Saturday, September 17, 2011

Losses Mean Siena's Return to "Small Ball"

The 2011-12 Siena men's basketball team might look a lot like the 2005-06 squad that was short on height, short on expectations and big on exceeding the gloom-and-doom predicti0ns of just about every prognostication.

The 2005-06 team was the first during Fran McCaffery's five-year stretch as the program's head coach, and most expected the Saints to be a near-the-bottom of the MAAC standings' finisher, particularly since the previous year's team finished 6-24 overall and the top returnee, post standout Michael Haddix, would miss the season.

Instead McCaffery played "small ball," installing a run-and-guy style that took advantages of match-up mismatches with the smaller Saints taking advantage of superior quickness.

David Ryan, previously a 6-foot-7 perimeter player, was the only member of the 7-man playing group taller than 6-4. Antoine Jordan, a 6-4 swingman, led those Saints in both scoring (17.1 points) and rebounding (8.1).

The 2011-12 version of the Saints, as recently as a month ago, looked like it would have a bruising, albeit young, front court as the centerpiece of its style of play.

Instead, most of that front court is already out for the season, getting ready for 2012-13.

The school recently announced that returning 6-9 junior forward Davis Martens, who showed flashes of ability in limited time last season and was expected to be a key contributor this year, is done or 2011-12 after late-August hip surgery.

And bookend freshman 6-8 power forwards/centers Lionel Gomis and Imoh Silas, have been ruled ineligible for the coming season by the NCAA.

It could have been worse. The NCAA's original decision not only would have kept Gomis off the court this season, but would have granted him just one subsequent season (2012-13) of college eligibility.

That decision on Gomis, though, was recently reversed. Now, both he and Silas can play three seasons after sitting out the upcoming year.

"Our compliance staff and basketball coaches have done a great deal of work assembling documents and gathering information that led to Lionel earning back two years of eligibility," director of athletics John D'Argenio said.

The NCAA decision to have players serve a year in academic residence and remove a year of athletic eligibility reflects delayed enrollment legislation that was adopted in April of 2010 and enacted in August. It states that a student athlete must complete their high school core curriculum requirements within a five-year period, or the international equivalent.

Gomis and Silas were reclassified after moving from Africa to the United States by the preparatory schools they attended, causing their education to extend beyond the five-year window.

Siena asked for a legislative relief waiver for both student athletes, but the NCAA staff indicated today that a waiver would only be granted if Siena could prove that extenuating circumstances led to the delayed enrollment. It noted that these circumstances would need to extend beyond any socioeconomic issues that may have led both players to leave their home countries.

Silas actually did not attend school for two years, due to extenuating personal circumstances, while living in Africa, leading to the NCAA's original ruling that he would only have one remaining season of college eligibility before that decision was overturned based on Siena's appeal.

Still, the loss of three front-court performers leaves Siena with just 10 scholarship players, and only two of them taller than 6-6, for the coming season.

Speaking at Siena's "Sneak Preview" at Times Union Center recently, head coach Mitch Buonaguro said that he'll have "more of an up-tempo, spread-the-floor type team" than last year, when the main objective was to pound the ball inside to Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Player of the Year Ryan Rossiter, who graduated and is now playing professionally in France.

"Well, we'll have to play differently," Buonaguro said.

The front-court losses have changed the complexion of the Saints, who are trying to rebound from a 13-18 season.

The team's remaining big men are 6-7 junior O.D. Anosike, 6-8 senior Brandon Walters and 6-7 freshman Marcus Hooper.

Anosike played power forward last season, Walters was a lightly used reserve and Hooper's game, according to reports, is better suited to the perimeter.

The likelihood is that Siena will move Anosike to the middle and find considerable time for returning starter 6-6 Owen Wignot to move from his previous role on the perimeter to the power forward spot.

"Before all this happened, you looked at our team, and we were huge," said Wignot. "We had guys 6-8, 6-9, for days. And now that they're out, we've just got to transition into what we've got to work with."

Now, Wignot will often get called on to play inside.

"Coach B (Buonaguro) especially talked about that," Wignot said. "With our lineups, if I'm at the 4 (power forward), we can create some mismatches and spread teams out."

Can that succeed?

Certainly expectations for the coming year won't be high.

Then again, they weren't high in 2005-06 when the Saints employed the smallest lineup in the conference and far exceeded any expectations.

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