What a difference a year makes.
Those who follow the Siena program closely know this adage all too well. The ebbs and flows of the past three decades have been extreme, but what the program has lacked in consistency has been made up for by dramatic championship runs deep into March.
Enter Jimmy Patsos.
After Siena hit its most recent rut in 2013-14, stumbling to a program-worst 24 losses, the Saints' turned to the energetic leader who had transformed Loyola from a MAAC laughing stock into a perennial contender in his nine years in Baltimore.
It didn't take him nearly as long to restore pride to the Siena program.
Siena won 20 games and a CBI Championship in Patsos' first season despite entering the year with expectations that would make Milwaukee Bucks' fans cringe.
Fast forward to the present where the Saints return 99% of their scoring and minutes along with the top-10 scorers from last year's over-achieving squad and the outlook couldn't be more different. Most pundits are predicting a top-three MAAC finish, and some even expect Siena to cut down the nets when the Championships return to Times Union Center for the first time since 2010.
"Better to have expectations than being picked 10th,'' Patsos said. " I know we aren't going to surprise anybody."
The challenge for Patsos and the Saints is managing those expectations.
Seniors Rob Poole, Evan Hymes and Imoh Silas give the Saints a veteran presence they did not have last year. Poole and Hymes each recorded their 1,000th career point as juniors and combine for over 6,000 minutes of playing time, while Silas has started 53 of the 68 games he's played in the last two years.
Poole led the Saints with 14.6 points per game as a junior and was named Preseason First Team All-MAAC this year. He provides the Saints with a dynamic scorer and has bought into Patsos' high-energy style of play. Hymes moved from starting point guard to sixth man last year, providing a nice spark at off guard. He finished fifth on the team with 8.5 points per game and shot 83% from the foul line.
Junior Brett Bisping enjoyed a meteoric rise in his second season, finishing second on the team with 11.5 points and first with 6.5 rebounds per game. Bisping, a preseason Third Team All-MAAC pick, displayed range to the three point line and a physical presence in the paint that rivaled anybody in the conference. Classmate Ryan Oliver also turned his game around, especially late in the year. Oliver provided the Saints with another dimension at the guard position - size - while proving to be much more than the sharpshooter he was known as.
The veteran leadership is certainly an asset, but the main reason for the optimism lies in Siena's talented seven-member sophomore class.
Marquis Wright took the reins as starting point guard from day one, and by the end of the year he had already asserted himself as one of the conference's best. Wright matched Siena legend Marc Brown's fourth place single-season assist total with 199 helpers in his first season in the Green and Gold. With Wright running the show, Siena fans have reason to be excited about the future of the program.
Wright was joined on the MAAC All-Rookie Team by versatile Lavon Long. Long averaged 9.4 points and 4.9 rebounds as a freshman and was matchup nightmare for teams in and out of conference. After a summer that included an overseas trip to Europe and increased weight training, Long enters his second season with legitimate All-MAAC potential.
Maurice White, Javion Ogunyemi and Michael Wolfe each gained valuable experience as meaningful reserves last season. White plays with a high motor and is a fearless defender, Ogunymei will compete for the opening night starting center job after battling through injury to average double figure minutes in 30 games as a rookie, and Wolfe flashed signs of his sky-high potential in the limited minutes he saw in 36 games played.
Highly-regarded Coppin State transfer Patrick Cole joins the sophomore class after sitting out last season, and those close to the program expect his explosive scoring ability will be a welcome addition.
The Saints' nine-game non-conference schedule should have the team prepared for MAAC play, and ultimately the conference championships in March.
"Obviously, it's another really tough schedule," Patsos said. "The first thing that jumps out at you is three Atlantic 10 teams on the road, the sixth rated conference in the country last year (by RPI). Albany, Bucknell and Vermont are proven programs with recent major national postseason experience, Radford won a game in the CBI last year (96-92 at Oregon State), and Cornell and Loyola are going to be much-improved. We're going to need our fans to show up and support us."
The main conference competition figures to come from defending regular-season champion Iona and Tournament champ Manhattan, with established Quinnipiac and veteran Saint Peter's certainly capable of cutting down the nets. As Siena proved last season, nobody can be counted out in a conference that has sent six different teams to the Big Dance the last eight years.
"Our league is the little engine that could," Patsos said. "There's always going to be players in this league and there's always going to be great coaches. Players want to come to the MAAC because it's a great basketball league."