HAMDEN, Conn. – The credit does not belong to the critic, as Mr. Roosevelt once taught us, but the data made it pretty easy to be critical of Siena’s defense last season. Coming off a 2013-14 campaign in which the Saints were second in the MAAC (behind only champion Manhattan) and 78th nationally in defensive efficiency, Siena mysteriously couldn’t stop anyone last season with largely the same personnel that had won 20 games and the CBI in Jimmy Patsos’ first season in Loudonville (OK, Albany).
The final tally: 334th in defensive efficiency, dead last in the 11-team MAAC, and therefore an extremely disappointing 11-20 record.
So it didn’t take a genius to see where Patsos would spend most of his time in the offseason, and the end result has been a fairly remarkable turnaround. The Saints have held each of their six MAAC opponents thus far at 1 point per possession or under, and Friday night – despite slogging through an 0.89 ppp offensive performance of their own – were able to post a solid, if ugly, 64-52 road victory of Quinnipiac, holding the Bobcats to just 0.72 ppp in the process.
Siena (11-6, 4-2) has, quite literally, gone from worst to first in the MAAC defensive efficiency ratings (and currently up to 90th nationally), and it’s not real close at the moment. Saint Peter’s is second, and the Peacocks hold a 72-68 home win over Siena, with the other conference defeat coming in triple overtime at Manhattan.
What were the brilliant moves Patsos made to turn things around? Well, according to him, it’s mostly personnel. Brett Bisping (more on him in a moment) played just the first seven games before getting injured last season. The two freshman guards he’s added – Kenny Wormley and Nico Clareth – both bring good size with them, and as their minutes and experience have increased, the defensive numbers have done the opposite.
“Kenny (Wormley) is 6’4” and Nico (Clareth) is 6’5”, so that really helps,” Patsos said. “We’re probably back to basics, if that makes sense. We have tall guards. Ryan (Oliver) is pretty tall, too. So that’s part of it.”
Lavon Long – after committing 6.2 fouls per 40 minutes last season – is down to 3.8. In fact, Friday in a foul-plagued game (Siena is still only 299th in fouls committed, but were 341st last season), Long committed a foul early in the second half, and Siena fans were stunned to find out when it was announced that it was his first.
And the final piece is junior center Javion Ogunyemi. After briefly transferring to Boston University in the offseason, Ogunyemi has been a force in the middle, picking up eight blocks (although he was 1-12 from the field) Friday night and helping limit Quinnipiac to a woeful 22.9% shooting from inside the three-point arc.
As you may have noticed, Siena’s MAAC defensive numbers do come with a bit of an asterisk, the Saints have yet to meet with Monmouth or Iona, which will change Monday night when they travel to West Long Branch. Monmouth’s offense is coming off a decent performance at Iona as you may have heard and will be a massive test for Siena, who certainly has to be considered a MAAC sleeper with its improved form and the MAAC Tournament being on its home court. They also should have injured point guard Marquis Wright back by then as well.
What else did we learn Friday night at the TD Bank Center?:
- Power of Brett Bisping
Bisping won’t get the publicity of the Iona and Monmouth stars, but Patsos and opposing MAAC coaches know he probably deserves to be in the conversation. Unfortunately, it looked like back spasms would sideline Bisping Friday, and he was limited to just four minutes in the first half (spending most of it outside the Siena locker room trying to get loose).
He decided to give it a shot in the second half, and played all but the final minute, scoring 14 of his 18 points and adding four rebounds and two blocks. He is second (behind Monmouth’s Deon Jones) in defensive rebounding rate and the biggest reason Siena has gone from 345th to 162nd in that category this season. Quinnipiac finished with 18 offensive rebounds, but with all the misses, it was well below its season average (36.7%) and only six came after halftime with Bisping in the game.
“Brett made as many good shots in practice yesterday as I’d ever seen him, then he says ‘My back hurts’ and two hours later he’s on the floor and can barely move,” Patsos said. “He just said something twinged. We did not think Brett Bisping was playing today when we came here this morning. He got a little loose and said he wanted to try. In the first half, it tightened up again. In the second half, he said if you put me in and don’t take me out, I think I can try. I said, ‘Well, looks like you’re in until you foul out.’ “
2) Offensively challenged Quinnipiac
The Bobcats (5-10, 2-4) are down to 338th nationally in offensive efficiency (they remain ahead of Niagara in league play), and now stand 351st and dead last in two-point shooting after Friday’s dreadful display, something all the offensive rebounds in the world can’t fix.
“Obviously, we continue to struggle on offense and most of that is on me,” Quinnipiac coach Tom Moore said. “I have to find a way to get us out of this because it’s been season long. We’ll just keep going back to the drawing board and have a good practice tomorrow.”
Other than just good old poor shooting, it’s hard to see what the solution is. They would like a little more out of Gio McLean (just 35.8% two-point shooting), but he hasn’t gotten much help from anyone. The return of Chaise Daniels could start to be the answer, he played 25 minutes and led a 17-5 run over the first 6:47 of the second half that actually saw the Bobcats grab a 38-32 lead. But – after scoring just 21 points in the first half – they got just 14 points in the final 13:13.
Quinnipiac has seen Iona, Monmouth, and Siena now and has played the toughest schedule inside the MAAC (per KenPom), so there is still hope, but Sunday’s home game with Canisius sets up as massive for future confidence.
“Huge game for us,” Moore said. “Every game is important to try to get position for the MAAC Tournament, but we’re not used to being 5-10 at Quinnipiac. I don’t want that becoming part of our fabric or be accepted by anyone in the program, so it’s big Sunday. I don’t want the stench of a sub-.500 team in the MAAC to settle in on this group.”
3) Siena a contender?
It will be interesting to see how they do at Monmouth, but with sincere apologies to Saint Peter’s, who can surely prove me wrong in the coming months, it appears like if you were looking for someone outside the top two that could actually win the MAAC, it would have to be Siena, particularly if they can get Wright back healthy at some point.
“We’re growing up, it’s a work in progress,” Patsos said. “The thing I think we’re learning is no one guy is going to do it. Even when Marquis comes back, no one guy is going to win these games for us. It’s going to take a group effort, and I’m really proud of them.”