Here's another in the "Team Report" series looking back at the just-concluded season with a crystal-ball look at what might happen in the upcoming season.
Up now ...
2013-14 RECORD: 11-9 in MAAC play, 5th place; 20-18 overall.
WHAT WENT RIGHT: Plenty, including a fifth-place finish after being picked in the coaches' preseason poll to finish 10th in the 11-team league. But early expectations were understandably low for a team that was going through considerable transition, including a change at the head coach position. But the new coach was MAAC veteran Jimmy Patsos, who resuscitated and rebuilt Loyola's program over the previous nine seasons. Patsos took a group of former role players and four contributing freshmen and got to 20 victories. Only 15 of those, though, were accomplished by the time Siena was eliminated in the MAAC's postseason tournament. The next five came when the Saints captured the championship of the College Basketball Insider's post-season tournament that included two games in the friendly confines of the school's on-campus Alumni Recreation Center, the first ones played there since 1997. The entire season was truly a blast from the past in terms of success, too, the program's first winning season since 2009-10. As would be expected from a young team with a veteran guiding hand at the helm in Patsos, Siena made noticeable improvements as the season went on. After a 2-7 start Siena went 18-11 the rest of the way. That included a 9-2 record in the final 11 games. And, that late string of success started after back-to-back losses -- at Marist on a buzzer-beating shot by the Red Foxes, and in triple OT against Canisius. Those could have been devastating. Instead, it seemed to revitalize the team. After that the Saints won their last four MAAC regular-season games to vault into the fifth spot in the final standings. Junior wing Rob Poole became as much a go-to player as the Saints had, averaging 14.6 points per game. Sophomore 6-foot-8 Brett Bisping was the league's most-improved player and one of its better big men (11.5 points, 6.5 rebounds), and frosh Marquis Wright was among the best point guards in the league (199 total assists) almost from his first day on the court. Freshman Lavon Long, versatile enough to play both forward spots (9.5, 4.9) was also a season-long starter and contributor. And, the team got important contributions from a variety of others.
WHAT WENT WRONG: Expected things, like the slow start as chemistry developed within a group of so many new parts and roles. There were early growing pains, and some at midseason too, including two losses by four points (one of those in the triple OT setback vs. Canisius), one by one point (to Marist) and, yet, another OT loss (to Quinnipiac). It showed how close Siena was to being even better. There were other issues often related to being young. The team was over aggressive at times, exhibiting the need to play that way without committing fouls. Only 15 teams nationally were whistled for more than Siena's 22.5 fouls per game. And, freshman Long committed 148 fouls himself, more than any player nationally. But those issues lessened as the year went on, as the parts fit better together and as the young players got experience. At the end, Siena was the last team from the conference to have its season end.
WHAT'S AHEAD: Good things for sure, as every scholarship player who saw significant time returns. And, the only seniors will be Poole and reserve guard Evan Hymes. Four freshmen were in the playing group, at times, this season and there's a strong group coming in including eligible transfer 6-5 swingman Patrick Cole, who averaged 10.3 ppg. as a freshman at Coppin State in 2012-13 and, in some of this season's practices, looked like Siena's best player on the court. Rising junior Ryan Oliver also grew into an off-the-bench/instant-offense role this season, rising soph guard Maurice White delivered effort plays off the bench and rising senior "big" Imoh Silas had some strong, albeit inconsistent, play (63 blocks). The talent level is reminiscent of Fran McCaffery's glory years when the team went to three consecutive NCAA Tournaments. Hard to outright predict another run like that, but the team is certainly poised for more success in the immediate future. It also doesn't hurt to have Patsos in place. He is among the league's best coaches (and, this scribe's choice for THE best). The only concern is that another strong season is likely to attract significant interest from the next level.
REASONABLE EXPECTATION: No conference team has as many players returning. Of course, those players only took Siena to a fifth-place finish this past season. Patsos has already been delivering the message that if his cast thinks it can compete for the title merely because everyone returns ... well, that won't be done without the type of work that went into this past season. On paper, though, with the returnees as well as the addition of Cole, this does look like a team that should be predicted to finish no lower than third, probably second and with a reasonable chance to compete for the regular-season title.