I am sure this is happening all across the blogosphere today, so here it is no different. Ryan Restivo of the Siena Saints blog and I have been trading e-mails pretty much since the moment the pairing was announced last night. Naturally, he is excited to see a team that many view as a "wounded animal" of sorts. We each had some questions for each other, while the usual preview seems to have already been posted in a few FanPosts. That is why you guys are awesome. I'll still try to do a more formal preview later, but for now we have plenty of info out there. Here are Ryan's answers to my questions, and I will post his link as soon as it goes up over there with my answers.
Hammer & Rails: How much do you think the experience of the past two seasons will help Siena, especially since Kevin Stallings of Vanderbilt and Matt Painter are from the same coaching tree with Gene Keady?
Siena Saints Blog: The experience does matter, these are guys in their third straight NCAA tournament, and you don't get that a lot from mid-majors. All the national media think that Siena got very lucky to draw Purdue now that they're without Junior Robbie Hummel. But yes the experience matters, plus they came out like a lightning bolt against Kevin Stallings' Vanderbilt team and went on to beat them by the most points in a 13-4 upset since 1985. The flip side is, the Saints aren't going to sneak up on anyone anymore.
Siena is on a 5 game win streak entering the game and managed to, eventually, dominate their first two tournament games and beat a very tough Fairfield team for the third time this year in Overtime. Honestly, they haven't come out well to start in the first half in any of their tournament games but, even though they trailed all three at halftime, you can just tell the energy of the team that they would come back and win.
H&R: I was at the Butler game and honestly, I thought Siena really struggled there. What has changed since?
SSB: Siena shot terribly in the second half at Butler and I'm not sure where it came from. Every shot appeared to just miss, that and a very skilled Butler team put the Saints away on the road. It's weird too, because once Matt Howard had to go out for Butler, the Bulldogs tore the Saints apart with a four guard set. However in that first half, you could tell that Siena was willing to challenge them with their press and their defense.
H&R: How do you expect Siena to handle Purdue's physical man-to-man defense?
SSB: This will be something to watch early. These physical major teams have been able to beat the Saints this year but the Saints competed well against the highest seeded team they played this year (4 point loss at Temple). The real key for the Saints will be to get out and run, Siena loves to run, and every second that the Saints can take Purdue off their man-to-man tough halfcourt game will be an advantage.
H&R: Rossiter seems to be a widebody that can push JaJuan Johnson around. Who wins this matchup? How will Rossiter handle Johnson taking him outside?
SSB: Rossiter has had the fun of covering a lot of tough bigs this year. To his credit, he is an excellent defender and he knows when to stop and have the hands straight up. It will be interesting to see how they control JaJuan Johnson, Siena has used some matchup zones over the last few weeks as well, and will probably consider using it Friday because of Purdue's 3-point field goal percentage (263rd 32%).
H&R: Finally, what is the best scenario for Siena to get a win?
SSB: Siena needs to make shots early so they can get into a 1-2-2 and 3/4 court press. If they can turn the Boilermakers over and get in transition quickly, I think the Saints will have a great shot to win. Senior Edwin Ubiles, who scored a season-high 27 in the championship game win, can create off the dribble and needs to make shots for this team to have an opportunity to win.
Thanks, Ryan. We're all looking forward to Friday.