Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Off-Season Report: Siena Won't Fall Far

Here's the latest, and final, in the "10 Teams in 10 Days" series looking back and ahead at MAAC mens teams. Up now ...

SIENA (17-1 in MAAC play, 27-7 overall last season)

FINAL 2009-10 RPI: No. 31 of 347 Division I teams nationally.

2009-10 RECAP: One almost has to look at a four-year window to appreciate what a talented trio of departing seniors accomplished at Siena. The program won three straight MAAC regular-season titles, earned three straight trips to the NCAA tournament and won first-round games in back-to-back seasons (2007-08, 2008-09), the conference's only men's program to do that. It recorded 97 victories over the past four years, the second-highest total ever for a league team, behind only the 100 of La Salle (1986-87 through 1989-90). Siena won 27 games in each of the past two seasons, the program's two-highest single-season victory totals in 33 years of Division I basketball. Senior forward Alex Franklin was the conference's Player of the Year. Senior guard Ronald Moore led the nation in assists. Moore's 823 career assists is the all-time best for MAAC players. The 17-1 record marked the first time in conference history that a team won 17 league contests. Siena rallied back from a 15-point deficit with 18 minutes left in the league tournament's championship game to beat Fairfield in overtime and, then, dropped a first-round NCAA game against Purdue. And, then, the program lost the coach who brought about all of that. After five seasons at Siena, Fran McCaffery accepted a position at Iowa.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Against league opponents, just about everything. Siena was 14-0 in conference play and threatening to complete the first undefeated league season since La Salle's 16-0 record in 1989-90 when it suffered its first and only MAAC loss at Niagara. The team had an all-league quality performer at every position. All five starters -- three on the first team, one on the second team and one on the third team -- got all-MAAC mention, the first time that has ever happened. The starting five of three seniors and two juniors appeared to take turns stepping up to make big plays. The experience of that group being together for three full seasons was evident. There is a still-active 38-game home-court winning streak in place. A third-straight NCAA tournament appearance and plenty of national publicity throughout the season ... plenty went right.

WHAT WENT WRONG: One almost has to look to find deficiencies in a 27-victory team, but they are there to be found. The Saints played five "up" non-conference games, and lost all five. In three of those games -- against Temple, St. John's and Butler -- they led by six, five and three points, respectively, at halftime. In the other two -- against Georgia Tech and Northern Iowa -- they trailed by just four and three points. But an overall lack of dept (Siena played five games without making a single substitution after halftime) appeared to wear on the team in those game. Those setbacks hurt the team's seeding position for the NCAA's, where it was a No. 13 seed and drew a first-round game against No. 4-seeded Purdue. Injuries also caused some minor difficulties. Senior forward Edwin Ubiles battled knee problems all year and was rarely at his best. Top reserve guard Kyle Downey was hurt (back, foot) from the season's start and was rarely 100 percent. Clarence Jackson suffered a badly sprained ankle in a post-season practice and did not play in the NCAA tournament game. Moore, despite his ability to run the offense, became a player opponents backed away from, and he only shot 31.8 percent from the field.

WHAT'S AHEAD: The program won't need much of a transition after McCaffery's loss. His long-time "right-hand man," Mitch Buonaguro takes over after five seasons as the team's top assistant, and no conference coach has ever had as much experience. Not only has Buonaguro been on the sidelines for more than 1,000 college games, but he was Fairfield's head coach for six seasons (1985-86 through 1990-91) and owns a national championship ring for his work as an assistant with the 1984-85 Villanova team. The program needs to add a couple of strong recruits, but Buonaguro, with his unrivaled list of contacts, appears on the verge of getting them. Rossiter will be the conference's best big man next season and might be the preseason's Player of the Year choice. Jackson is an explosive offensive player and will likely be among the league leaders in points next season. Freshman forward O.D. Anosike averaged 3.4 rebounds in just 12 minutes of playing time per game and looks capable of becoming an inside force. The team, though, is desparate for a point guard. Freshman Jonathan Breedan, recruited to eventually replace Moore, only played 55 total minutes this past season and doesn't yet look ready to fill that role. The rest of the returnees look like role players. McCaffery didn't do the program's future any favors by relying so heavily on his top five. That group got a league-high average of 152 minutes per night, leaving just 48 minutes per game for the rest of the squad. Brandon Walters, a 6-9, 245-pound center/forward transfer from Seton Hall (1.9 points, 2.1 rebounds there in 2008-09) becomes eligible, but doesn't appear to be an "impact" addition. The only signed recruit as of late April is 6-6 swingman Trenity Burdine, who appears ready to make early contributions.

PREDICTION FOR 2010-11: The return of Rossiter and Jackson, along with the expected improvement of Anosike, ensures the bottom won't fall out for Siena. The strong guess is that Buonaguro will fill the last two scholarships openings with strong recruits. Still, Siena's dominance of the MAAC is over, for now. Right now Siena is the fourth-best team in the conference, but could finish even higher, particularly if Buonaguro can bring in a good point guard.


Troy said...

This is DEF a Siena site .. there will be a learning curve for the coaching staff as well as the new/young players ... just like everyone else.

Paul said...

in response to comment 1.

like when Siena was young and played in the maac championship game Frans first year. This team brings far more back and most are acclimated to the system. Siena will take a step back but not nearly as far as the rest of the MAAC and UA fans would home

Steve Amedio said...

Troy --
This is a MAAC site.
But learning curves for coaching staffs traditionally happen for young coaches taking over a program they're not familiar with.
Mitch Buonaguro has already been here for five years, and has had a hand in everything that has been done at Siena over that time. The coaching "learning curve" should, basically, be non-existent.
As for new/young players ... yes, a learning curve.

Troy said...

ok fair .. we'll just have to wait and see .. plus they wont have home court @ the tournament for a few yrs now .. ha

Steve Amedio said...

Troy --
You're right. We'll have to wait and see on Siena.
Actually, you can say that about any team in the MAAC.
The homecourt situation at the AHY this coming season certainly should enhance Fairfield's chances.
It will be interesting to see how things work out in Springfield beyond that.
Thanks for reading.