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Purdue beats Siena, but Jimmy Patsos has Saints ahead of schedule

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Today against Purdue, Siena earned another moral victory — if there is such a thing. Purdue doesn’t figure to challenge in the Big Ten, but the Boilermakers are now off to a 5-0 start and looking like a potential NCAA Tournament team if they are able to earn some good victories in the Big Ten. For Siena to head to Mackey Arena and go toe-to-toe with the Boilermakers despite losing 81-73, that’s encouraging.

One of the biggest winners of the offseason coaching carousel was Siena. The Saints struggled for the past three seasons following Fran McCaffery’s departure to Iowa with Mitch Buonaguro at the helm compiling a record of 35-59. After a string of success that saw Siena reach three consecutive NCAA Tournaments where they earned two victories, Siena fans began to grow restless that Buonaguro was unable to sustain the momentum McCaffery had built.

Buonaguro was ousted, and Jimmy Patsos hired.

Patsos came to Siena from Loyola (MD) where he built that program up from next to nothing into one of the top teams in the MAAC — he is no stranger to turning a program around.

Given Siena’s success in recent years and support given to the program by the school, alumni, and fans in the greater Albany area, the job of building Siena back up into a MAAC power won’t be as challenging as it was at Loyola. Not much is expected of Siena in Patsos’ first season. Their top player from a season ago, O.D. Anosike, has graduated and Rakeem Brookins is no longer on the roster due to off-the-court issues.

Despite inheriting a roster that is surely not as talented as Patsos would hope, he has them competing and performing well. Siena began the season 0-3, but their 78-74 loss to La Salle in their third game was certainly encouraging, especially since they led the Explorers for much of the game. While they were unable to close out La Salle, they followed up that loss with a good win at home against St. Bonaventure.

Freshman point guard Marquis Wright is the player who Patsos will build a team around, and Wright acquitted himself well against Purdue scoring ten points and dishing out five assists. Evan Hymes came off of the bench to score a game-high 18 points — his decision not to transfer has given Patsos a real scoring threat off the bench.

Siena was picked to finish tenth in the MAAC with only Monmouth selected to finish below them, but the way the Saints have been playing in the early going, they certainly don’t look like one of the worst teams in the conference.

Patsos made his trademark at Loyola as a tremendous recruiter. Once he has a couple of recruiting classes in at Siena, expect the Saints to rise back to the top of the MAAC.

NEW PODCAST: Indiana, Cal, troublesome trends and a weekend preview

California's Jabari Bird celebrates a score against Oregon in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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The gang is back together again for another episode of the NBCSports.com College Basketball Talk Podcast, with Rob Dauster hosting and Raphielle Johnson and Scott Phillips joining him. Today’s episode touched on big wins picked up Thursday night by California and Indiana, discussing the performances of those teams and also touching on their prospects down the line.

Also discussed were the recent performances of Iowa State, Providence and Texas A&M (which are you more worried about?), and some of the top games on this weekend’s schedule headlined by Kansas visiting Oklahoma. And if you’re a fan of seafood, you may take umbrage with some of Rob’s comments at the beginning of the podcast.

As always, you can subscribe to the podcast on either iTunes or Stitcher, and there’s also a link to listen to this podcast below. Thanks for listening.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Key contests in Atlantic 10, Pac-12

Arizona head coach Sean Miller talks with guard Allonzo Trier (11) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Northwestern State in Tucson, Ariz., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2015. (Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star via AP)  ALL LOCAL TELEVISION OUT; PAC-12 OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT; GREEN VALLEY NEWS OUT
Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star via AP
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: UCLA at No. 17 Arizona, 9:00 p.m.
The Bruins and Wildcats have already met once this season, with a Bryce Alford three-pointer giving UCLA an 87-84 win. But UCLA has continued to struggle with consistency since then, and the chance at payback should serve as a motivating factor for Arizona. Sean Miller’s team welcomed back Allonzo Trier in Saturday’s win at Washington, and in forward Ryan Anderson they have one of the conference’s best players. The “rivalry” aspect of this game should make it a good one, as UCLA tends to show up for big-name opponents, but it could also be another major blow to the Bruins’ fleeting hopes of getting back to the NCAA tournament.

THIS ONE’S GOOD, TOO: No. 19 Dayton at Rhode Island, 7:00 p.m.
The Rams have struggled with injuries all season, most recently dealing with Jarvis Garrett’s broken jaw and Kuran Iverson’s concussion. Garrett’s back on the floor, playing with a face mask that appears to be inspired by Hannibal Lecter, and it’s that team toughness that makes URI a serious threat to first-place Dayton at the Ryan Center (Iverson’s been medically cleared but remains a game-time decision). Charles Cooke has been outstanding for the Flyers this season, and Dayton’s depth makes them a tough matchup for any team much less one as banged up as URI.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

1. As a result of No. 11 Oregon’s loss at Cal last night, No. 23 USC finds itself tied in the loss column atop the Pac-12 standings heading into their game at Arizona State (8:00 p.m.). Outside of keeping opponents off the offensive glass the Sun Devils have had issues defensively in conference play, and with the Trojans’ many scoring options led by guards Jordan McLaughlin and Julian Jacobs this will be a tough matchup for the home team.

2. Monmouth looks to maintain its lead atop the MAAC standings, as they visit Rider (9:00 p.m.). The Broncs haven’t been the conference contender many envisioned them being when the season began but they’re still dangerous, with players such as guard Teddy Okereafor capable of giving opponents fits. Justin Robinson, who’s been excellent at the point all season long, leads the way for a Monmouth team that still has hopes of earning an at-large bid should they need it.

3. Having lost to Yale last weekend, Columbia’s in a position where they need to hold serve ahead of the rematch in New York City March 5. That makes games like tonight’s against Penn (7:00 p.m.) that much more important for Kyle Smith’s Lions, who have done a good job of turning opponents over in league play (22.8 TO%). Penn’s had issues taking care of the basketball, and that combined with Columbia’s tandem of Maodo Lo and Alex Rosenberg could prove to be the difference at Levien Gym.

4. Two teams looking to make a push in the MAC East race meet in Buffalo, as the Bulls host Ohio (7:00 p.m.). Nate Oats’ team had its four-game win streak snapped by Toledo, with the Rockets beating Buffalo by two Wednesday night. They’ll look to rebound with a defense that has been the best in the MAC in conference play (tops in defensive efficiency and effective field goal percentage), but they have to take care of the basketball in order to do so.

5. Grand Canyon, which can’t play in the NCAA tournament as they’re still in the Division I transition process, looks to remain a game behind New Mexico State in the WAC standings. Dan Majerle’s Antelopes visit Seattle (10:00 p.m.), which handed GCU its first conference loss 13 days ago. GCU shot just 6-for-23 from three in that game, which they led by ten late in the first half. If Seattle is to win they’ll need to slow down the tandem of sophomore Joshua Braun and senior Grandy Glaze, who combine to average 31.5 points and 13.6 rebounds per game.