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Know thy NCAA Tournament Opponent Round 1: Siena Saints

Normally, we're pro-Saints around these parts, especially with the reigning Super Bowl MVP being a current Saint and most beloved Boilermaker of all time. Come 2:30pm on Friday, however, Saints is a bad word. Siena is an excellent team. They are experienced, they have been here before, they have pulled upsets in the last two tournaments, and they will not be afraid of us. When I saw them in person against Butler I get the sense that their loss at Hinkle was more of an aberration than anything.

But it was from that loss that we may have gotten a blueprint for how to defeat them. Butler is a very similar team to us in that they normally play four guards around Matt Howard. Howard has more bulk than JJ (plus they have Gordon Hayward as a Robbie Hummel), but Butler spread the floor and shot the lights out of the gym. They shot 45% from there and blitzed them early. We may not be able to do the same thing, but there is still plenty we can do to get this win.

Siena Saints

2009-10 record: 27-6, 17-1 MAAC (Regular season and tournament champions)

2008-09 record: 27-8, 16-2 MAAC (Lost to #1 seed Louisville 79-72 in NCAA Second Round)

Blog Representation: Siena Saints blog

Series with Purdue: First Meeting

Purdue vs. the MAAC all-time: 2-0 (Defeated Manhattan in 1969 and 1975)

As you can see, we have not seen much of the MAAC. This is our first game against a team from that conference in 35 years. Considering our coach was only a five year old dreaming about his screen debut in Blue Chips back in 1975, there isn't exactly a solid basis for comparison. We do know that Siena is a solid team when it faces Big Ten competition. The Saints knocked off Ohio State in the first round of last year's tournament. They also beat Vanderbilt two years ago as a #13 seed. Siena even put a scare in Louisville last year in round two before falling by seven. They led by four with less than eight minutes left, but couldn't finish the upset.

One of the main reasons that team was so good is now making it in the NBA. Kenny Hasbrouck recently signed a short contract with the Miami Heat to run with Dwyane Wade and company. Most of that team is back, however, and the top four is incredibly balanced. After the starting five, however, there is a severe drop off in production.

When I look at Siena's schedule one major thing stands out: they have struggled against NCAA Tournament teams. Of their six losses, four came to teams that made this year's NCAA field. Georgia Tech, Northern Iowa, Butler, and Temple all beat the Saints. None of Siena's wins came against an NCAA team and only one, Northeastern, came against an NIT team. We have one common opponent with Siena. They also beat St. Joseph's 92-75, so we have a blowout over an awful Atlantic 10 team as comparison.

One of our primary concerns will be Ryan Rossiter matching up with JaJuan Johnson in the middle. Rossiter is the brother of Davidson's Steve Rossiter, whom we saw last year. In that game we held Steve to just two points and no rebounds in 10 minutes before he fouled out. Ryan is a slightly taller player at 6'9" as opposed to Steve's 6'7", but they both weigh about the same. Ryan averages 13.9 points per game and 11.1 rebounds per contest. He has struggled in most of Siena's sis losses, however. Northern Iowa, a team with another good big man, held him to four points in a 17 point loss. Temple held him to eight points and Georgia tech held him to six.

I think it is safe to say that limiting Rossiter is a key, but Siena has four other outstanding players we need to watch. Alex Franklin, a 6'5" senior forward, will likely play at the four spot and he is their leading scorer at 16.3 points per game. He also pulls down 8 rebounds per game. I'd love to stick Kelsey Barlow on him defensively, as that could be a favorable matchup for us. If Rossiter gets into foul trouble JJ can shift over and give us a size advantage.

Edwin Ubiles, a 6'6" guard/forward, is a solid player that can play both inside and out. He averages 15.2 points per game and has never had a season below 11 ppg. He can distribute the ball fairly well (better than two assists per game), but his shooting percentage this year is at a career low. He may have had his worst game of the year when he was 2 of 11 from the field for four points against Butler. Guard Clearance Jackson, a 6'3" junior, is a penetrating threat at 13.6 points per game. Jackson can be a three point shooter, but he does most of his scoring by creating his own shot. I think he will get to know Mr. Chris Kramer quite well by the end of the day. If LewJack can keep him from driving that frees up Kramer for someone else.

This is a game that we want to play in the halfcourt. If we can slow down Siena's desire to run we can wear them down over time. Their offense is not built to slug it out with us, so we must use that to our advantage. After the top four scorers the production drops off severely. We do need to keep an eye on Ronald Moore, who is one of the best point guards in the country. Moore, another senior, only scores 6.8 points per game, but he averages 7.8 assists per game. He leads the country in that category by a full assist over Illinois' Demetri McCamey. It is safe to say that he makes this offense go, and if we can disrupt him, we disrupt their entire offense. That is part of the reason Butler had an easy time. Moore had only four assists, though he has been in double digits in this category 10 times this year.

Those five starters are among the best five for any team in the country. We're not likely going to see another team with as much experience in its starting five as Siena. These guys are winners that have been through all of this before. Unfortunately, Siena is a team that might get less from its bench than we do. Kyle Downey, O.D. Anosike, and Owen Wignot will probably see some time against us, but Downey is the only one that averages better than 13 minutes. He scores five points per game, but that is about as far as it goes for bench production. Kyle Girffin, a 6'3 sophomore guard, saw some decent minutes in the second half of the season, but he is not a huge offensive threat. If the game is a blowout either way we have to keep our eyes peeled for one of the best names in the entire tournament. Senior guard Just-in'love Smith manages to get an apostrophe and a hyphen in his first name, meaning he has to be at the top of the all-name team.

I have mixed feelings about this game. I absolutely love it if it is a game where we control the tempo and wear them down. Unfortunately, the biggest factor could be foul trouble and who gets into it first. If it is Rossiter, JJ will be virtually unopposed to thunderdunk all day and we can attack the rim with reckless abandon. If it is JJ, Rossiter will be able to do whatever he wants and I fear what he would do to Patrick Bade. If both stay out of foul trouble I still think we have an edge. I don't think their guards have seen a defense like ours. That defense should be motivated to atone for the craptacular performance it had against Minnesota.

Our shooting will also be a big key. Let's face it, we haven't shot the ball well of late at all. This goes for free throws too. The Minnesota game is a painful aberration because we had good looks, but nothing would fall. Only D.J. Byrd was hitting, and he may have played his way into the rotation on Saturday.

To have success in this tournament we must get our usual contributions from E'Twaun Moore and JJ, plus we need to have at least the hint of a third option. Keaton Grant and Kramer are the leading candidates for that, but we must have someone who is at least a threat to score. LewJack can do that, so can Barlow, John Hart and even Byrd. Sure, Byrd's 11 points were his first points since the first Minnesota game on January 5th, but if he is ready to contribute now I will take it. Coach Painter has made it clear that he will go with whoever can give us the most each night. If Byrd only gave us 2 points over the course of the entire Big Ten season, but he's ready to give us a couple of threes and solid effort for 15 minutes per night like he did in Indianapolis, then so be it. I don't care who gets it done, as long as it gets done.

I think this team is motivated to shut some people up too. According to the media, we shouldn't even bother making the trip to Spokane because we had a bad half against Minnesota. That's all they see or need to know, apparently. Some jackholes are even saying we should have been dropped to a 7 or 8 seed, if not lower.

Yes, Siena is a team that has been very good in the first round recently, but so have we. We haven't lost a first round NCAA game in 17 years. That makes 11 straight appearances in which we have played beyond the first day. It hasn't been pretty in some of them (see Dayton in 2000, Wisconsin-Green Bay in 1995, and Western Carolina in 1996), but we have gotten the job done. I think that is what happens Friday.

Keys to the game for Purdue:

  • Win the battle between JJ and Rossiter
  • Disrupt Moore from running the offense
  • Make this a half court game, but don't be afraid to run on the break
  • Let LewJack control the tempo, not Moore
  • Rebound
  • Hit free throws
  • Shoot better
  • Make a statement early

Prediction: Purdue 68, Siena 64