ALBANY It wasn’t supposed to be this way, but, like last year, Siena’s young players are going to have to grow up quickly.
Because of Evan Hymes’ sore Achilles tendon and three-game suspensions to sophomores Rakeem Brookins and Trenity Burdine, the Saints will be throwing some freshmen into the fire right away as Siena opens the 2012-13 season against Vermont at the Times Union Center tonight.
The game is the second half of a double-header that begins at 5 p.m. with the Siena women against Fairleigh Dickinson.
The men will have 20 minutes to warm up as soon as the women’s game is over, and will start no sooner than 7:07, but will likely tip before 7:30. It will be among the 11 games to be televised live by Time Warner Cable (Ch. 50) this season.
Siena’s projected starters include freshman Ryan Oliver at shooting guard, and head coach Mitch Buonaguro said that Chris Leppanen, a walk-on freshman from Christian Brothers Academy, will get some time at point guard to spell Hymes. Hymes was one of the leading freshmen in the country in minutes played last year and started to wear down at the end of the season.
“All my subs are going to be freshmen, against a good team, so this is going to be a test for all of them,” Buonaguro said.
Siena’s two African players, sophomores Imoh Silas and Lionel Gomis, technically aren’t freshmen, but they were not eligible to play last season because of NCAA rulings, so they’ll be getting their first taste of college ball.
Although Oliver will start, Buonaguro said he’ll split time with another freshman, Rich Audu.
“Ryan Oliver has been very good,” Buonaguro said. “For a freshman, he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, he’s a good shooter, he’s 6-5, he’s very intelligent. I think he’s going to fit in well.
“Rich Audu played well in the scrimmage. I’m kind of playing them half and half, so you’d expect that Friday night, with Rakeem out, I’m going to use those guys each about 20 minutes.”
The bench limitations will also directly affect sophomore Rob Poole, who had an up-and-down freshman year while shouldering a significant workload on a nightly basis because of the short bench.
The 6-foot-5 small forward/shooting guard averaged 27.4 minutes per game.
“We might have to move him to the two, but right now I’m planning on playing him a ton of minutes at the three,” Buonaguro said. “He’s going to have to go 35, 36 minutes. I’m going to have to make sure he’s taking his vitamin C, because he’s got a lot of work to do in the next three games.”
The rest of the starting lineup will include senior O.D. Anosike and red-shirt junior Davis Martens in the frontcourt and Hymes, who has missed some practice time this week, at point guard.
Buonaguro was looking forward to getting the ultraquick pair of Hymes and Brookins on the floor at the same time, but that plan will have to remain on hold for awhile.
Buonaguro is prepared to give Leppanen six to eight minutes in order to give Hymes a break.
“He’s going to have to play,” Buonaguro said. “I feel very comfortable playing him. He knows what he’s doing, he comes from a great program at CBA. He’s not going to be intimidated playing in front of all of people at the Times Union Center. Hymes cannot play, with his foot, for 40 minutes. I don’t want to do that. Hopefully, Chris can run the offense and keep us close to Vermont.”
Although this is Martens’ third year at Siena, he’s also inexperienced, having missed all of last season while recovering from hip surgery.
“Right now, he’s a starter, so we’ve got to get production out of him,” Buonaguro said. “He’s been rusty, to say the least. He’s still getting back from a year-ending injury. Friday night, he’s going to have to play well. He’s going to be guarding [Brian] Voelkel at times, he’s going to be guarding this kid [Clancy] Rugg, who’s a good player. He’s going to have to defend well, he’s going to have to make some baskets. We’re going to need productivity, and he knows that.”
Vermont won its fifth America East championship last year and beat Lamar in the First Four round of the NCAA tournament before losing to North Carolina to finish 24-12.
The Catamounts beat the Saints in Burlington, 64-62, on a tip-in at the buzzer by Matt Glass.
“They’re the premier program in that league, so you’re playing a team that’ll come in here with no fear,” Buonaguro said. “They’ve won 20 games nine of the last 11 years. We understand that this is a tough opener.”
Buonaguro is counting on a more productive perimeter game to loosen up things for Anosike inside, but Vermont tends to constrict its defense close to the basket, no matter what, so the outside shooters like Poole, Oliver and Hymes will play a key role for Siena.
“It’ll be interesting Friday night with Vermont and how they play defense and pack it in,” Buonaguro said. “Do we make shots? Last year, the shooting was an issue. We shot 30 percent from the three. But I think we have better shooters, so I think we’ll be able to stretch the defense a little more.”