CASSILO: This season’s Davidson: Siena Saints

David Cassilo

Last year the nation was treated to one of the most shocking and entertaining NCAA tournaments of all time. Despite a truly epic title game in which Kansas surged from behind to defeat Memphis in overtime, what most people take away from this past March Madness is the run by the Davidson Wildcats and, more specifically, the remarkable postseason that guard Stephen Curry had.

While most people did not even know what state Davidson was in before the tournament, the loyal readers of The Villanovan should have seen this coming, as a year ago, during the first week of the season, I told my readers that Davidson was among the elite teams in the nation.

So now I turn my attention to the question that is on everyone’s mind: Who is this year’s Davidson? In reality, that is a question with no answer. There will be no small school knocking off the likes of Gonzaga, Georgetown and Wisconsin in next year’s tournament. There is no one that possesses the skill and charisma of Curry on any unknown team out there. The ’08 Davidson team is not the type of squad that comes around every year, and that is what makes these teams so special. It is the reason why when we think of past tournaments, our fondest memories come from those like Gonzaga and George Mason and what they were able to accomplish.

While I highly doubt we will see any unexpected team make a miracle run to the Elite Eight again, there is a squad out there flying way too far under the radar. Like Davidson a year ago, this team comes from a smaller conference, has tournament experience and returns almost all of its major contributors from last season. It is a team that many of us Villanova fans saw firsthand in our run last year. That team is the Siena Saints, and if any team can capture our imagination this season, this is it.

Out of the little-known and usually irrelevant Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, Siena is led by Head Coach Fran McAffery, who is beginning his fourth season with the Saints. While it may sneak up on other teams across the nation, Siena will be well-respected and highly targeted during conference play, as it was the unanimous preseason choice for the MAAC’s best team. Getting each team’s best shot will only help Siena, as each conference game will carry the level of intensity of an NCAA tournament game.

While each conference game may feel like March Madness, McAffery knows that playing the best teams across the country will help his team best prepare to accomplish its goal of returning to the postseason. Therefore, he has scheduled games with six teams who reached the NCAA tournament last season, including trips to defending national champion Kansas and fifth-ranked Pittsburgh, as well as a date with perennial powerhouse Tennessee in the Old Spice Classic. This list could even grow with a win over Tennessee, as the tournament also features Georgetown and Gonzaga.

In addition to the strong schedule to prepare the team, McAffery has a roster full of talent and experience. The team returns all five starters from last season, as well as most of its bench. The trio of Edwin Ubiles, Kenny Hasbrouck and Alex Franklin headlines the starting five. Junior forward Ubiles led the team with an average of 17.0 points per game and scored in double figures in all but one game last season. He is a versatile player who can also play the guard position for the Saints.

His teammate Hasbrouck serves as the senior leader on the team. The experienced guard was second on the team in scoring with 16.1 points per game. However, Hasbrouck may be feared more for his defensive skills, as he led Siena with 2.3 steals per game. Junior forward Franklin rounds out the major contributors on the Saints. He is a scoring threat, as he averaged 15.1 points per game, but his biggest contribution is on the boards, where he brought down 7.5 rebounds per game.

The Saints’ balance on the offensive side of the ball makes them tough for any team to guard. They are more in the mold of the George Mason squad from 2006 rather than last year’s Davidson because there are many players on this roster who can beat opposing teams offensively.

What sets Siena apart from other hopefuls from smaller conferences is its tournament experience. Last season, the Saints knocked off Vanderbilt in the first round of the tournament. Vanderbilt was an explosive team out of the SEC. Siena did not just beat the team but rather trounced it, coming away with an 83-62 victory. While it fell to Villanova in the second round, the team came away from the NCAA tournament with both success and confidence to build on. The Saints not only knew they belonged among the nation’s best but also knew that they could win at that level.

Will Siena fall a jump shot shy of the Final Four next March? Probably not. However, if the question is which team you will want to make sure your team avoids next March, the answer is Siena because the Saints will be there, and they will make some noise.


David Cassilo is a junior communication major from Chatham, N.J. He can be reached at [email protected].