For the third straight year, Siena is the favorite to earn the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference's bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Kenny Hasbrouck is no longer a Saint, but coach Fran McCaffery has primed junior shooting guard Clarence Jackson to fill the void. Other than Hasbrouck and the always hustling Josh Duell, Coach Caff returns every essential piece of Siena's journey to the second round of the Big Dance last season.
Ronald Moore, Alex Franklin, and Edwin Ubiles, all of whom are candidates for the MAAC's preseason First Team, are poised to lead this experienced team back to the postseason.
After averaging a career-high 8.7 points and 6.4 assists per game, Moore is McCaffery's floor general. This senior's late-game heroics in Siena's first-round match against Ohio State brought on the national spotlight and multitudes of Facebook friendship requests. Moore, a quick guard who has improved every year under Coach Caff, should have a fantastic senior campaign.
Although he is undersized for his position, Franklin can muscle his way to the hole. If he is able to stay out of foul trouble this season, he can be a lethal offensive weapon for the Saints.
Ubiles is probably Siena's best returning player. His 2008-09 production took a step down from its 2007-08 status, but Ubiles still led the team with 15 points per game. As a senior, Ubiles will need to keep his head in the game 24/7, something he's struggled with during his career.
Devoted and motivated, junior Ryan Rossiter has grown tremendously as a player. The Saints' coaching staff would be thrilled if their starting center has elevated his game half as much this offseason as he did last year, but they'd be happy with the Rossiter of 2008-09, who averaged 10 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game.
Because of his dedication, Rossiter is a role player; however, he has the skills to be a game-changer as well. Expect this big man to make huge contributions as the Saints rise to the top of the MAAC.
Moore, Franklin, Ubiles, Rossiter, and Jackson will likely be Coach Caff's starting five, but the coach will have plenty of reliable options to choose from off the bench.
Freshman O.D. Anosike and sophomores Kyle Downey and Owen Wignot will be the first to check in at the scorer's table.
A long, athletic power forward, Anosike is the MAAC's highest-rated incoming freshman. He runs the floor well, which will enable him to fit in with Siena's fast tempo of play, and he should improve the Saints' rebounding statistics. As of now, his offensive game doesn't consist of much more than layups and foul shots, but you can bet that will change after a year or two under the Siena coaching staff.
Downey and Wignot each accomplish what is asked of them, and they do it pretty well. However, neither will erupt for a large point total on a given night.
If McCaffery uses the same nine-man system that he applied in 2008-09, junior Steven Priestley and freshman Jonathan Breeden will be the likely candidates for the final spot in the rotation.
Coach Caff scheduled up last season, enabling his team to gain confidence by competing with some of the nation's best programs. Although the Saints couldn't upend any of the top opponents they faced during the regular season, premier schools are now afraid of scheduling Siena because of what the Saints have accomplished in each of the past two postseasons.
Georgia Tech, the only willing program to slot Siena, is by far the best opponent on the Saints' schedule. To Coach Caff's disliking, a win against the Yellow Jackets will be the only one considered an upset on Siena's schedule. Temple and Saint Joseph's, who were once considered threats, will be undergoing rebuilding years and should, on paper, each receive a beating from Siena.
Siena cruised by Northern Iowa in last season's ESPNU BracketBuster, but the return game won't be as easy because it will be played in Cedar Falls.
Other than Georgia Tech and Northern Iowa, Siena's opponents shouldn't stand much of a chance, unless they catch the Saints on an off night.
When conference play rolls around, Siena will likely roll over its opponents at the Times Union Center. However, road games against Niagara, Rider, Manhattan, Iona, and other conference foes will not be translated into wins without a persistent Siena effort.
Siena is still the preseason No. 1 in the MAAC, but the aforementioned Niagara, Rider, and Manhattan all have the teams and experience to pose a threat to the title.