Cornell, Siena Continue Along Opposite Paths

Cornell and Siena may both be mid-majors from upstate New York hoping to return to their heights of five years ago, but their 2014-15 seasons could hardly be more different. The Saints entered with high expectations, picked second in the MAAC after winning last year’s College Basketball Invitational, but they struggled to a 3-6 start; the Big Red, on the other hand, rebounded from a 2-26 campaign to win half of their first 10 games. Both narratives continued at the Times Union Center on Tuesday, as Cornell exploded after halftime to top the hosts 75-57.

Siena and Cornell decorated the Times Union Center court in Christmas colors.
Siena and Cornell decorated the Times Union Center court in Christmas colors.

The pace was fast from the beginning, as the Big Red showed a full-court press while Siena countered with its usual aggressive defense. But the scoreboard lagged behind, as the two sides combined to shoot 1-for-15 on threes before halftime. Neither team led by more than two possessions in the first period, which concluded with Cornell up 27-26 on 35 possessions.

Shortly after the break, Cornell broke open the game with hotter outside shooting. Shonn Miller hit his team’s first three, Robert Hatter drew a three-point shooting foul, and Devin Cherry sank a trey off Jojo Fallas’s one-touch pass to cap an 11-3 run. From there, it was a battle of attrition; both teams drew 28 free throws in Tuesday’s physical game, but the Big Red held Siena to 27% shooting in the second half while pulling away with acrobatic layups on the other end.

“We’re a work in progress, and we’re a team that’s getting better. It was good to see us in the second half come out and play like the team I think we’re capable of,” Cornell coach Bill Courtney said.

Miller, a senior on the short list of Ivy League Player of the Year candidates, paced the visitors with 26 points on 9-for-18 shooting. The 6’7” forward is at his best in the paint but can also score from outside, making a three-pointer and a pair of 15-footers in Tuesday’s second half. He added a season-high 15 rebounds, earning his third double-double of the season (though he would have three more if humans used a base-nine counting system).

Though his 16.2 ppg lead Cornell, Miller’s impact is felt just as strongly on the other side of the ball. He’s a defensive stat-stuffer, ranking in the top 100 nationally in defensive rebound rate while racking up blocks and steals, but also a strong one-on-one defender. Matched up with Rob Poole, Siena’s leading scorer and a natural guard, Miller held Poole to six points on 2-12 shooting.  “Shonn’s used to guarding post guys, or athletic frontcourt guys. So having to guard a shooter was a little different for him,” Courtney said. “I thought he did a terrific job of staying attached to [Poole] and not letting him get a whole bunch of open looks.”

After ranking second-to-last nationally in defensive efficiency last season, per KenPom.com, Cornell is roughly average on that end this year. Much of that success can be ascribed to Miller, who missed all of last year with a shoulder injury. But it also reflects the improvement of holdovers — such as Robert Hatter, who has become a pesky ball-hawk, and shotblocking center David Onuorah — and the return of Galal Cancer, who also sat out last season.

Playing on the court where he won three high school section championships at Christian Brothers Academy, Cancer battled foul trouble and 2-for-7 shooting on Tuesday, but he had two steals and four assists as one of Cornell’s most willing passers off the dribble. “It almost felt like I was back in high school again,” he said.

While Cornell has been boosted by returning players, Siena is struggling in the wake of its own recent injuries. After Imoh Silas tore his ACL before the season and Brett Bisping had toe surgery this month, forward Lavon Long sprained his ankle last week and missed the last two games. The Saints are now on a four-game losing streak, and the preseason optimism has faded.

“I was reading the paper, and I looked at the Indiana Pacers, and they were 8-19. They were in the conference finals last year, and they had a guy leave, and they had a guy get hurt. Now I haven’t seen a highlight with them this year. Maybe we’re the Indiana Pacers,” Siena coach Jimmy Patsos said. “Some guys have to pick it up when other guys are down. That’s why I mentioned the Pacers, because I don’t know who’s picking it up for them.”

The Saints’ injuries have particularly hit their frontcourt; only two scholarship forwards were available on Tuesday night. Without much size, Siena’s defense has suffered, allowing at least 1.08 points per possession in each of its last four losses.

With the rest of MAAC play around the corner — Siena hosts Bucknell Sunday before resuming its conference slate Jan. 2 — the Saints don’t have much time to find their footing. According to Patsos (who got a second-half technical for protesting a series of shooting fouls), that means they must move on from their poor injury luck instead of using it as an excuse. “We could come in last in the MAAC if we don’t change, in my opinion,” he said.

Siena’s CBI Championship Shows Power of Home Court

After a six-game journey, the Saints locked up their first 20-win season since reaching the NCAA tournament in 2010 with a 81-68 victory over Fresno State in the deciding game of the College Basketball Invitational championship series. Continue reading “Siena’s CBI Championship Shows Power of Home Court”

Siena’s Patsos Tabs Saints “On Schedule”

Sitting two games away from the end of his first regular season with the Siena Saints, head coach Jimmy Patsos said that his effort to rebuild the program is “on schedule.”

“I wouldn’t say ahead, we’re on,” Patsos said when asked whether his team was ahead of schedule. “I thought this team would be pretty good. I didn’t know how good Marquis Wright was going to be, I thought he’d be good, but I knew [Rob] Poole was going to be good and I thought [Evan] Hymes would be better.” Continue reading “Siena’s Patsos Tabs Saints “On Schedule””

Three Thoughts: Siena 64, Fairfield 56

This is the first time I’ve seen the Siena Saints live and in person under head coach Jimmy Patsos. While getting a look at the Saints, I also got another look at the Fairfield Stags during Siena’s 64-56 victory at Webster Bank Arena on Sunday. Instead of John’s five thoughts, I’m going with three lasting thoughts from Sunday’s game. Continue reading “Three Thoughts: Siena 64, Fairfield 56”

MAAC Discussion: League’s Top 10

A few weeks ago we looked at the Top 10 players in the NEC, now I want to do the same exercise with the MAAC. This league is a lot tougher because of all the turnover and transfers coming in. There is no dominant team, so six of the 10 teams probably think they have a legitimate shot at winning the title. There’s also the pesky problem of transfers that aren’t eligible immediately or might not be eligible at all this season. I’m leaving those players off my Top 10 for now, but I’d certainly be willing to consider them in the future.

Continue reading “MAAC Discussion: League’s Top 10”

End of season tempo-free MAAC

Regular season MAAC play has come to its inevitable conclusion. The final day offered a few surprises as Rider beat Fairfield at home, Loyola (MD) pulled out a squeaker over Manhattan and Marist went off on Niagara. All of those results have been included in this final edition of the tempo-free MAAC and will also impact the projected tournament results that I will unveil on Tuesday afternoon. It’s been quite the ride. For some more reading on the MAAC, checkout out this Q&A Siena Saints Blog did with MAAC commissioner Rich Ensor.

Continue reading “End of season tempo-free MAAC”

Manhattan loses to Siena, bigger loss is Alvarado

Midway through the first half in Manhattan’s 70-64 loss to Siena at the Times Union Center in Albany, NY Michael Alvarado collided with O.D. Anosike. According to tweets from reports who were at the game Steve Masiello said in the postgame that Alvarado was elbowed and suffered a concussion and possibly a fracture of his eye-socket bone. That sounds like a long-term injury and certainly is going to have a big impact on the Jaspers moving forward.

Here’s video of the play courtesy of the Siena Saints Blog, which I highly recommend you check out.

Manhattan is now 18-10 and 11-5 in the MAAC. The Jaspers are probably going to hold onto the fourth seed, which could set up a potential match up with Iona in the conference semifinals. But all that is getting ahead of ourselves because of the current roster situation.

Alvarado is the second leading scorer on the Jaspers. Manhattan relies on his ability to drive to the basket in order to make plays. That’s why his free throw rate is so strong. He’s also shooting a respectable 39% from three, one of the best marks on the team. His offensive rating right now sits right at 100. Also, Alvarado’s man-to-man defense is a key to the Jaspers’ press. He’s one of the top players in the nation according to steal rate.

Unfortunately concussions are a tricky thing. You never know when a player is going to be ready to return or how he’ll react when healthy. Pay attention to the news as we get more information about the extent of the injury. If it’s a long-term situation then Kidani Brutus and Mohamed Koita are going to play even more minutes in the Manhattan backcourt. Brutus played 32 minutes, about six more than his season average, and Koita played 15, five more than his season average, against Siena. Brutus will have to cut down on turnovers, but his three-point shooting should be a valuable asset. Against the Saints he shot 3-7 from long distance. Koita has really struggled offensively this season. He’s a strong defensive presence, but with a 79.0 offensive rating he’s basically a black hole at that end of the court.

The defensive end though is where Manhattan got burned by Alvarado being out against the Saints. Freshman Evan Hymes went off for 21 points, including 5-8 three-point shooting, and seven assists in 40 minutes. The worry is that players like Scott Machado, Dylon Cormier and Derek Needham would be able to take even more advantage of such a situation.

If Alvarado has to miss any extended amount of time it’ll be a big blow for the Jaspers. Their depth will certainly be tested and they finish up against UNC Wilmington, Canisius and Loyola (MD) in the Bronx over the next few weeks.

BracketBuster Pairings Being Announced

Iona is going to be hosting Nevada at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 18 on ESPN or ESPN2. This is a tough game for the Gaels to stomach. It’s not a game that winning really helps. Nevada is currently 59th in RPI and 91st in KenPom rankings. While they’re cleaning up in the WAC right now it’s not particularly useful in terms of getting a bubble game. Wichita State was sitting there and Iona could’ve used it. Also, Iona has to return this game at some point. I’m sure Tim Cluess isn’t happy about this game.

Stony Brook will take on former America East conference member Northeastern at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 18. That’s a nice game for both teams involved. There’s some history, there’s a chance for SBU to get a win over a CAA team that actually might help their conference rating and it means that the Seawolves get to go to Massachusetts again. I’m not sure if they really want to, but if it’s okay for a conference road trip I think it’s fine for a BracketBusters game.

Per a whole bunch of sources Manhattan will be hosting UNC-Wilmington on Feb. 18. There’s a whole bunch of reasons why this is a terrible matchup. Let’s start with the fact that Wilmington has lost six of its last seven games, including to Towson on Saturday. Bonus though: Brian Mull, who writes for the Star News in North Carolina and does great tempo-free work, will be coming to the game.

Hofstra will host Siena at 4 p.m. on February 18. Here’s a nice regional matchup between to teams at pretty similar levels. There’s some reasons to be excited for this game. Also, if both these teams move upwards as expected over the next few seasons the return game could be valuable to both side as well.