Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tournament Site Starts Annual Rite

Like birds heading south for the winter, trees beginning to bud in the spring, and leaves turning brilliant colors in the fall ... complaints about the site of the conference's post-season tournament are an annual rite.

Or, at least, when that site is Times Union Center in Albany, where it will be this season for the second consecutive season (and will be next season, too).

Playing there seems to make perfect sense. It is one of the finest facilities available for the event, and because it traditionally draws crowds that dwarf attendance when the the tournament is held elsewhere.

So, why the complaints?

Because since the 1997-98 season the arena has also served as the exclusive home court for the Siena men's team.

And because coaches everywhere have no concern about any bottom line other than the one involving wins and losses, any possibility of a competitive edge isn't viewed favorably by the nine coaches who serve at conference schools other than Siena.

Needless to say that they'd all prefer to play in a empty gymnasium than in a facility that might provide a home-court edge for someone else.

That the tournament is here this year has already become an issue, and is likely to become an even bigger one as this season's event approaches.

That's because Siena has not lost a game at the Times Union Center this season.

The issue affects Rider more than any other team since the Sovereign Bank Arena in Trenton, N.J., just down the road from Rider, had originally been set to host this year's tournament before asking to be relieved of that obligation.

Talking about that issue several weeks ago, here's what Rider coach Tommy Dempsey had to say:

"I'm disappointed in not having the tournament here (in Trenton), but it just didn't work out that way," said Dempsey. "It would have given us a competitive advantage not having to go up to Albany.

"Unfortunately, with Siena being a strong as it is ... (playing in Albany) gives them a tremendous advantage. If we had a bigger fan base as a league, a neutral site would be ideal because playing on one of our teams' home courts is too much of a competitive advantage to one team."

Be sure, though, that Dempsey won't be the only one to address the issue before the tournament begins, because Siena's home-court edge appears to be greater this year than ever.

The Saints are 14-0 at home this season, after playing their final regular-season contest there this past Saturday and earning an 81-76 victory over Northern Iowa.

The perfect home slate marked the first time since the building opened in 1990 that Siena got through its schedule of games there unscathed.

Even in the building's early years, when only a portion of the Saints' home games were at the Albany venue, Siena failed to run the table.

The closest it came previously were 2-1 regular-season records there in 1991-92 and 1992-93, a 12-1 mark in 1998-99 and a 13-1 record in 1999-00.

Overall Siena is 134-71 all time (a .658 winning percentage) on the court also previously known first as the Knickerbocker Arena and, later, as the Pepsi Arena.

Prior to this season's 14-0 run that record had been 120-71, a .628 winning percentage.

In all other games played away from its home court since it begain playing games at the Albany arena Siena has a 189-182 record prior to this season, a .510 winning percentage.

So, yes, playing tournament games on Siena's home court does appear to give the Saints an edge.

But, how much?

In MAAC tournament games held in Albany, Siena has an 18-11 record, a .621 winning percentage.

But, there's also this: the tournament has been played 13 times in Albany and Siena has only won it twice (2001-02, 2007-08).

Over the first seven years the event was held in Albany Siena failed even to advance past the semifinal round

Over the 13 times the event has been held in Albany, Siena entered the tournament after finishing first (three times), second (twice) or third (twice) seven times and has only captured the tournament title in one of those seasons.

Its other MAAC tournament victory (2001-02) came when several injured players returned to health late in the season to bolster the late-season play of a Siena team that finished seventh in the regular season.

Heck, each of four other conference teams - Iona (three times), Manhattan (twice), Saint Peter's (twice) and La Salle (twice) - has won the MAAC's post-season tournament at least as many times on the Albany court as Siena.

In the six other years the event has been held elsewhere, venues that are at least geographically favorable to other teams, the "home" team can only claim one post-season tournament crown.

It would seem to point to the fact that the team playing the best during the tournament has a much better chance to win it than the home team.

And if Siena does win this year's MAAC tournament on its home court?

Considering that the Saints are currently 22-6 overall, ranked 24th nationally in the most-recent Ratings Percentage Index and are currently three games in front of the next best team in the conference standings ...

Wouldn't all of that make Siena the most-likely team to win the post-season event, no matter where the tournament games were held?

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