Siena, tougher than you think

Andy Klausman

In the quest for glory, some teams are always expected to achieve a higher level of success than others. Come March, sports fanatics are frantically filling out their brackets trying to foresee possible upsets as they analyze match ups. These underdogs are typically teams that come from a mid-major conference, which is any conference that is not considered the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Big Twelve Conference, Big East Conference, Big Ten Conference, Pacific Ten Conference and Southeastern Conference. Even though teams that play in mid-major conferences don’t get as much publicity, or recruiting, as teams in the conferences listed, it is amazing that they are able to compete for glory as well. As recently as last March, the Davidson Wildcats, a team that plays in a mid-major conference (Southern Conference), was able to win three games and make it to the Elite Eight. In recent years, Siena has proven themselves as a capable team, after winning as the thirteenth seed over the fourth seeded Vanderbilt Commodores.

It is an understatement to say that it has been a successful year for the Siena Men’s Basketball program. They won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) tournament and in the season, were guaranteed a spot in the NCAA tournament, and finished the regular season with a record of twenty-six victories and only seven losses, after going a dismal six and twenty-four three years before.

Even though Siena’s basketball program does not possess the same magnitude as one like North Carolina’s, or Duke’s, they still find a way to recruit big name players to their school, and more importantly, they find a way to win. Siena College is a small, private institution with only 3000 undergraduates. Even more impressive, Siena’s home games are played at Times Union Center, which seats almost 18,000 people, six times the enrollment.

Fran McCaffery, the head coach, has boasted a winning program in his three-year tenure. In that time he has posted an incredible .661 winning percentage (going 84-43). The biggest moment in McCaffery’s career at Siena came when the Saints knocked off #20 Stanford in a 79-67 victory. This was Siena’s first win against a ranked opponent since 1989, when they ironically beat Stanford in the NCAA tournament. To make last season even more impressive, they finished first in the MAAC, and exited the NCAA Tournament only after their huge upset over a heavily-favorites Vanderbilt. Even more importantly, Siena was able to maintain all five of their starters for the incumbent year. McCaffery has boosted Siena’s recruiting program, too. His first recruit, Kenny Hasbrouck, was awarded with MAAC Rookie of the Year honors in his freshman year, and most recently MAAC First-Team and MAAC Tournament MVP as a junior. McCaffery has helped legitimize the Siena Men’s Basketball program.

The 2008-2009 season kicked off with a resounding win over Boise State as Kenny Hasbrouck contributed a game-high 20 points, validating their relatively high pre-season ranking at thirty-eighth in the country. Unfortunately, ten days into the season, Siena faced a rough patch, as they lost three consecutive games to Tennessee, Wichita State and Oklahoma State. However, with McCaffery at the helm, and Hasbrouck leading the way, the Saints were able to win twenty-four of the final twenty-eight games, breaking the school record for most wins in a season. Siena’s big wins came against Saint Josephs University, Northern Iowa, University of Albany, and University of Buffalo. Arguably the Saint’s best game this year came against the University of Pittsburgh. Even though Siena lost, it was still a very entertaining game against the number one team in the nation.

The game went down to the wire, and unluckily, the Saint’s foul trouble allowed for the Panther’s to add to their minuscule lead, as the Saint’s were downed 66-79 at Pittsburgh.

Siena went on to win the MAAC outright during the regular season and received a top-seed in the MAAC tournament, ensuring their spot in the big dance. Siena legitimized their role as the best team in the MAAC after winning the tournament with mammoth victories over Canisius, Fairfield and Niagara by a combined score of 234-184. After such a successful season for Siena, they plan on proving themselves come next week in the NCAA Tournament.