Saturday, April 28, 2012

Siena Men's Report: Good Season, Better Next

Here's another in the series looking back and ahead at conference teams.

Up now ...


2011-12 RECORD: 8-10 in MAAC play, 14-17 overall.

2011-12 RECAP: It's not often that a sub-.500 season would be considered a good thing at Siena, but circumstances dictated the past year was so satisfying that second-year head coach Mitch Buonaguro wasn't far removed from being a Coach of the Year candidate in the conference. The Saints beat every other conference team, except Loyola, at least once. It went 7-2 against MAAC opponents at home. After a 3-7 start, it lost its top reserve (freshman DaVonte Beard) and, playing almost exclusively with just six players the rest of the way actually got better (11-10 after the 3-7 start). Siena avoided the play-in round of the post-season tournament and, then, upset No. 3 seed Manhattan in the event's quarterfinal round in overtime.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Plenty. Start with individuals. Freshman 5-foot-8 guard Evan Hymes might have had the greatest impact, and surely the most unexpected. A late recruit due to an off-season transfer, Hymes was brought in to back up starter Rakeem Brookins. But, when Brookins missed the season with a back issue, Hymes was thrust into the starting rotation and became indispensable (13.4 points, 3.4 assists and 61 three-pointers). He was also No. 3 in the league in minutes played. His backcourt mate, senior Kyle Downey, led the league in minutes and was a revelation (13.3 points, 4.9 rebounds) as a fundamentally sound, lunch-pail performer who had previously been an oft-injured role player. And, then there was 6-8 junior forward O.D. Anosike, a role player the past two seasons who suddenly became the most-effective front-court player in the league. His 12.5 rebound-per-game average was best nationally, and a midseason streak of 17 straight double-doubles was the second-longest in league history. The other three players in the rotation also had to contribute, and did. Brandon Walters, a 6-10 post player (6.8, 6.0) and 6-6 Owen Wignot (7.3, 4.4) were prototypical "glue' players, while 6-5 freshman Rob Poole (7.0, 3.3) was a contributor off the bench. And that, basically, was it after Beard departed after the first semester. The next highest scorer was Connor Fenlon, who began his career as a walk-on. The team was forced to play almost exclusively zone defense due to its limited numbers, and it committed fewer fouls than all but two other teams nationally. Its starting five also played more combined minutes than any Division I team, and as a result team chemistry benefited.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Plenty, and it was borderline amazing the success the team had despite its woes. Problems? Before the season even started it learned that four members of the likely playing group would miss the season. That included Brookins (9.0, 4.1 assists as a freshman in 2010-11), and 6-9 sophomore forward Davis Martins, a potential starter (off-season hip surgery). And, then, came an NCAA ruling that two touted freshmen forwards, 6-8 players Lionel Gomis and Imoh Silas, were both ineligible for the season due to not completing high school work within the approved time frame. That had the Saints down to nine scholarship players. Sophomore swingman Trenity Burdine, who showed flashes as a freshman, battled foot woes all year and never played. And, then, Beard left after 10 games leaving seven players on scholarship with one of those barely used. There were some growing pains (the 3-7 start), and some lopsided losses. But Siena bounced back from nearly every adversity. It suffered a lopsided 95-59 loss to Iona at Madison Square Garden early in the season and, then, knocked off the Gaels in the second meeting. Same with Manhattan, an early season blowout loss followed by a regular-season win over the Jaspers and another victory over them in the post-season tournament's quarterfinal round. The only teams the Saints couldn't contend were was Loyola, which beat them in all three meetings, including a 65-52 setback in the MAAC tournament's semifinal round; and, surprisingly, Saint Peter's, which won both its regular-season meetings with the Saints.

WHAT'S AHEAD: A return to good times. Maybe not as good as the recent three-year run of trips to the NCAA tournament (2008, '09, '10), but the program is certainly moving in that direction. Three seniors leave, but two of them (Wignot and Walters) never averaged more than 7.3 points per game in any season. Downey is the biggest loss, but quality replacements are certainly on hand, not only the four players who missed the entire season, but with what looks to be a strong incoming trio of recruits. Buonaguro has indicated that he would use Brookins (generously listed at 5-10) in the backcourt with the 5-8 Hymes next season, which would create the smallest guard tandem in MAAC history. But, the quickness and outside shooting ability of those two could cause fits for defenders. Anosike returns to dominate the backboards, and should get plenty of help from Gomis, Silas and Brookins. Of the incoming freshman, 6-5 guard Ryan Oliver, who has standout long-range shooing skills, looks like the  most-likely to contribute right away. The roster's only senior will be Anosike. Martens will be a junior. Of the other 12 players on the roster, 10 will be either sophomores or freshmen, meaning Siena should be strong for the foreseeable future. And, after a season of slow-down offense and zone defense, a large and quick playing group almost assures the Saints will change to an up-tempo style for the coming season.

PREDICTION FOR 2012-13: Loyola and Manhattan will be the preseason favorites for the top two spots, but Siena is right there in a group of four or five other teams that will vie to finish in the upper half of the standings. The pieces are in place for Siena to finish as high as third and, probably, no worst than fifth. And, as players continue to mature the Saints could be better at the end of the year than the beginning, making them a factor in the league tournament and, probably even better in 2013-14.

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