Siena didn’t fly to Springfield on Friday, but coach Jimmy Patsos was looking to avoid turbulence nevertheless.
That’s how he described Canisius guard Billy Baron, who single-handedly made the Saints go bump in the night by dropping 40 on them in a triple-overtime Griffs win on Feb. 16.
Teams that have bad seasons get in a habit of moving the goalposts, and at this time of year that means adopting the stance that the conference tournament is a new season, a fresh start.
For the last three years, that has been Siena’s talking point, but Patsos has them flying at 35,000 feet, he said, as they make the approach to the MassMutual Center for a quarterfinal game against Canisius today.
The matchup offers a clear contrast in teams, with the Griffs relying heavily on their Player of the Year and the Saints walking into each game not entirely sure who will be their player of the day.
It’s time for Rob Poole to be that guy.
Canisius has a go-to scorer that the Griffs live and die by; Siena doesn’t have anything of the kind.
When Canisius played at Iona, Baron had the chutzpah to tell the broadcast team that he’d hit a three from the “I” in “IONA” painted on the floor in one half, and one from the “A” in the other half. He backed it up.
Poole, Siena’s leading scorer, experienced a shooting slump late in the season, and the Saints have been able to weather his stretches of inconsistency to finish 11-9 in the MAAC and win their last four games, Siena’s longest winning streak since 2009-10.
He’s their best player, and there’s no better time to show it than today.
For one thing, while Baron was putting up cartoonish numbers in the triple overtime game, Poole actually had a better game, scoring a career-high 33 points.
He was much better than Baron from the field, including three-point range, making six of 11 (to Baron’s 2-for-12). The difference came from the free- throw line, where Baron was a ridiculous 18-for-19.
That underscores the problem here, which is to keep the Dread Baron off the line.
As Poole pointed out, he isn’t quick enough to guard the third-leading scorer in the country one-on-one, and Baron is much stronger than the smaller Marquis Wright and Evan Hymes.
On Monday, Patsos half-jokingly said he wouldn’t double-team Baron, heading off at the pass any questions about his Steph Curry defensive debacle when Loyola held him scoreless in 2008, but was still trounced by Davidson.
So it sounds like switching on the perimeter and help from shot blocker Imoh Silas when Baron, who is also by far the Griffs’ leading assist man, gets in the paint.
Canisius isn’t a one-man team, but is as close to one as you’ll see.
Siena is the opposite, something Patsos takes pride in, but also fears.
In his first year at Siena, he’s proven to be resourceful and imaginative, and it’s those qualities that lead me to pick the Saints to pull off the upset, provided Poole has a good game. Based on seeding, this wouldn’t be an upset, but in reality it would be one because Canisius was a regular-season title contender and Siena was picked 10th in the preseason coaches poll.
For his part, Poole hesitated when asked if he could/should be Siena’s go-to scorer.
When he was in his slump, he didn’t force shots, an admirable team-first approach.
Siena needs the non-slump Poole to show up in order to win this game.
The Saints play unselfishly and have some versatility, but as Patsos pointed out, championship teams usually have had someone like Kenny Hasbrouck or Marc Brown, a player the coach could draw up a play for at the end of a close game with reasonable expectation that it would produce.
“The same things I like are the same things I’m scared of,” Patsos said. “We played really well as a group, and lots of different guys stepped up. On the other hand, I’m really nervous, not just for the [this] week, but for next year . . . who’s our go-to guy?
“We just won [against Monmouth] with our best player in Rob Poole having four points, going 2-for-7, 0-for-3 from three. That’s all nice and good, but that doesn’t win you the championship. I don’t want to be the Milwaukee Bucks. Remember Junior Bridgman? Sidney Moncrief?”