Outlook: Fifth-year head coach Jimmy Patsos led his team to the MAAC title game last season, but must now navigate the Saints through the loss of four 1,000-point scorers.
Last year: 17-17 (12-8 MAAC)
Who’s in: Christian Bentley (G); Manny Camper (G/F); Prince Oduro (F); Roman Penn (G); Jordan Horn (G); Ben Diamond (G)
Who’s out: Marquis Wright (G); Javion Ogunyemi (F); Brett Bisping (F); Lavon Long (F); Willem Brandwijk (F); Jimmy Merrill (F)
Key Non-Conference Games: @Charleston (11/10); @Bucknell (11/20); St. Bonaventure (11/29); @Louisville (12/6); @Vermont (12/11)
A new era is officially underway at Siena. The Saints take their first steps forward without the lauded quartet of Marquis Wright, Brett Bisping, Javion Ogunyemi, and Lavon Long, but their absence brings the promise of ample opportunity for the program’s next generation.
One of the few known quantities on the Saints’ 2017-18 roster is the presence of Nico Clareth in the backcourt. The electrifying junior is Siena’s top returning scorer, averaging 13.7 ppg over 22 contests last season.
Last March, Clareth treated fans to one of the greatest performances in the history of college basketball as he piled up 27 second-half points while connecting on seven of nine 3-point attempts, leading Siena back from a 17-point deficit en route to an 89-85 upset of top-seeded Monmouth. That performance lends testament to Clareth’s game-changing talent, which will be the focal point of Siena’s offense this season.
The burning question leading up to Siena’s Nov. 10 season-opener at CAA favorite College of Charleston is who will fill the roles around Clareth to open the season?
A number of candidates are in line to take over at point guard in the wake of Wright’s graduation, but the job may ultimately fall to freshman Roman Penn, who enrolled at Siena this past January after a half season at Don Bosco Prep in Indiana, where he averaged 16 points, seven assists, and shot 41% from 3-point range. During the Saints’ preseason trip to Canada, Penn posted a line of 9.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 2.0 assists over three games.
Others who could get a shot at the point include redshirt junior Kadeem Smithen and sophomore Khalil Richard.
Smithen, who spent his freshman season at Richmond, enters his second year with the Saints. Playing behind Wright last season, Smithen averaged 2.2 points and 1.4 rebounds, but fewer than one assist per game. Richard posted similar numbers, averaging 3.7 points along with 1.5 rebounds and 0.8 assists as a freshman, but an 8.3 ppg average in Canada suggests an expanded role this season.
Sophomore Ahsante Shivers is one of the league’s prime breakout candidates, as he will be heavily relied upon alongside Clareth. Tenacious on the defensive end of the court and effective in the opponent’s zone, Shivers should improve heavily on his freshman line of 4.0 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 1.0 assists in 18.2 minutes per game. The Maryland native did sustain an ACL sprain prior to the Saints’ Canada trip, but reportedly should be ready for the start of the season.
Freshmen Christian Bentley and Jordan Horn could also carve out roles in Patsos’ backcourt. Horn averaged 15.0 points and shot 53% from the field during the Saints’ trip to Canada, while Bentley played alongside incoming freshman forward Prince Oduro at First Love Christian Academy.
Fellow freshman Manny Camper underwent knee surgery in August, but could be ready for the start of the season. A four-year varsity starter at Kent County High School in Maryland, Camper scored 1,951 career points, averaged 28 points and 13 rebounds as a senior, and also played quarterback and wide receiver on the school’s football team.
While the Saints appear to head into 2017-18 with plenty of depth in the backcourt, their frontcourt is another issue. Three of last year’s 1,000-point graduates were listed as forwards, so it is a wide open competition beneath the basket.
The aforementioned Oduro appears to be the heir apparent in the paint, but will be asked to carry a major burden in his freshman season. The Toronto native helped Canada to a FIBA U-19 Basketball World Cup title this past summer, averaging 6.6 points and 4.1 rebounds over seven tournament games. During Siena’s trip to his native country, Oduro averaged 9.7 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks.
Other faces in the frontcourt include junior Evan Fisher, redshirt junior Kevin Degnan, and sophomores Sammy Friday and Thomas Huerter Jr.
Fisher averaged just 1.4 points and 1.2 boards in 2016-17, but posted 13.3 ppg, 8.7 rpg, and shot 57% from the field in Canada. Degnan, a transfer from league rival Fairfield, is eligible for the Saints this season after sitting out last year. As a sophomore with the Stags in 2015-16, Degnan averaged 3.1 points and 1.6 rebounds over 24 games.
Friday averaged 1.3 points and 0.8 rebounds in just 4.2 mpg in a crowded backcourt last season, but could benefit greatly from the opportunity to pick up more minutes this year. Huerter played just 46 minutes over 11 games last season.
Never one to shy away from a tough schedule, Patsos has put together another gauntlet for his team this season. In addition to their season opener at Charleston, the Saints will take on Patriot League favorite Bucknell and America East favorite Vermont. Siena also has an early-December date with the embattled Louisville a week after hosting Atlantic 10 contender St. Bonaventure.
With no seniors listed on its roster, Siena is surely in line for a challenging season. However, the Saints still boast one of the league’s best players, and if the supporting cast can rise to the occasion, Siena should find success in the MAAC yet again this season.
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.