The Siena Saints host the 2010 NCAA national runner-up Butler Bulldogs at 7:oopm on Tuesday night at the Times Union Center. The Bulldogs are returning the Bracketbuster game that they hosted last year against the Saints at Hinkle Fieldhouse in the event’s marquee matchup. Butler won that game 70-53, but both teams are markedly different this time around, and the early season matchup means a lot more to the Saints this time than it did last year.
While the Saints were looking for a signature win in last year’s Bracketbuster game to boost a resume for a team that was trying to lock up an at-large bid, they are trying to shore things up this year en route to getting ready for MAAC conference play. There will be no lingering talk of an at-large bid, and last year’s team was the odds on favorite to win the conference tournament anyway. A win on Tuesday night over a top 25 ranked team would go a long way towards providing confidence for the team’s players who are still trying to get comfortable in their roles – the non-conference schedule is arguably the toughest in the history of the program, and a signature win this year could get the team clicking much sooner rather than later.
Butler is still looking to put some of the pieces together as well. Gone is Gordon Hayward to the NBA, but the team is led by dynamic junior guard Shelvin Mack. Mack is scoring 20 points a game, grabbing 6 rebounds a game, and making over 52% of the shots he’s taking from the field. Mack scored 23 points in last year’s contest, and Gordon Hayward had a double double, scoring 15 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Kept out of much of the game last year was Matt Howard, who is averaging 15 points and 9 rebounds in his senior campaign. Howard has had problems staying out of foul trouble for the majority of his career, and if the Saints are going to win this game they will once again need to focus on isolating Howard and getting him off the court. Without Hayward to help out inside in Howard’s absence, the Saints may be able to control the younger inside players of Butler. Siena will also need to handle the defensive capabilities of Ronald Nored, who essentially shut down Ronald Moore last year and kept the Saints out of the game in the last ten minutes.
Siena is coming off an impressive road win against Northeastern where their two star players scored the bulk of the team’s points. Ryan Rossiter is averaging 21 points and 11 rebounds per game, and shooting guard Clarence Jackson is averaging 22 points a game. The Saints are going to need continued production from them, as well as sophomore power forward O.D. Anosike who is averaging 10 points a game.
What the team saw in the win on Saturday was contributions from other players. Owen Wignot is logging the bulk of the minutes at small forward, and is playing excellent defense and shooting 56% from three point land. Davis Martens has established himself as the first big man off the bench, and is starting to mesh nicely. And it seemed overall that the team itself played well together and started showing some cohesiveness. Rahkeem Brookins didn’t have the flashiest of games in his debut starting at the point, but he was effective. Even better was the performance of junior Kyle Griffin off the bench backing up Brookins. If the two point guards can run the team as effectively as they did on Saturday, the Saints have a very good chance of coming out with a win.
The Saints are going to need to continue to get comfortable with the zone defense that Coach Mitch Buonaguro is going with, they are going to need to continue to cut down on the turnovers, and they will need to continue scoring points at a clip that the program has become known for. Siena is on the precipice of becoming a bona fide top level mid-major program, and to prove that they are indeed reloading this year and not just rebuilding, they are going to need to knock off the mid-major top dog at home to prove it.