After losing only one impact player and returning their entire starting lineup, Siena is going after one thing this year—a repeat of the MAAC Championship.
Three of the top returning scorers in the MAAC conference this year reside in Albany—Kenny Hasbrouck, Edwin Ubiles, and Alex Franklin. This year’s Siena team is arguably the most anticipated MAAC team since the Manhattan Jaspers of 2003-04 season.
Another aspect that the Saints would like to have in common with those Jaspers is becoming the repeat conference champions. Another conference championship would mean another NCAA berth. Back-to-back berth's has not been achieved in the MAAC since the 2003-04 Jaspers.
The 2003-04 Jaspers went an all-time MAAC record 16-2 that year, which is within reach for this year's Saints barring injury. The Saints won a league high 13 games last year, and should improve on that total.
The Jaspers were also the last MAAC team to win a NCAA tournament game, excluding play-ins, until last year’s Saints. The Saints would like to best them in that regard and win NCAA tournament games in back-to-back years. That is a feat that has never been accomplished by a MAAC team.
The Saints are also good enough to possibly advance even further than that this year, which has never been done.
The preseason accolades have poured in for the Saints. They have received votes in the AP Top 25, and the ESPN/USA Today Top 25.
They also placed fifth on the CollegeInsider.com Preseason Mid-Major Poll.
Three of the five players on the MAAC first team are Saints—Hasbrouck, Ubiles, and Franklin. The other returning starters are forward Josh Duell and guard Ronald Moore
Another player who is not getting as much recognition is Clarence Jackson. Jackson had an injury-plagued freshman year for Siena. This year he should challenge starters, Hansbrouck, Ubiles, and Moore for time at the guard position.
Jackson was expected to be a starter last year before getting injured. He is a great athlete and has been shooting the ball exceptionally well in the preseason this year.
Coach Fran McCaffrey brought in two freshmen in guard Kyle Downey and forward Owen Wignot. Both should make a significant impact on this year's Saints. Downey is a good shooter and slasher while Wignot has a good touch for a forward.
Once again this year's weakness for the Saints will be their rebounding. They were the worst rebounding team in the MAAC last year and should be around the bottom again in that category. Ubiles will be the tallest starter, and he is a 6’6” guard.
Siena will try to make up for its lack of size by rotating the guards positions in and out of the game to keep them fresh. The defense will pressure opposing team’s ball handlers. The Saints forced an average of 17.3 turnovers-per-game, outdistancing their opponents by almost six turnovers a game.
The Saints need to force other teams into playing their game. Expect to see the Saints lineup consisting of three to four guards at times. The rebounding could end up being a bigger problem out of conference.
The out of conference schedule is the toughest in the MAAC. Siena starts off the season at home against Boise State and Cornell before heading down to Florida for the Old Spice Classic.
They play Tennessee first and then will face either Wichita State or Georgetown in the second game. Later in the season they have dates at Pittsburgh, at Saint Joseph’s, at Holy Cross, and at defending champion Kansas.
Coach McCaffery believes that this tough schedule will better prepare his team for the MAAC and hopefully NCAA tournament. Who is to argue against him?
In three short years Coach McCaffery has taken the Siena program from the bottom of the MAAC to the top. He inherited a 6-24 team in 2005-06 and has created the bona-fide program that other MAAC coaches hope to emulate.
Expect this year to be no different than last, and the Saints will be looking down at the rest of the MAAC from the top of the mountain again at the end.