|Tiny Siena looking to make more big noise|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 12 November 2009 12:06|
Gonzaga has been in the national picture for years. Butler opens this year ranked No. 11 in the country. George Mason shocked everyone by reaching the Final Four in 2006.
All members of college basketball's so-called mid-major world, and part of this season's inspiration for 15 guys in upstate New York.
``Why not us?'' Siena guard Ronald Moore asked.
Vanderbilt and Ohio State won't argue with Moore on that one. They're who tiny Siena - enrollment 3,000 - beat in the first round of the past two NCAA tournaments. There's 343 teams in Division I basketball, and the Saints have more wins over the past two seasons (50) than all but 23 of them.
Mid-major? Maybe, but entering this season, the Saints have designs on some major success.
``I think now people are looking at our program a little bit differently,'' Siena coach Fran McCaffery said.
his non-conference schedule. Teams from the Big East, the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Southeastern Conference, just about all of them heard his sales pitch and declined - with one notable exception.
Georgia Tech said yes. The Yellow Jackets open the year ranked No. 22, and their coach knows a little something about the Siena mystique. Paul Hewitt spent three years in Loudonville, just north of Albany, before moving to Atlanta about a decade ago after getting the Saints on the cusp of the national rankings.
McCaffery's sights are set higher.
``We have a phenomenal fan base,'' McCaffery said. ``We have a team of great kids with great character. For me, the key is that our students, that our fans, that our alumni have this program to be really proud of, to enjoy and to see us succeed on the national level. ... And I expect a lot out of this group.''
Given that the school lacks a fat checkbook, Siena made McCaffery a huge commitment this offseason - an eight-year contract.
Mike Deane left for a big-money deal at Marquette, and the program dipped. Hewitt left for Georgia Tech, and it wasn't long before Siena endured a miserable 6-24 season.
That's when McCaffery came in, and Siena's been rising ever since.
ld me playing at Siena would be like, and it's exactly what he told me. He's done a lot for the program, and I'm happy to play for him. He knows so much about this game.''
All hope for the season starts with the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, Siena's primary ticket back to the NCAAs.
The Saints are overwhelming favorites to win that title for the third straight year, with nearly their entire team back. Four-year guard Kenny Hasbrouck graduated, and if it wasn't for a cracked rib just before training camp, he had a shot of making the Miami Heat roster this season.
Ubiles is a matchup problem for just about everyone in the MAAC. There's size, at least by MAAC standards, with 6-foot-9 Ryan Rossiter and 6-foot-5 bruiser Alex Franklin. And last season's hero returns as well: Moore hit two huge 3-pointers against Ohio State, one to force overtime, the other to win the game in the final seconds, instantly making him a YouTube legend.
``It's still sweet,'' Moore said.
The Saints were only two spots shy of starting this season in the AP Top 25, and their early season schedule could vault them there easily - provided they win, of course.
Some of Siena's early tests include Temple, St. John's and Georgia Tech.
nd beating schools Ohio State's size. People love those type of stories.''
Those who are not ardent followers of college basketball still might have never heard of Siena, or know its history - national Catholic champions in the 1950s, a run-and-gun team coached by Deane that stunned Stanford in the 1989 NCAA first round, a NIT Final Four appearance at Madison Square Garden in the 1990s.
The name is even a mystery to some folks. It's still not uncommon to see it spelled ``Sienna,'' like the color, the actress or the Toyota passenger van.
After the last two years, most in basketball are finally getting it right.
``I think they're starting to leave out two n's,'' Rossiter said. ``So I guess we're getting somewhere.''