20 season as the MAAC’s returning leader in steals per game (2) and as one of the league’s returning leaders in blocks per game (0.9).
This season, though, Pickett said he can be better on the defensive end.
“I think I need to improve [defending] on the ball,” Pickett said. “Get up [on] people a little bit more.”
With additional playmakers alongside him on offense, Pickett seemingly will have more energy to expend on the defensive end of the court. Maciariello, though, said he doesn’t play to try to turn Pickett into the top perimeter defensive option for the Saints.
“I don’t want to ever tire him out, so I never will put him on the other team’s best player,” Maciariello said.
But the coach said Pickett can be more of a force on the defensive end as he continues to gain experience.
“For him,” Maciariello said “it’s going to be about staying locked in every single play and not floating.”