Monday, March 23, 2009

Opinions on Siena Team, NCAA Victory

Since everyone likes lists, this humble blogger will submit two, both short.

1) How does the 2008-09 Siena team rank against past Siena teams (Division I era only)?

2) Where does Siena's double-overtime victory over Ohio State in the first round of this year's NCAA Tournament rank among all-time Siena victories?

This blogger has been watching Siena basketball since his high school days. And, no, that wasn't before the invention of the wheel ... although it was back in the late 1960's, early 1970s. And, yours truly has covered Siena basketball, in some form or other, since 1985. So, hopefully, these rankings carry some perspective, expertise and objectivity.

OK, Question No. 1 ... all-time Siena teams of the Division I era:

1) Siena's 1988-89 team.

Its head coach Mike Deane called it a "Top 30" level team, and it might have been even a little better than that.

Its 25-5 overall record remains the program's all-time best winning percentage (.833) in 33 years of Division I play. Regular-season victories included one over a very good Pittsburgh team, at Pitt.

Point guard Marc Brown, then a sophomore, is the best player in Siena's D-I history. Power forward Steve McCoy and swingman Jeff Robinson are both in Siena's top 10. The team had everything covered ... good shooting, good ball-handling, depth and inside play that included a pair of capable 7-footers off the bench (Steve Downey, Eric Fleury).

Not only the first Siena team to make it to the NCAA's, but the only one to advance to the second round prior to last season's squad.

There, it earned a victory over Stanford, ranked No. 13 nationally and a No. 3 seed in a 16-team bracket.

2) The 2008-09 team.

The 27 victories matches the program's single-season record of all time (the 1949-50 team finished 27-5). A second straight trip to the NCAA Tournament's second round with arguably the event's most-exciting game, the 2OT effort vs. Ohio State, thus far.

Although the team doesn't have the singular talent of a Brown, it did have five starters all of whom, it says here, were among the conference's top 15 players this past season as well as contributors off the bench.

The combination of talent and results clearly makes it among the program's all-time best..

3) The 1998-99 team.

Very close call over the 1999-00 team which had a better conference record (15-3, compared to the 1998-99 team's 13-5 record). But, the 1998-99 team made it to the NCAA Tournament, and the subsequent season's team didn't.

Paul Hewitt, in this blogger's opinion, was the best coach in Siena's D-I history ... until now.

Make a case for Fran McCaffery, and there won't be any debate here. Tough call between those two, but McCaffery's back-to-back NCAA appearances with a team comprised entirely of players he brought here ...

OK, McCaffery is No. 1, and Hewitt No. 1A.

Hewitt's 1998-99 team was the trailblazer for up-tempo play at Siena, employing a style even faster than the current squad's.

The talent level was similar to this year's. Hewitt's team had four players who still rank in the program's top 20 in career scoring (Marcus Faison, Jim Cantamessa, Corey Osinski and Scott Knapp), size (an effective 6-10 center in Dave Deters) and depth.

But, the current season's team had something Hewitt's team didn't have: An NCAA Tournament victory.

Question No. 2 ... where does the double-overtime victory over Ohio State rank on Siena's list of greatest single-game accomplishments?

Times Union columnist Mark McGuire, in an on-line blog, calls it "arguably the greatest win in Siena's history."

This blogger, though, doesn't agree, ranking victories in this order:

1) Siena's 1989 NCAA Tournament victory over Stanford.

This was the outcome that brought Siena its first national publicity for reasons beyond a measles' outbreak on campus that season.

As a No. 14 seed knocking off a No. 3 seed, it was the upset of that year's tournament.

Ranked 13th nationally at the time, that Stanford team remains the highest-rated opponent Siena has ever beaten away from home.

And, that Stanford team, at least to these eyes, was considerably better than the Ohio State team Siena beat in this year's NCAA's.

2) Siena's victory over Boston University in the championship game of the old North Atlantic Conference's Tournament.

The victory gave Siena the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, the first ever for the Saints. The first time always seems the sweetest, and the first time wouldn't have come for many more years were it not for this game.

Siena trailed, 67-66, with time running out. Tom Huerter launched a 20-foot jumper as the final seconds ticked. The shot barely grazed iron, but Steve McCoy came from under the basket, grabbed Huerter's missed shot and flipped up a one-hander from the side of the basket that fell through with two seconds left for the victory.

3) Siena's victory over Ohio State in two overtimes on Friday.

Close call over the team's demolition of Vanderbilt in last season's first-round NCAA Tournament game. But, even though Vandy (a No. 4 seed) was rated higher than this year's Buckeyes (a No. 8 seed), it did appear that Ohio State was a considerably more formidable opponent ... particularly since the playing venue in Dayton was a virtual home game for the Buckeyes.

If nothing else, it surely was the most-exciting performance in a big-game setting in the Division I era of Siena basketball.

The game carries consequence, too, beyond its own scope. The victory, taken as the second NCAA Tournament advancement in consecutive seasons, stamps Siena as being on the verge of a small-school program seemingly ready to stretch the upper boundries of the mid-major level tag.

Siena isn't yet the Gonzaga of the East, but NCAA Tournament victories in back-to-back years has people thinking about the possibility of reaching that status.


Bryan said...

I'm sorry is this a maac blog, or a Siena lovefest? Wow, they won one game in the tournament. Our conference should strive for greatness, not be overjoyed when a team wins one game.
There are 11 other teams in the MAAC. write about them.

Steve Amedio said...

The goal of the MAAC blog is to give a little publicity to every program, men's and women's. But some, obviously, will merit a little extra based on accomplishments. As of March 22nd, the Siena men's team was the only one still playing games. Back-to-back trips to the 2nd round of the NCAA's, unprecedented for a men's team in MAAC history, seemed to me to deserve a little something extra.
If you've been reading back to the blog's start in November, I'm sure you'll recognize that every team got its fair share of mention.
And, if you'll continue to check in ... there will be a season-ending wrap-up, by this weekend, about what's ahead for every men's team.
Thanks for reading, and thanks for your observations.
Steve A.

Jim said...

I disagree Steve. Yes other teams may get mentioned, but for the most part it is all about Siena. I understand why they get mentioned now and rightfully so. But it is always about them. From the beginning of the year to the end all you read is Siena, Siena, Siena. There is no love to the other programs. If the "humble blogger" wanted to make it right, other teams would be talked about. Do you know anything about the other teams?. Don't get me wrong I enjoy reading your articles, but it is not right. The MAAC is the page for the saints, broncs, eagles, griffs, redfoxes...etc. By the way something did happen over the past week that had nothing to do with Siena. Niagara girls won the "pack the house" competition, which was a nationwide thing. Finally, Mihilach of the Purple Eagles won the Coach of the Year for the NABC. If Fran had won, I would put everything on it that he would have had a right up within hours of hearing about this award. I think the blog should be about all teams, not one! Agree with you Bryan.

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Anonymous said...

I am so glad someone finally mentioned that this blog seems a little one-sided! I always come here hoping to read some interesting perspective on all the teams (especially my Purple Eagles) but all I ever find is endless gushing about Siena and I definitely do not share the blogger's love of the Saints. Imagine my dismay when I stopped by for the first time in a few weeks to find that the last 6 posts are about Siena.