Trip to Montreal good for Siena and first year head coach Jimmy Patsos

1 Comment

There aren’t many mid-major schools in the country that have such a rabid following like Siena. How many 8-24 mid-majors out there — actually, how many 8-24 teams, period — can say they averaged over 6,000 fans per home game last season? Siena outdrew Miami (FL) by more than 400 fans per home game, and the Hurricanes had their best season in program history. The folks up in Albany like their basketball and come out in droves to the Times Union Center.

When Fran McCaffery left Siena to take the job at Iowa, he left some pretty big shoes to fill after leading the Saints to three straight NCAA Tournaments and two upset wins over Vanderbilt and Ohio State. Siena hired Mitch Buonaguro, who was an assistant under McCaffery, but he greatly struggled in his three seasons posting a record of 35-59 and was fired after last season.

Enter: Jimmy Patsos.

Patsos is one of the most animated and likable coaches in the game, and seems like a good fit for Siena. He is charismatic and should connect with the Siena fan-base well. Furthermore, Patsos is no stranger to turning programs around. When he first took the job at Loyola (Maryland), they were coming off a 1-27 under Scott Hicks. In his second year, Patsos had Loyola at 15-13 and in the middle of the MAAC.

The trip north of the border will be as much of a learning experience for Patsos to become more familiar with his players as it will a time to practice and get better as a team.

Patsos told the The Daily Gazette: “…I’m learning some good and some bad about guys. This is another learning opportunity.”

Rising junior Rob Poole is one of Siena’s top returning players, and he sees the trip to Montreal in a similar light: “After the season we had last year, it was a big disappointment, but this year, I know we’re not picked to be a favorite to do well, but this Montreal trip is real big because it’ll bring us together. We’ll get to see what we have to work with and start early.”

Fortunately for Siena, Patsos is familiar with the MAAC having coached Loyola in the conference for nine seasons. While he is still learning of the personnel at Siena, he is familiar with the players having coached against them. Coaching against a player is just a bit different than coaching a player, though:

I know we have three or four from returning. And I know a couple young guys can play just by virtue of what I’m seeing because of summer school, but I’m trying to figure out who the eight or nine guys are who can play this year, because we’re going to press and run this year. We can’t play six guys the way we’re going to play.

Even though Patsos is still going through the learning process figuring out how his player’s tick, he seems to have figured out his starting five already: “Marquis is the one, Hymes at the two, Poole at the three, Brett [Bisping] at the four, [Imoh] Silas at the five,” Patsos said.

It may take a year or two for the Siena program to get back on its feet where Fran McCaffery had them just a few years ago, but don’t be surprised if Jimmy Patsos has the Saints as a true mid-major power in the coming years. Siena fans will expect nothing less.

No. 1 Kentucky survives without Tyler Ulis in lineup

Tyler Ulis
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
Leave a comment

Less than a week after giving No. 2 Maryland all they could handle, Illinois State went into Lexington and gave No. 1 Kentucky fits.

The Redbirds never really threatened UK in the second half, but they went into the break tied and were within single digits down the stretch, eventually losing 75-63.

Kentucky was flustered. They turned the ball over 15 times compared to just eight assists, they shot 2-for-12 from three and just 29-for-46 (63 percent) from the charity stripe. They simply did not handle Illinois State’s pressure all that well.

And there was a reason for that.

Tyler Ulis didn’t play.

Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate just what a player brings to a team until that player is not in the lineup, and that was precisely the case with Ulis on Monday night. It was crystal clear what he provides Kentucky. Beyond leadership and the ability to break a press without throwing the ball to the other team, he’s a calming presence. He doesn’t get rattled when a defender is harassing him and he doesn’t get overwhelmed by a situation like a mid-major threatening the No. 1 team in the country in their own gym.

He’s everything you look for in a pure point guard, and for as good as Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe have looked at times this season, it should be crystal clear who the most important player on this Kentucky team is.

LSU loses to Charleston, eliminates at-large bid margin for error

Ben Simmons
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
Leave a comment

Ben Simmons scored 15 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, the second time in his six-game career that the LSU freshman has collected that many caroms, but that wasn’t enough for the Tigers to avoid dropping a game on the road to the College of Charleston, 70-58. It was the third straight loss for Simmons’ crew, as they fell to Marquette and N.C. State at the Legends Classic last week.

But here’s the thing: LSU didn’t just lose.

The game really wasn’t close.

LSU was down by as many as 23 points. It was 39-17 at the half, and that was after Charleston had a shot at the buzzer called off upon review. They made a bit of a run in the second half but never got closer than seven. When LSU would cut into the lead, the Cougars would respond with a run of their own, killing LSU’s spirit while keeping them at arm’s length.

[RELATED: Ben Simmons’ one college year a waste?]

Now, there are quite a few things here to discuss. For starters, LSU’s effort was, at best, apathetic, and, at worst, regular old pathetic. The team has a serious lack of leadership that was plainly evident on Monday night; would Fred VanVleet let his team fold against a program picked to finish at the bottom of the SoCon? Would Tyler Ulis? For that matter, would Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari?

Perhaps more importantly, does any of that change when Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor get back?

Simmons did show off his potential — 18 boards, four assists, he even made his first three of the year — but he also showed precisely why there are scouts that are trying to curtail the LeBron James comparisons. Simmons was 4-for-15 from the floor with seven turnovers against a mediocre mid-major team. There are so many things that Simmons does well, but scoring efficiently — particularly in half court setting — and shooting the ball consistently are not on that list.

But here’s the biggest issue: LSU may have put themselves in a situation where they aren’t a tournament team. As of today, they’re 3-3 on the season with losses to a pair of teams that, at best, seem destined to be in the bubble conversation on Selection Sunday in addition to this loss to Charleston. The rest of their non-conference schedule is ugly. The only game worth noting is at home against No. 6 Oklahoma at the end of January.

The NCAA factors in non-conference schedule strength when determining at-large teams. You need to at least try, and LSU didn’t try; they have one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country.

The great thing about being in the SEC — as opposed to, say, the Missouri Valley — is that the Tigers will have plenty of chances to earn marquee wins. Six, by my court: Kentucky twice, Texas A&M twice, Vanderbilt on the road and Oklahoma at home. They probably need to win at least two or three of those games to have a real chance, and that’s assuming they can avoid anymore horrid losses in the process.

The season isn’t over six games in, not by any stretch of the imagination.

But LSU has done a hell of a job eliminating their margin for error.