To make a point during a drill at practice on Tuesday, Siena men’s basketball coach Jimmy Patsos asked his team, what was the key play in Florida State’s BCS championship win over Auburn on Monday night?
Pat Cole piped up: “Pass interference.”
It wasn’t the answer Patsos was looking for — “that was the second-most” — but Cole inadvertently bottled a question that has been nagging the Saints.
Heading into Tuesday night’s games, the Saints were one of the most foul-prone teams in the United States.
On the NCAA’s list of 345 Division I teams, Siena ranked No. 12 in fouls per game, at 23.9.
Siena has managed its way around this development to put together a promising early season, but at some point, this trend has to begin to eat away at all the good things the Saints have been doing.
For now, Patsos chooses to view the rampant fouling simply as a product of how Siena plays.
It means he and his staff have had to constantly coach around it, but it’s still a little disturbing that, 15 games into the season, a problem that could be passed off as young players adjusting to the college game or the new hand-check enforcement isn’t getting any better.
In particular, frontcourt starters Lavon Long and Imoh Silas have had a hard time staying on the court.
Long, a freshman, has fouled out seven times and trailed Morehead State’s Drew Kelly by one in the national lead for total fouls, at 64 (Kelly had played one more game than Long through Monday).
Silas wasn’t far behind, with five foul-outs and 57 fouls, tied for seventh in the country.
“When I look back, will it hurt us? Yes, but we’re playing hard,” Patsos said. “I don’t mind the fouls. I just mind it when you have four, and you pick up your fifth.”
The fouls have come fast and furious.
Against St. Bonaventure in November, Silas managed to pick up his fifth with 13 minutes left in the game. Long also fouled out; Siena won, anyway.
Not to pick on Long, a 6-foot-6, 230-pounder, but he hasn’t made much progress figuring out how to preserve those precious five.
“Let some stuff go, I guess,” he said. “I can’t play as aggressively as I would like, so I just have to maybe let them get that layup or whatever it may be.
“It’s tough. I just have to read the game, see how it’s going and maybe that one layup, maybe, won’t be as bad as me fouling out later in the game.”
In Long’s defense, Patsos said that Long, who is built like a football player but still has a lot of finesse to his game, sometimes has been playing out of position on defense.
That’s been a domino effect of the play of Silas and Brett Bisping, who have commanded starting roles and playing time by performing better than expected.
That shoves Long down to the three forward and forces him to guard smaller, quicker players. He’ll get the assignment on Friday against Marist’s Chavaughn Lewis, who will be a handful.
“Lavon’s a big guy, kind of a bull in a china shop,” Patsos said.
“If you walk around from Washington State to California to Chicago to Florida to here, the MAAC is known as a place where you better watch those two and three men. They’re guys who can play at the A-10, Big East level, whether it’s Ubiles, Hasbrouck, Gerald Brown, Andre Collins, Dylan Cormier . . . we’re known as a two and three league. I’m asking Lavon to guard them? With about 10 seconds of practice? Hey, guard that guy. He’s like, “I just guarded some guy on the post for six weeks.’ ”
“I thought I was beating them to the spot, which I was, but I can’t just beat them to the spot, I have to make sure there’s no body contact, which makes the game kind of soft,” Long said.
O.D. Anosike went through the same thing when he was a freshman and sophomore.
It took awhile for him to learn that grabbing was going to be called at this level.
If it’s any consolation, three other MAAC teams — Manhattan, Niagara and Fairfield — are even lower on the national fouling list than Siena is. The Jaspers are averaging 26.2, second-worst in the country, and are the only team left that is undefeated in the MAAC.
At least Patsos isn’t blaming the refs or the point of emphasis on hand-check enforcement.
During a 3-on-3 drill on Tuesday, he called a foul and told his team, “At some point, you have to admit it’s us.”
KEEPING IT REAL
Speaking of fouls, the latest Fran McCaffery meltdown turned into an episode of “When ‘Keeping it Real’ Goes Wrong” on Chappelle’s Show.
The former Siena coach got tossed with 12 minutes left in Iowa’s 75-71 loss to Wisconsin on Sunday. What started as a calculated attempt to fire up his team morphed into a suspension for Thursday’s home game against Northwestern that was scheduled to be Fran McCaffery Bobblehead Night.
He drew one technical foul, then a second and an ejection for a rant that got a little physical when he brushed up against another ref.
Still fuming and throwing his index finger in the direction of the refs, McCaffery was escorted away by assistant Andrew Francis, who has experience in these matters, having followed McCaffery to Iowa from Siena.
Technical, double tech, ejection . . . followed by a public apology on Monday, a suspension by the Big Ten for unsportsmanlike conduct and a $10,000 fine. And no Fran for Bobblehead Night.
Having watched the video a few times, I couldn’t find anything that wasn’t reminiscent of the three years I covered Siena when McCaffery was the coach. It wasn’t unusual for him to fly off the handle like that, whether the target was the refs or his own team.
I appreciate passion in a coach, but I’m not sure what a blind rage ever accomplished. I’ll bet the Iowa fans ate it up, anyway.