A year after throttling SEC power Vanderbilt by 21 points in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the Saints were unanimously chosen by the league’s coaches to win the MAAC again in 2008-09.
Fairfield was picked second, Rider third and Niagara fourth.
The Saints placed three players on the Preseason All-MAAC team, including Preseason Player of the Year Kenny Hasbrouck, who averaged 15.3 points and dropped 30 on Vanderbilt. Junior swing Edwin Ubiles and junior forward Alex Franklin joined Hasbrouck on the preseason team.
With so much talent coming back and expectations sky high for a return to the Big Dance, is there a danger of complacency?
“Sure, a lot of danger,” Siena head coach Fran McCaffery said at MAAC Media Day at the ESPNZone in Manhattan. “That’s why we put this schedule together because if we don’t play well early, we will be humbled. And we’ll go into the conference hungry. If we play well against those teams, we’ll go into the conference confident that we can play well. So obviously I was concerned about that.”
McCaffery wanted to put together a tough schedule to prepare his team for league play, and ultimately another run to the NCAAs.
“It’s a realistic goal [to for farther in the NCAA],” he said. “It might be easier to go farther than it is to get through this league. People forget, we were down 17 against Loyola in the semifinals, so it’s very difficult to get through this conference.”
McCaffery added that the MAAC is especially loaded this year with a number of players “who are NBA prospects.” A year ago, Rider star Jason Thompson was chosen No. 12 in the NBA Draft.
“I think Ubiles, Hasbrouck and [Ryan Thompson of Rider] for sure,” he said in reference to potential NBA players. “I think Tyrone Lewis [of Niagara] is special, and I think the next step would be some of these new guys coming into the league who I haven’t seen.” McCaffery had in mind Iona’s 7-foot transfer from Louisville, Jonathan Huffman (pictured), among others.
In order to prepare for life in the brutal MAAC, the Saints traveled to Italy over the summer to gain some bonding and playing time.
“It was a lot of playing time for reserves Clarence Jackson and Ryan Rossiter, I think they did great over there,” Hasbrouck said. “Team bonding, it was just another two weeks we got to spend together away from campus. It was a great experience for us. We got to view the world.”
Now the Saints are back home and hoping for a return to the Big Dance. But it won’t be easy.
“When you have three first-team all-league players, certainly the expectations are that you’re to win the conference,” Rider coach Tommy Dempsey said. “And I think the conference is going to be very competitive. They’re still going to have to get up and play every night, so nobody in this league is going to roll over, so they’ll have their work cut out for them.”
You think doors have opened up for Rider now that Jason Thompson went to the NBA? Seventeen players showed up for the school’s Midnight Madness, including St. Patrick of Elizabeth sophomore Michael Gilchrist. “Recruits view your program a little bit differently now because you have that NBA [guy],” Rider coach Tommy Dempsey said. “Being a lottery selection has enabled some other kids to say, ‘Hey, if I can go somewhere and have a big career, it doesn’t really matter where I go. If I’m good enough, I’m going to make it to the NBA.'”…Dempsey on Ryan Thompson: “What makes Ryan so special is his versatility. He shot over 40 percent from 3. He can take it in the lane. He’s a tremendous passer. Second on our team in assists. Second on our team in rebounding. There’s nothing on the basketball court that he can’t do, so that creates a lot of matchup problems….Iona coach Kevin Willard says transfers Huffman (Louisville) and Kashif Pratt (Seton Hall) “are really going to step in and play major roles. The only issue is, they really haven’t played college basketball. Getting them adjusted to game speed will be the biggest thing, but both of them can really shoot the ball extremely well and that will help us play against teams that pack it in against somewhat bigger inside guys.”….Next year Iona will have 12 players from New York and New Jersey. “The best thing about the Iona job is the fact that you can recruit all New York/New Jersey kids and have tough hard-nosed kids. Plus, they know all each other, they’ve all played against each other. And I want to to continue bringing in really good players from this area.”…Former Hackensack star Keon Williams blew his Achilles’ tendon and “he’s redshirting this year,” Willard said….Iona plays Ohio State, South Florida and Wisconsin this year and next year Willard said he’d like to play St. John’s, Seton Hall or Rutgers. “We’re in talks with the local Big East teams,” he said. “I want to stay all local. I don’t want to have to travel so much to play a game.” Willard said he’d like to have something in New York similar to Philly’s Big 5. “If we could find a neutral court, maybe the Westchester County Center, where everybody could play each other and be a tournament. I know St. John’s has the Holiday Festival. Maybe that could turn into something like that.”
9. Saint Peter’s
PRESEASON ALL-MAAC TEAMS
Jonathan Han, Fairfield
Ryan Thompson, Rider
Alex Franklin, Siena
Kenny Hasbrouck, Siena
Edwin Ubiles, Siena
Anthony Johnson, Fairfield
Gary Springer, Iona
Brian Rudolph, Loyola
Antoine Pearson, Manhattan
Tyrone Lewis, Niagara
Harris Mansell, Rider
Frank Turner, Canisius
Marquis Sullivan, Loyola
Devon Austin, Manhattan
David Devezin, Marist
Wesley Jenkins, St. Peter’s
(Photos courtesy Siena athletics and SI.com)