Here's another in the series previewing conference teams for the upcoming season.
Up now ...
2012-13 RECORD: 4-14 in the MAAC, 8-24 overall.
KEY LOSSES: Forward O.D. Anosike (13.3 points, 11.4 rebounds), guard Rakeem Brookins (11.3), forward Trenity Burdine (8.2, 4.0).
LIKELY STARTERS: 6-5 junior forward Rob Poole (11.8, 4.7), 5-8 junior guard Evan Hymes (10.6, 3.7 assists), 6-0 freshman guard Marquis Wright, 6-6 freshman forward Lavon Long, 6-8 freshman forward Javion Ogunyemi.
KEY NEWCOMERS: Wright, Long, Ogeunyemi, 6-9 freshman forward Michael Wolfe, 6-2 freshman guard Maurice White.
NOTABLE: Poole and Hymes are the only returning starters from a year ago. Poole was a preseason third-team pick by league coaches, and will be counted on to do much of the scoring this year. He's likely to add a minimum of five or six points to last year's scoring average, if not more ... Hymes played at the point last season and tended to be turnover prone. He's moving over to the off-guard spot this season where his quickness and outside shooting skills should serve him well ... There's much new at Siena, including coach Jimmy Patsos, who spent the last nine seasons as Loyola's coach. When that school left the MAAC (for the Patriot League), Patsos got involved with Siena's opening and, eventually, was hired. He has promised a faster pace than what the Saints played (often by necessity) in recent years under former coach Mitch Buonaguro. So far through preseason and an exhibition game, Siena seems to be doing just that ... The team doesn't have a single senior on the roster and is extremely young, particularly after unexpected losses of two of last year's starters Brookins (breaking school policy) and Burdine (opted to leave school) ... It means that, at least for opening night (Friday against UAlbany), Siena will have three freshmen in its starting lineup ... In all, there are five freshmen on the roster, four of them initially ticketed to attend Loyola, or at least involved in the recruiting process, who opted to follow Patsos to his current location. Wright, an under-control and clever ball-handler, has earned the starting spot at point guard. Ogunyemi, a Buonaguro recruit from nearby Troy High, has looked strong in the post so far. And, Long is a multi-talented big-body forward. A fourth freshman, 6-2 guard Maurice White, was also in contention for a starting spot at off-guard until a groin injury forced him to miss several weeks of practice. Even the raw but athletic Wolfe appears part of the playing group... Siena's biggest loss is Anosike, who led the nation in rebounding in each of the last two years, the only MAAC player ever to accomplish that ... There's certainly height in place, particularly off the bench in the form of 6-8 junior Imoh Silas, 6-8 sophomore Brett Bisping, and the 6-9 Wolfe, a freshman... Siena had been hoping that 6-5 Patrick Cole, an explosive, attacking wing player who transferred in from Coppin State after a strong freshman year, would get an NCAA waiver to play right away. But that was recently denied.
STRENGTHS: Poole is looking like an all-league caliber player during the preseason, and Hymes looks considerably more comfortable not having to handle the ball as much. There's much to like about the team, particularly in terms of talent. Patsos intends to go eight, or nine deep most nights, a necessity with an up-tempo style, and hopes the depth will wear down opponents.
WEAKNESSES: Experience. There's just not much. Of the returnees, only Poole, Hymes and forward Imoh Silas (16.4 minutes per game last year) saw any extended court time. Inexperienced teams rarely have success at this level, and Siena, with three freshmen in the starting lineup and, potentially, two more getting some key minutes, is as young a team as there is in the league.
REASONABLE EXPECTATIONS: League coaches pick Siena to finish 10th, which is believed to be the lowest pre-season prediction since the days when Bob Beyer coached the Saints nearly two decades ago. And, no one is arguing about the prediction, not even Patsos. But, the talent that's in place creates some optimism, and the new playing style should excite the program's fan base. Your blogger has seen Siena practice a four times and saw its exhibition game, and I'd be hardpressed to make an accurate prediction. Siena won't compete for the top three spots, but it wouldn't be a surprise if the team finished as high as fifth, or as low as 10th. Still, unless the freshmen learn on the job more rapidly than freshmen are prone to do, a ninth- or 10th-place finish is the likelihood this season.