Saturday, April 26, 2014

Team Report: Siena Men Set To Compete For Crown

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.


Mike D'Amico said...

Don't think Patsos is going anyplace for a while even with a couple of MAAC titles. Fran McCaffery stayed 5 years and he was known as a "climber". Patsos has only been at 2 schools (Maryland and Loyola) in 22 years prior to Siena and only in one area (DC/Maryland). Very possible unless Maryland comes calling he's here for a very long time.

Steve Amedio said...

No coach, as history shows, is going to stay at Siena if he has success and bigger schools come calling. Do the financial math. Doesn't take a genius to figure why coaches move from Siena, and other MAAC schools. Follow the money.

Mike D'Amico said...

I agree but Patsos isn't young and an up and comer" i.e. Hewitt gone in 3 years. I expect him for at least 5 years like McCaffery was. His career record isn't great (like Fran's was early in his career at Siena).

But yes there is a limit you can pay in the MAAC. All the more reason Siena will be in the A10 as soon as they are invited.

Steve Amedio said...

He's younger than McCaffery was when he was here. Plus, he's already been at the highest level, at Maryland, as an assistant. Another real good season and he'll be a very attractive candidate to move.
As for A10 ... Don't hold your breath on that one.
Don't forget ... It's not just a basketball move. Every program at the school would have to make the move.
Plus, to be competitive, almost certainly have to lower academic standards. Not sure if that's part of Siena's philosophy.
As for Patsos' career record ... How about taking a Loyola program that was just about the worst in the country the year before his arrival and, then, having the best record in the MAAC in his last two seasons there ... At a lacrosse school?
You "expect" him to be here five years?
How would you know that?

Mike D'Amico said...

McCaffery was 45 when he took the Siena job, Patsos was 46 when Siena hired him.

Maybe you're right Steve. But BCS jobs don't grow on trees. And not many of them are given to coaches with .519 or similar winning percentages (Patsos' current record)

Steve Amedio said...

McCaffery was actually about a month shy of 46 when he became Siena coach, and 46 1/2 when he coached his first game ... so, basically, the same age.
You certainly can structure facts to suit your purpose ...
But, how about this? Loyola had one winning season in the MAAC before Patsos got there. The program was in shambles, ranked 2nd from last among 340, or so, D-I schools, the year before he got hired.
An admitted "lacrosse school." Players in the Balt/D.C. area were "ashamed" to have to settle for a Loyola scholarship (that's the word used by a former Loyola coach). Patsos not only had to build a team, but he had to revitalize an entire program. Which he did in pretty short order.
He had five winning seasons in his nine, and another at .500 exactly. His last two seasons: 47-21, best record of any MAAC program. Then, to turn around Siena so quickly ... Saints almost universally predicted to finish 10th this past season, and rightly so. Fabulous coaching job turned things around quicker than expected.
You think other schools haven't noticed?
Plus, he's already had a lot of ACC experience as an assistant.
Add all of that up.
What part of that isn't attractive to the next level?
And, what was Fran's coaching record before he got to Siena?
It was 139-126, at far lower-level programs, and ones in much better shape when he took over than Loyola was when Patsos was hired.
Nice to be optimistic about Patsos being here long term. But, in truth, you have no idea.
For that matter, I'm not certain either.
My best guess is based on him being a very attractive candidate elsewhere if Siena's 2014-15 is as good as everyone expects; and, that every single MAAC coach who has ever been offered a significantly better job elsewhere has moved on.

Mike D'Amico said...

Let's see Lehigh was 95-196 in the previous 12 seasons before Fran McCaffery arrived. Lehigh had 1 winning seasons dating back to the 1960's. Totally baron program.

Greensboro was 26-59 the previous three years he took that job and had 3 winning seasons total in their brief D1 history. Since he left they've had two winning seasons.

And McCaffery was an assistant at Notre Dame for 11 years. Pretty big time program.

McCaffery took two different schools to the NCAA tournament. UNCG with absolutely no resources playing a bunch of guarantee games and Lehigh with tough academic standards.

Jimmy is a solid coach - the point is he has a ways to go to get high-major interest with his resume.

Steve Amedio said...

Let's see ... Lehigh was 12-19 the year before Fran arrived there, and had every player of significance returning.
UNC-G was 84-87 in the six years before Fran and, again, had a loaded roster returning when Fran was hired (if you bothered to research any of that).
Loyola was the absolute worst D-I program in the country when Patsos was hired.
That Fran had to play some guarantee games (2 or 3 annually) at UNC-G doesn't figure in this at all relative to NCAA appearances. All his teams at UNC-G/Lehigh had to do was win their respective leagues' automatic berths ... leagues far, far inferior to the MAAC.
Yeah, Fran an assistant at ND, a "pretty big time" program.
But, the ND staff got fired in Fran's last season there (1998-99).
And, ND's program wasn't even close to Maryland's, which WON a national championship when Patsos was an assistant there.
I'm not going to continue this debate with you since you really have no idea whatsoever about how high-major programs perceive Patsos and whether he's an attractive candidate to move on in the near future.

Steve Amedio said...

Mike: As indicated ... debate time is over. Not going to allow derogatory, half-true comments in this forum.
If you've got that much of a problem with what appears here, contact me privately via facebook or email.