Oct. 19, 2012
Siena enters the 2012-13 season with more questions than answers. That's not necessarily a bad thing.
"Last year, we played pretty much six guys," head coach Mitch Buonaguro said. "From a personnel and tactical standpoint, everybody knew what to expect. Given the circumstance, our seniors kept things together really well, and we enjoyed more success than people predicted. This year we have a much deeper roster. We have the opportunity to try more things, and hopefully develop more as the season advances."
Senior O.D. Anosike and sophomores Evan Hymes and Rob Poole are the only returnees to have logged more than four minutes per game last season. The trio provides a solid foundation, but it's the players who weren't on the floor that may have the most to say about how far this year's team goes.
Last year's roster was decimated by an unprecedented run of misfortune: promising post presence Davis Martens missed the season following hip surgery; sophomore swingman Trenity Burdine sat out with a foot injury; projected starting point guard Rakeem Brookins was a last-minute medical redshirt after being diagnosed with herniated and bulging disks in his back; the NCAA ruled that freshmen Lionel Gomis and Imoh Silas would have to serve an academic year in residence due to reclassification issues; and freshman Davonte Beard transferred 10 games into the season.
The fact that the Saints won more games last year than they did the year before was no small accomplishment. The fact that Martens, Burdine, Brookins, Gomis and Silas all return to the active roster is cause for cautious optimism.
"We're a young team, but we do have experience in key spots," Buoanguro said. "I think it's a team people will enjoy watching, and one that will improve as the year goes on. There's no question we're headed in the right direction."
Anosike is the face of the program and a legitimate All-American candidate. He led the nation in rebounding last season, and is the likely Preseason Player of the Year in the MAAC. At one point last year, he strung together 17 consecutive double-doubles - the second longest streak in all of Division I in the last 15 years.
"We're obviously going to go to O.D. this year," Buonaguro said. "He will be a focal point for our offense, and we're counting on him to produce on the floor and lead by example."
Anosike got a taste of the success Siena is hoping to regain when he appeared in all 34 games as a freshman reserve on a team that won the MAAC and pressed Purdue to the limit in the NCAA's. This is his team now, and he'd like nothing more than to bookmark his career with appearances in the Big Dance.
Silas, Martens, Gomis and freshman Brett Bisping all figure to see action along with Anosike inside.
Silas is a pure center who can change the game with his shot-blocking ability. He also runs the court extremely well, and gives the Saints another formidable rebounding presence.
Martens is a unique talent with tremendous athleticism. He has great length and bounce, and good hands. Martens flashed signs of brilliance in his first two years, and enjoyed a great offseason. If he develops as hoped, he will see meaningful minutes.
Gomis adds quality length and depth up front. As he adjusts to the college game, his playing time will increase. Bisping has been a pleasant surprise in camp. He has a high basketball IQ, and a great feel for the game. Of the newcomers, the Illinois native may be the most ready to contribute at the start of the season.
Sophomore Marcus Hopper saw limited action in 21 games last year, and adds depth to the Saints' frontline. He has the ability to step outside and knock down shots.
The Saints have two potential game-changers on the perimeter.
Poole made a major impact in his first year with the Saints. He was billed as a deadly shooter coming into the program, but his value far extends his marksmanship. He plays with high energy, and has a knack for making big plays, whether it's a key rebound, an important pass or a critical 3-pointer.
Poole will be called upon to expand his game even more this year, as he will likely lock down one of the starting spots on opening day.
Burdine is a great athlete who thrives off the dribble. He's worked himself into peek shape entering the year, and if he's 100 percent healthy for the first time in his career, he'll be a factor.
If you're going to win the MAAC, you must have elite guard play. The Saints feel they have one of the best backcourts in the conference, and with good reason.
Hymes exploded onto the scene as an unheralded freshman, posting one of the top rookie campaigns in program history. He logged huge minutes, gained tremendous experience, and kept Siena fans on the edge of their seat with his dynamic play all year.
Hymes' emergence as a premier floor general likely means Brookins will shift back to his natural off-guard spot this year. As a freshman in 2010-11, Brookins enjoyed great success running the point, but the move to shooting guard will enable him to take full advantage of his playmaking ability.
Hymes and Brookins give the Saints one of the fastest backcourts in Division I. Both players excel with the pedal to the medal, and Siena fans can expect to see a return to the up-tempo style that defined the championship teams from 2008-2010.
If there is a knock against Siena's starting backcourt it would be its size. The 5-8 Hymes and 5-10 Brookins are aggressive defenders, but there could be matchup issues against bigger guards.
Freshmen Ryan Oliver and Rich Audu may help address this concern. Both players stand 6-3, and each brings a unique skill set. Oliver is a pure shooter who can go off the dribble, and Audu is a driving guard who makes good decisions with the basketball. It's likely both players will see minutes early in the season, as Buonaguro searches for effective rotations.
Freshman walk-on Chris Leppanen led Albany's Christian Brothers Academy to three straight Final Fours in High School, and he has been a welcome addition to Siena's practices. Fan-favorite Steven Cruz rounds out the 14-man roster.
Twelve of the 14 home games on Siena's schedule will be played on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, making it the most fan-friendly schedule in the 72-year history of the program.
"There's been great energy surrounding this team all summer, and with so many weekend games I expect Capital Region fans to really come out and support this team," Buonaguro said. "There's a lot to look forward to."
The 12 "weekend" home games (games being played after the traditional workweek ends) represent the most in program history. Never before have more Siena basketball home games been scheduled on Friday, Saturday or Sunday in the same season.
Eight of Siena's nine home MAAC games will be played on Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
The lights will be on more often than not on Friday nights in downtown Albany this winter. The Opening Week men's/women's doubleheader on Friday, November 9 at 5 p.m. is the first of seven home Friday night games on Siena's schedule, meaning half the Saints home games fall on Friday.
The annual clash with UAlbany returns to its traditional date, the first Saturday in December. This year, both the men's and women's programs will meet that day with the women tipping things off at 5 p.m.
Siena's MAAC opener is schedule for Friday, December 7 against Rider. A month later the Saints host Iona on Friday, January 4 in their second league home game of the season.
Other key MAAC contests fall on the weekend as well - Siena faces upstart Manhattan on Friday, February 1, and defending league champion Loyola on Saturday, February 16. Archrival Marist comes to town on Senior Night for the second time in three years. The Saints and Red Foxes meet in the penultimate game of the regular-season on Friday, March 1.
This year's MAAC Championship returns to the Birthplace of Basketball - Springfield, Mass. The 10 MAAC teams will battle for the league's automatic NCAA bid at the MassMutual Center, just a couple miles from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.