LOUDONVILLE — Above all else, when it came to the on-floor product, Siena men’s basketball head coach Carmen Maciariello wanted to change three things from last season to this one.
The Saints needed to play faster.
Get to the free-throw line more often.
And crash the glass.
As Siena readies to fully dive into MAAC play with Friday’s 7 p.m. game against Monmouth at Times Union Center in Albany, it still very much remains in the “growing process” that Maciariello — and, increasingly, his players — often reference. But the Saints know who their coach wants them to be, and they’ve made considerable progress in becoming that team.
“We knew it was going to take a lot of time,” said Siena junior Manny Camper, whose team has won its last three games. “It wasn’t going to happen overnight.”
Last season, Siena finished the regular season tied for second place in the MAAC and advanced to the semifinals of the conference tournament. It did that with a team that ranked second-to-last in the country in pace of play, attempted nearly half of its field-goal attempts from 3-point range and eschewed seeking offensive rebounds in favor of getting back on defense.
Maciariello was an assistant coach on then-head coach Jamion Christian’s coaching staff, but his version of the Saints play much differently than the one from a season ago. Changes were coming, anyway, to the way the Saints played if Christian had stayed and he’d been able to spend another year building up his system at Siena, but Maciariello has taken the Saints in a much different direction than the one they were headed.
The Saints are playing faster. They ranked No. 156 in the nation in adjusted tempo, through Wednesday’s games across the country, according to kenpom.com, and their games on average include nearly 10 more possessions than last season.
It’s easy to encourage players, though, to push the ball in transition and utilize fast-break opportunities. Emphasizing getting to the rim and earning free throws instead of shooting 3-pointers is more difficult, as is making sure a commitment to rebounding goes beyond only a team’s defensive glass.
“And,” Camper said, “we’re all buying in.”
This season, Siena has only taken 31.4% of its shots from 3-point territory, and the Saints are taking 21.4 free throws per game after averaging 13.3 last season. In terms of rebounding, the Saints rank No. 3 in the country in defensive rebounding percentage and are No. 120 in offensive rebounding percentage after ranking No. 310 and No. 192 in those respective categories last season.
Camper has played a major role in Siena’s improvement on the glass, as the 6-foot-7 junior is averaging 11.6 rebounds per game after no Saint averaged more than 6.1 a season ago. Perhaps more importantly, though, Siena regularly has five capable rebounders on the court this season after the Saints used 6-foot-9 Sloan Seymour — who transferred in the offseason to George Washington, Christian’s new school — for 877 minutes last season in which he only secured 23 rebounds.
While Seymour wasn’t a rebounder, he provided spacing on the offensive end in making 37.3% of his team-high 7.6 3-point attempts per game. This season, Siena has no player averaging more than five 3-point attempts this season.
Camper said the shift from an offense based around the 3-point line to the attack-the-basket one Siena is using this season has “definitely been the biggest” change the Saints have made. At times, Maciariello said he knew his team was struggling to fully implement the style he wanted. In key moments during early-season games at Harvard and Yale, Maciariello said he sensed there were a few moments where some of the Saints’ former habits appeared and they took quick 3s in transition.
“It was tough because, early, we were shooting so many 3s in practice and guys always wanted to throw the hook pass to the corner [like they did last season] — but that’s not us,” Maciariello said. “We have to be able to throw it inside and [then] out, drive it and kick it, and play off penetration because we have more guys that can dribble.”
Into its matchup with Monmouth, Siena brings a 1-0 mark in the MAAC and a 5-5 overall record. The team has recovered from its 2-5 start and heads into the bulk of its MAAC season playing like one of the league’s top few teams.
“But we have a lot of growing to do, too,” Camper said.
STILL IN THE MIX
Freshman Luke Sutherland has only played 17 minutes this season and didn’t play in any of Siena’s four games in December, but Maciariello said he still views the 6-foot-7 forward as someone capable of helping the Saints this season.
“He can shoot the basketball. He’s just got to understand the defensive stuff,” Maciariello said. “That’s his biggest limitation right now. He’s got to be able to guard.”
Maciariello said he could see a role for Sutherland in MAAC play as a floor-spacing big against certain opponents. For now, at least, there is no plan to turn Sutherland’s freshman season into a redshirt campaign.
“I’d rather have him available in the MAAC because I think he’ll be able to help us,” Maciariello said.
On the season, Sutherland has made 1 of 3 shots, all from 3-point territory.
After struggling so much last season during its non-conference slate, Monmouth made a run to the MAAC tournament championship game to close its season.
This year, head coach King Rice’s program heads into MAAC play in a better position. After a 1-12 non-conference record last season, Monmouth brings a 6-5 mark into league play after winning its last four games.
Only junior Deion Hammond (15.7) and redshirt junior Ray Salnave (13.3) average more than 10 points per game for the Hawks, but Monmouth has 11 players averaging at least 10 minutes per game. Through Wednesday’s action, Monmouth ranked No. 23 in the country in terms of allocating minutes to bench players according to kenpom.com. Reserves have played nearly 40% of Monmouth’s minutes this season.
Like Siena, Monmouth hasn’t lost a home game. The Hawks are 2-4 in road games and 1-1 on neutral courts this season.