The Siena men’s basketball team won its 20th game of the 2009-10 season with its 88-68 victory over Iona on Friday night.
And, on Monday the Saints can clinch outright possession of the conference’s regular-season championship with a win over Fairfield at the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y., in its 14th game of the 18-game league season.
What it means is that we’re witnessing MAAC basketball history in the making.
Those successes to date this season hint at what the program is accomplishing not only now but but over the past four seasons with a string of excellence that puts Siena at the cusp of historical relevance in the MAAC’s 29-year existence.
Let’s take a look at what Siena has already accomplished, and what it might add to its glowing resume before the season ends.
A RUN OF 20-VICTORY SEASONS
The Saints’ 20-4 record thus far marks the fourth straight season the program has hit the 20-win mark: 27-8 last season; 23-11 in 2007-08; 20-12 in 2006-07.
Only two other teams in MAAC history can claim four consecutive 20-victory seasons. Those are the Iona teams from 1981-82 through 1984-85 (24-9, 22-9, 23-8 and 26-5) and the La Salle teams from 1986-87 through 1989-90 (20-13, 24-10, 26-6 and 30-2).
The Iona teams with four straight 20-victory seasons had Rory Grimes and Tony Hargraves as four-year constants; and Steve Burtt Sr. and Gary Springer for the first three years in the run.
The La Salle teams with four straight 20-victory seasons all included the MAAC's all-time best player, Lionel Simmons. He had considerable help from Tim Legler in the first two years of that run, from Doug Overton in the last three of those years and from Randy Woods in the final two of the stretch.
Siena’s senior players (forwards Edwin Ubiles and Alex Franklin, and guard Ronald Moore) have been around for all four of their team's 20-victory seasons. Guard Kenny Hasbrouck was on board for the first three years of the run, while current juniors Ryan Rossiter and Clarence Jackson have been in place for the past three seasons.
No MAAC team has ever had five consecutive 20-victory seasons.
SIENA IN ELITE COMPANY WITH 90 WINS OVER FOUR SEASONS
The current Siena seniors can now claim 90 victories (90-35) over the past four seasons, the best four-year stretch in Siena history.
The previous mark for wins over a four-year stretch at that program was 89 (89-34) from 1987-88 through 1990-91), a run during which Marc Brown was the program’s top player. Siena, though, wasn't a MAAC member until the final two years of that stretch.
The all-time high victory total over four years by a conference program is 100 (100-31) by the Lionel Simmons-led La Salle teams of 1986-87 through 1989-90. The winning percentage of .763 during that stretch is the best ever by a conference team, and will remain so no matter what Siena does the rest of the way this season.
Iona’s record of 95-31 from 1981-92 through 1984-85 accounts for the second-highest four-year victory total by a conference team, followed by Manhattan's record of 93-32 from 1991-92 through 1994-95.
The current Siena group is almost certain to become the MAAC’s second all-time winningest team for a four-year run, and could approach La Salle’s all-time best 100-victory total.
Siena, with its active 14-game winning streak, has seven regular-season games remaining followed by the possibility of three games in the MAAC tournament and, then, by a national post-season tournament appearance.
Should the Saints win the MAAC tournament and, then, advance to the NCAA’s second round like they have the past two seasons they will play 12 more games this season. That means they would have to go 10-2 the rest of the way to match La Salle’s four-year 100-victory total.
SIENA CHASES MAAC PERFECTION
Siena’s 13-0 start to the MAAC season is the longest unbeaten streak to start league play since the 1989-90 La Salle team cruised through unbeaten (16-0).
The next best start to a conference season was a year ago when Siena started 12-0 before losing in league play.
Can the Saints make it to 18-0?
Why would anyone think otherwise, barring an unexpected single-game letdown on Siena’s part?
After Monday’s game against Fairfield (Siena beat the Stags, 81-73, in Bridgeport, Conn., earlier this season), its final four games are all against teams that currently have sub-.500 records in conference play.
However, three of those last four are on the road: at Niagara on Feb. 12, at Canisius on Feb. 14, and at Rider on Feb. 26.
Still, Siena has dominanted everyone on its league schedule to date, winnings its 13 MAAC games by an average margin of 13.8 points per contest.
If Siena makes it through unblemished, it will join the 16-0 1989-90 La Salle team and the 14-0 1987-88 La Salle teams as the only conference programs to record perfect MAAC records.
SAINTS COULD CLAIM EARLIEST REGULAR-SEASON CLINCHING, AND LARGEST WINNING MARGIN
If Siena does beat Fairfield on Monday, it will have a four-game lead over its closest pursuer, second-place Iona (9-4) with just four games left.
And, because Siena has already beaten Iona in both regular-season meetings, it already holds the top tie-breaker for regular-season ties.
It means a win Monday would make Siena the first team in MAAC history to clinch the regular-season title with four games remaining in the season.
It also sets the Saints up to match or better the largest lead over the second-place team in the final regular-season standings.
Only once in the conference’s previous 28 seasons has a team won the regular-season title with a four-game advantage over the second-place team. That was in the 1985-86 season when Fairfield finished 13-1 and runner-up Iona was 9-5.
Coincidentally, that Fairfield team was coached by Mitch Buonaguro, who is currently an assistant coach at Siena.
Only three other teams have won regular-season crowns by three-game margins (Manhattan in 2003-04), Iona in 1997-98, and La Salle in 1987-88).
In two seasons there has been three teams that finished with the same record to lead the conference; on five occasions there has been a two-way tie for the top spot. Nine times the top team has finished just one game ahead of the second-place tam and six times just two games ahead of the runner-up team.