Peeking over the edge on the cusp of greatness, while searching the present for clues to the future.
You can take a look at my season ending essay to get a feel of what I was thinking going into this essay. I’ve been working on other writing projects, and working in general like we all do, but my time between the final buzzer against Louisville until now has been far from idle.
I have studied and reveled in all the polls. Yes, all the polls in which the Siena Saints have been ranked in the Top 25. The Men’s Basketball team has been projected by numerous sporting publications to start the season as one of the best 25 teams in the country. Many have begun to believe, others still think the ranking is too high. It’s difficult to absorb the ramifications. As I promised to do in my season-ending essay I will not look to the future with rose-colored glasses, those days are over. In examining the goings-on of the men in green and gold I’ll take a look with close scrutiny while still maintaining the game to game enjoyment and growth of the program.
We live in a reality as Saints fans that is more clear-cut than ever before. But as a fan who has endured much, I write as a semi-impartial journalist who is here to make even clearer the realities that truly exist in the world of Siena men’s basketball fandom.
The Saints enter the season as the favorites once again, voted to finish first in the MAAC almost unanimously for the second consecutive season, with the sole dissenting vote coming from Tommy Dempsey, the head coach at Rider. A lot of Siena fans bashed the vote, but if you look at it objectively, it makes sense. I picked Rider to finish second – they return possible player of the year Ryan Thompson with experienced scorers and possess one of the best starting five players in the conference. Niagara should be a tough out once again, and the conference looks to be as difficult to win from top to bottom as it has ever been.
Anything can happen in March, before the big dance. Anything. Dempsey knows this, Joe Mihalich knows this, and everyone has to accept it. It’s the price of being a fan.
Am I trying to hedge my bets that Siena won’t win the MAAC tourney and get to the big dance? Hardly. I just know that as a lifelong Saints fan, and as a sports fan, and as someone who understands the complexities of competition it is difficult for any team to repeat, much less do it three times in a row.
If the Saints are fortunate enough to win the MAAC tourney for the third consecutive time it will be the first time in 20 years that a team not named La Salle has accomplished the feat. Siena has the personnel, it’s been well documented. Coach Fran McCaffery has said that this year’s team belongs to the senior PG Ronald Moore. He is the floor general, he has sneakers made of pure speed, and his basketball IQ and instincts are exemplary. He will make the team go, but add returning seniors Edwin Ubiles, Alex Franklin, junior Ryan Rossiter prowling in the post, and junior Clarence Jackson to the mix, you have a blend of players who know the McCaffery system and are going to spend forty minutes a night running and gunning until their opponent is gasping for air. The leadership, experience, and ability to create within the coach’s system should provide for fireworks and offense that will enthrall anyone watching a Saints game this year.
Now is the time to enjoy what’s going on, but to also understand that the future is bright in Loudonville, while also uncertain and possibly maddening. The pipeline seems to be working as coach continues to recruit well and to add players who are not only skilled but fit well in his system. This is the first time in the history of the Siena Saints when continuity seems to be working, and the coach is not only reloading each year, but truly building a program. The 2009-2010 season has one minimum goal – yes, one main goal – to return to the NCAA tournament and try to win at least one game in the big dance. Why just this one goal? Because if it doesn’t happen then everything the program has worked for will take a step back due to the amazing pre-season hype and rewards extolled on the players and coaches. If the Saints make it to the dance and lose, then at least they had the shot. Gonzaga, in making the progression they’ve made to get where they are today, lost a number of first round games in a row, but the fact that they continued to make it year after year is what got them to their perch. It’s what enabled them to be able to play BCS schools on a regular basis. It is the one goal that Siena needs to continue to set and attempt to make – returning to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament year after year.
Professional golfers repeat the cliché when playing in tournaments that the event can not be won on the first day, but it can be lost. The same can be said for mid-major basketball programs. Close is nice, but without getting over the hump continually then programs can not evolve in to perennial threats.
This is where Siena is trying to get to, and the last two years were huge hurdles that were leapt. The mountain is large, though, and the summit is still far away. If the Saints are fortunate enough to make the sweet sixteen this year then they’ve come pretty close to reaching their goal, I’d go as far to say as they made it. Then, next year, the journey begins anew, albeit starting closer than they’d ever started before.
This is not a primer on how to be a Saints fan – you all know how to do that already. It is just one voice saying things that need to be said. It’s cautious optimism, hiding a passion that knows that every non-conference win is a step closer to that holiest of college basketball grails – the at-large bid. The schedule isn’t as strong as last year, but with a pocketful of non-conference wins Siena will continue to garner attention based on all the looks that were given to them in the preseason.
I can’t wait to see the development of Kyle Downey and Owen Wignot, who should develop to be a huge addition off the bench as possibly the sixth man. He will be challenged by OD Anosike as the other player off the bench who could have a growing impact in the frontcourt, even as a freshman. There is a depth to this team that has possibly never been seen before– freshman guards Denzel Yard and Jonathon Breeden adding their versatility to the backcourt, La Salle transfer Kyle Griffen, and big man Davis Martens coming in midseason to give the Saints more options.
Capital District residents have been waiting for this era of Saints basketball to arrive since the 1989 win over Stanford in the NCAA tournament, and it is finally here. On Friday, the Saints will open the season on the road against Tennessee State. Road wins are always tough to come by, and the opening game result will go a long way to setting the tone for the season. The non-conference schedule doesn’t let up, with the home opener against CAA powerhouse Northeastern coming the following Tuesday. Temple, St. John’s, Georgia Tech, St. Joseph’s, Mount St. Mary’s – each win is step closer to what every Siena fan wants – a 25 win season and a chance to win the MAAC championship.
Get nervous before every game, listen to the General and Tommy Heurter, watch Sportscenter if we get ranked in the top 25 for highlights, read up on the next game and prepare if we don’t. It’s a long season, but the offseason has been more than rewarding. Let’s hope there are plenty of prizes on the way as the men of the Green and Gold pursue their third straight MAAC championship and postseason NCAA berth.
Get ready to march, and if the Saints are playing in March, get ready to scream. I’ll be right there next to you, ready. Have fun, Saints fans!