December 1, 2011
In the next five days, we'll get a better understanding of where the Siena Saints truly stand.
Beginning with tonight's Metro Atlantic men's basketball opener against Saint Peter's and ending with Monday's annual crosstown showdown with the University at Albany, the Saints have an opportunity to prove all of their doubters wrong -- the doubters who said Siena will finish near the bottom of the league standings prior to the start of the season.
Two of the Saints' three games during this stretch are against MAAC foes (St. Peter's and Loyola), so a victory -- or two -- could send a statement to the rest of the league that they will be a formidable team to deal with. I'm not saying Siena will beat the likes of Iona and Fairfield if it beats St. Peter's and/or Loyola, but I think local fans will be happy if the Saints can compete against the best that the league can offer.
Then, there is the matter of Monday's game against UAlbany. So far the Great Danes (4-4) have looked like the stronger of the two area college teams, but as with all rivalries, you have to throw the records out when UAlbany and Siena play because it almost always is a highly-competitive game. A victory over UAlbany could raise Siena's profile even higher than a win against St. Peter's or Loyola.
So far, Siena has posted a pair of nice wins against Navy and Mount Saint Mary's before suffering road losses against three quality teams -- Saint Bonaventure, Georgia Tech and Vermont. The Saints have done this while operating with only eight scholarship players, thanks to a couple of injuries and two foreign players being ruled ineligible for the 2011-12 season.
Siena's freshmen are partly responsible for making the Saints competitive thus far. Evan Hymes (14.2 points per game) has filled the point guard role nicely following the preseason announcement that sophomore Rakeem Brookins was out for the season with a back injury, and Davonte Beard has chipped in nicely.
The other part of the equation is the veteran leadership that OD Anosike, Kyle Downey and Brandon Walters have provided thus far. Downey has bumped up his offensive production thus far, averaging 12.4 points per game. Anosike has also shown improvement both on offense (9.2 points per game) and defensively (10.6 rebounds per game), and Walters is doing well at the center position (8.4 points per game, 5.6 rebounds per game). Add Owen Wignot into the equation (when he recovers from a head injury he suffered against Navy), and you have the makings of a solid core of veteran talent.
The issue Siena will face the rest of this season is a lack of depth. With only eight scholarship players available for coach Mitch Buonaguro to call upon, the Saints can ill afford any more injuries. And with this being only the beginning of December, there are still three months of regular season basketball to get through. That's a long time to avoid injuries. It also means that Siena has to avoid getting into foul trouble on a regular basis. That's easier said than done, too, but that's what the Saints must do to have the right players on the floor when crunch time comes in a game.
For now, the Saints have to focus on winning as many games over the next five days as possible because doing so might make people believe that they are not what the experts said they were when the season started.