First, a preface: I know that Siena has only played conference games this year. I am aware. Please do not jump down my throat for getting excited about the undefeated record. There’s still a lot to break down this year and I think there’s enough analytics and eye-test data to make some points about the Saints.
That all being said, it’s still pretty good to start off a season at 6-0 especially against only conference opponents. In a normal nonconference season, teams like Siena are either playing teams of their own caliber or are (usually) on the bad end of buy games. Because Siena didn’t play a game until after the new year, the Saints were most likely more fresh than conference opponents (like Rider and Fairfield, who have already played 13+ games) and better able to prepare by watching conference opponents play each other throughout December. And, to be fair, the Saints would not have been in this position had they not been on pause themselves or been dealing with opponent cancellations. Alas, this is the reality we live in, so games against UMass, Drexel, Towson, and others were discarded.
But (crosses fingers to avoid the Mid-Major Madness curse) Siena is now into full swing and ready to take on all comers. And man, do they look able to handle it.
Siena is more balanced than last year but the calling card for the Saints remains the offense, which is hyper-efficient and feasts inside the arc thanks to the combination of junior forward Jackson Stormo and sophomore forward Kyle Young. Stormo and Young are traditional big men who are incredibly effective in the pick and roll game. Young is shooting over 71% from the floor and Stormo isn’t far behind, shooting 69.7%. But, as I said, the key here is balance. While the two bigs spell each other effectively, they aren’t focal points of the offense. That burden is given to the trio of senior wing Manny Camper (12.7 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 4.5 APG), sophomore point guard Jordan King (14.3 PPG), and junior guard/reigning MAAC Player of the Year Jalen Pickett (17.7 PPG, 9.7 RPG before an injury took him out after three games). Filling Pickett’s shoes (hopefully only temporarily) in the starting lineup is freshman Aiden Carpenter, who is handling the role very well after being thrust into it so early in his career.
The Saints aren’t an elite shooting team from distance, but they’re no bricklayers, either. The team is shooting 38.7% from 3, lead by shooting guard Nick Hopkins (43.8%) and Picket (40.9%). They don’t take a ton of 3s, but they make them well above the break-even rate of 33%, and the offense isn’t dictated by the long ball. Rather, the Saints are experts at taking opportunistic shots when presented with them and working to find a good shot. The offense very much relies on the playmaking of Pickett, King, and Camper to work in the pick and roll with their big men or to work in isolation to find space and feed the open looks. Camper is especially adept at moving without the ball and finding space to get his own shot up or forcing defenses to collapse before making the extra pass, whereas Pickett is incredibly skilled at creating his own looks and King lies somewhere in between the two.
The Saints don’t turn the ball over incredibly frequently and are especially adept at not getting blocked. They’re also adept as a group at getting to the free throw line and getting their opponents in foul trouble.
Last season, the defense was ... let’s kindly call it underwhelming. It wasn’t absolute misery, but it certainly wasn’t the strength of the team. The defense is much improved, highlighted by being very good at defending without fouling and forcing opponents into bad shots. Young, Pickett, Camper, and Stormo dominate the boards, and opponents only get second-chance opportunities on 25% of possessions. Kyle Young is particularly adept at altering opposing shots at the rim.
The thing about Siena that’s striking: there really isn’t anything that stands out as BAD. The Saints aren’t great from the free throw line (just over 67%), but they’re getting to the line so much that even missed opportunities can be recovered. Could it be better? Sure, but it’s not miserable.
They could also force more turnovers. Opponents are only turning the ball over on 15% of possessions. But they’re still forcing opponents into tough shots and opponents aren’t making them pay for lack of defensive activity in the passing lanes or in on-ball defending scenarios.
The MAAC is always a strange place, and especially so this year. Siena didn’t play a game until the new year. Rick Pitino is here now for some reason and Iona hasn’t played since before Christmas. Saint Peter’s looked really good to start the year until dropping back to back games at Canisius to go to .500 in conference. The Golden Griffins haven’t played since Jan. 2. Monmouth is playing offense close to the speed of light and shooting 40% from 3 after doing almost the exact opposite in the two prior years. The Northeast is a whacky place.
If Pickett’s injury isn’t a long-term thing, he’s the reigning MAAC Player of the Year, which definitely counts for something. Siena won the regular-season title last year, and should be favorites to do so again. The presence of Pitino certainly gave us pause, as the caliber of player he could potentially bring in at Iona and the pedigree (whatever you may think of him off the court, he’s proven he’s good at what he does on it) certainly made the Gaels look like standouts. But this is Siena’s league until proven otherwise. The defense is leaps and bounds better this year. The offense is balanced and super fun to watch, because every player is unselfish. The off-ball movement is well-coordinated and head coach Carm Maciariello has playmakers up and down the roster.
The Saints are undefeated now. I’m not sure I’d trust them to go undefeated all year, but they have everything you could want in a conference favorite.