SMITHFIELD, R.I. – Siena was perhaps the biggest disappointment in the MAAC last season. Coming off a CBI title in Jimmy Patsos’ first season in Albany/Loudonville, the Saints couldn’t get out of their own way, almost literally, in an 11-20 campaign.
Perhaps the biggest riddle was that the personnel wasn’t all that much different. Yet Siena mysteriously went from 78th nationally in defensive efficiency to a nightmarish 334th (there are only 351 Division I teams). What the heck happened?
Patsos and his team had six months to ponder that question and if Friday’s game against Radford is any indication, they have found some answers. The Saints opened the 2015-16 at Duke and Wisconsin, who only happened to play each other for the national title last April, so it was hard to get too much of a gauge off those contests.
But against a Radford (2-2) team that has already beaten Georgetown and gave a decent account of itself against VCU, Siena held the Highlanders to just 0.90 points per possession in an impressive 76-62 win in the semifinals of the 2K Classic at the Chace Athletic Center. To put that number in perspective, Siena held only one of its 31 opponents to a mark less than that last season, Niagara scored only 0.89 ppp in the first round of the MAAC Tournament last March.
Siena (1-2) will get another test in the finals Saturday night against host Bryant, but what else did we learn about the Saints on Friday afternoon?
- Siena appears to be a year older and a year wiser
One of the Saints’ biggest problems was just fouling too much, led by Lavon Long, who fouled at a whopping 6.2 per 40 minute rate. The new rules would seem to exacerbate the problem for Patsos, but they were pretty disciplined Friday, committing 24 fouls, but having no one foul out. Long did commit one questionable foul, but other than that made things very difficult for Radford. Javion Ogunyemi (10 pts., 11 rebs.) also appears to be much improved in the middle. Marquis Wright is another player with two college seasons of experience now as well. Patsos mentioned moving him away from guarding point guards to keep him out of foul trouble after the game. When Radford tried to make a run to get back into the contest in the second half, Wright took over the proceedings and had a couple of key hoops to put the game away.
“I thought we had some really good shots that didn’t go in, and I thought we had a lot of fouls, but most of them were good fouls,” Patsos said. “None of those silly, reach-in fouls. We came out and we wanted to go inside. We saw Javion had a lot of rebounds early and I said to him, ‘You know what that means? That means they can’t stop you.’ I thought Lavon did a lot of good things in the offseason, and he played well against Duke and Wisconsin, too.“
2) Defense, defense, defense
Patsos chose to go mostly zone against Radford and the Highlanders obliged the strategy by going 2-16 from behind the arc, finishing with a 39.7 eFG% on the afternoon. Siena also sprinkled in some 1-3-1 (full disclosure, my favorite defense) to good effect. By playing so much zone, though, it does expose one of the Saints’ massive weaknesses, defensive rebounding, where they 345th (62.9%). To be fair, they weren’t much better in that area two years ago (65.1%, 314th). On Friday, Siena posted a ridiculous 57.6% offensive rebounding percentage, which smoothes over a lot of other flaws. Radford did finish with 17 offensive boards, giving Siena just a 60.9% defensive rate. They got away with it easily on this night, but they are certainly numbers worth keeping an eye on as we head into MAAC play.
“We played with a lot of energy, and obviously we’ve got a million miles to go, but this was a really good win and tomorrow we have a chance to play for a trophy,” Patsos said.
3) Imoh Silas could play a big role
Siena, most likely correctly, is bringing Imoh Silas back into the mix slowly. He started 53 games in his first two seasons with the Saints, including 32 in 2013-14, before tearing his ACL and missing the entire 2014-15 campaign. His stats aren’t eye-popping, but he was sorely missed as a 6’9” presence in the middle, and will definitely be needed to spell Ogunyemi, and in some situations will need to be paired with him in the paint when Patsos wants to go big.
Just his mere presence should be helpful, though, when Silas (who was 13th nationally in offensive rebounding rate and 27th in block rate in 2013-14, even though he played in less than 50 percent of the overall minutes) scored his first basket in two years in the second half, the bench exploded. He said after the game he is at about “80 to 85 percent” and hopes to be back at 100 percent by the time conference play opens (early in the MAAC, just two weeks away).
“I’m feeling a lot better,” Silas said. “The coaches have told me to take my time. It’s going to take a while to get my confidence back completely. It was nice to get that first hoop out of the way, and now I can just play basketball. It was a good feeling.”
For all Siena’s troubles last season, they were playing decent basketball at the end of the campaign, and a boost like Silas should give them could push them back near the top of the MAAC this season.