ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Fairfield beat Manhattan twice during the regular season and was seeded a spot higher than the Jaspers for this year’s MAAC men’s basketball tournament at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall.
So that Manhattan decisively topped Fairfield 61-43 in Tuesday’s first-round game only strengthened the message that Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello has for his top-seeded Saints ahead of Wednesday’s 7 p.m. quarterfinal against Manhattan.
“We,” Maciariello said, “don’t care at all about seeds.”
Siena has won nine games in a row, a streak that includes a 65-52 win against Manhattan. After watching the ninth-seeded Jaspers knock off No. 8 Fairfield, though, Maciariello noted that head coach Steve Masiello’s team had earned a more recent victory than the Saints, who arrived Tuesday afternoon in Atlantic City, heading into their third matchup of the season.
“Everyone here is 0-0. Manhattan’s 1-0 now and has some momentum,” Maciariello said. “We’ve got to earn that momentum and we’ve got to come to play tomorrow. It doesn’t matter what seed we are and what seed they are. You win or you go home.”
Siena (19-10) split its regular-season series with Manhattan (13-17). The Saints were in attendance to watch Tuesday’s game to find out their first postseason opponent, but there was only so much new to learn from watching one more game.
“They’re always going to be Manhattan,” Maciariello said. “Pressure. Energy. Toughness. Rebounding. Post play. [Pauly] Paulicap. Good team. We’ve got to be ready.”
Siena wasn’t ready when it played one of its worst games of the season at Draddy Gymnasium in its mid-January loss to Manhattan. The Saints lost that game 81-69, then topped the Jaspers in Albany in a game that saw Manhattan pull within a point before the Saints ended the game on a 14-2 run.
Maciariello said fifth-year senior Matt Hein (appendectomy) will be a “game-time decision” for the Saints. Hein, Maciariello said, has not participated in any live portions of practice since his medical procedure early last week.
Since Monmouth and Quinnipiac joined the MAAC and the conference moved to its current postseason format, No. 1 teams are 10-5 in tournament play.
In those six previous tournaments, the bracket’s top-seeded team has made it to four championship games, but has only won one championship. That was Iona last year, which came one year after Rider fell as the No. 1 seed in the quarterfinals.
Siena last was the tournament’s top seed in 2010 when it won its third consecutive — and most recent — MAAC championship.
After earning a spot Monday on the All-MAAC first team along with Siena junior Manny Camper, Saints sophomore Jalen Pickett was selected Tuesday as a member of the United States Basketball Writers Association District II Team, which includes players on teams in New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Washington D.C.
Pickett is this year’s lone MAAC player to earn the USBWA honor, and is the first Siena player to claim it since Dwayne Archbold in 2002. In all, five Siena players have earned the honor, including Marc Brown, Doremus Bennerman and Lee Matthews. Both Brown and Bennerman were selected twice.
The MAAC will announce its major individual awards Wednesday morning. Pickett was the league’s preseason player of the year, and averaged 15.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and six assists per game during the regular season.
PLAYER TO WATCH
His first season seeing game action for the Saints included its share of ups and downs, but redshirt sophomore Don Carey enters the MAAC tournament after a string of strong games.
“He’s been that X-factor,” Maciariello said.
The 6-foot-5 Carey has become one of Siena’s go-to defenders, and the guard who transferred to Siena from Mount St. Mary’s has scored at least a dozen points in each of the Saints’ last four games. Carey averaged 16 points per game in his last four games and made 59% of his shots in those contests.
One of four Saints to play in all 29 regular-season games, Carey averaged 11.4 points on 40.8% shooting.