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Pickett and the Saints march into Cintas to face off against Xavier

Xavier hosts Siena in second game of the new season

NCAA Basketball: Norfolk State at Siena
Jalen Pickett (22) returned to Siena after initially declaring for the 2019 NBA Draft.
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

After beating up on an opponent well below their weight-class in the opener, Xavier will welcome much stiffer competition when the Siena Saints visit Cintas Center Friday evening.

While scheduling for a major conference program is more of an art than a science, it’s one that Xavier has nailed in recent years. With the selection committee’s emphasis on the NET metric (and prior to that the RPI), the Musketeers have had an excellent eye for small conference opponents who will rate highly at the end of the season. Xavier still plays its share of major conference opponents, but its resume at the end of the season is always boosted by a variety of lesser-known but higher-achieving opponents.

The Musketeers have good reason to believe that Siena might be an underrated quality win at the end of the season. Led by potential NBA draft pick and MAAC Preseason Player of the Year Jalen Pickett, Siena should be stronger after a solid finish to a rebuilding season in 2018-19.


Getting to know the Saints

Head Coach: Carmen Maciariello (first season, 1-0)

2018-19 record: 16-17 (11-7 in MAAC, 2nd of 11), 263rd (of 353) in KenPom rankings

2018-19 Offense: 64.6 ppg (335th), 43.4%/33.9%/68.0%

2018-19 Defense: 66.0 ppg (43rd)

Series History: Xavier leads 3-1, winning the last three. Xavier won 96-88 at Siena in 2002 in the last match-up and won the only match-up between the schools 68-59 at Cintas Center on New Year’s Eve 2001.

Best known for a run of three straight NCAA Tournament appearances under now-Iowa coach Fran McCaffery from 2008-2010 (the Saints picked up two upset wins over those three tournaments), the Saints took a step back in 2017-18 finishing just 8-24 in what wound up being then-coach Jimmy Patsos’ last season. Mt. Saint Mary’s coach Jamion Christian came in, along with the now-sophomore guard Pickett, and led Siena to a 16-17 (11-7 in MAAC) season that was good enough for a second-place finish in the MAAC. Christian bolted for George Washington vacancy after the season and Siena promoted alum Carmen Maciariello to his first head coach position.

Maciarello inherits a team that played a snail’s pace last season. Siena average just 63.4 possessions per game last season, only national champion Virginia averaged fewer at 62.6. That leads to some misleading statistics, as the Saints had a higher KenPom offensive rating (251st) than they had defensively (263rd) despite being a bottom 20 offenses in points per game last season. Early indications are that Maciarello wants to speed things up, as Siena scored 96 points in 75 possessions in its first game this season against American University.

Maciarello is probably wise for getting his star player as many possessions as possible. The 6’4” sophomore Pickett (Rochester, NY) was second on the team with 15.8 ppg while leading the Saints with 6.7 apg, good for ninth nationally. He’s a rather efficient player as well, shooting over 50% from the field while averaging 2.4 turnovers per game. In short, Pickett is a handful and was good enough to be named as one of ESPN’s preseason top-25 players in the country.

Pickett’s the star, but Siena has a built a decent supporting cast surrounding him by taking advantage of a few key transfers in the first game against American University. r-Sr. forward Elijah Burns (Troy, NY) scored 19 points and grabbed 9 boards in his first game after transferring from Notre Dame. Sophomore guard Don Carey (Upper Marlboro, MD) had 17 points (3-5 from deep) and five assists in his first game for the Saints after sitting out 2018-19 from transferring from Mount Saint Mary’s (Christian seemed to like to take his players with him, as sophomore forward Sloan Seymour left the Saints to transfer to GW in the offseason). Junior forward Manny Camper (Chestertown, MD) was the fourth star scoring 14 points, grabbing 8 rebounds, and picking 4 assists in the opener.

What to watch for

  • Perhaps the most pertinent question will be which Siena we see. Will it be 2018-19’s snail squad or the high-flying unit from Tuesday? The guess here is that Siena keeps the pace up as Maciariello wants to both maximize the number of possessions that Pickett gets per game and put his stamp on the program. Steele’s response will be telling: will he choose to run with the Saints or muddy up the game?
  • Was Xavier’s stifling defense against Jacksonville a product of the opponent? Xavier coach Travis Steele has repeatedly said how much more advanced this year’s Musketeer team is compared to last year’s, especially defensively. While that showed against Jacksonville (as Xavier held the Dolphins to 41.1% from the floor and 5-21 from behind the arc), it also came against a team that shot poorly in 2018-19 and whose best shooters didn’t return this season. We will likely have a much better idea of the Musketeers defensive chops after tonight, as Siena should be a much tougher test with Picket and Co.
  • Will Schrand start again? It was assumed that Steele electing to start former walk-on Leighton Schrand in the exhibition was done as a reward for the hard-working senior that wouldn’t carry over to the season. Well, it did carry over as Schrand started the opener against Jacksonville and played 17 minutes. Meanwhile, r-Jr. forward Jason Carter made his Musketeer debut and played just 12 minutes in the opener. Schrand might still contribute, but it’s likely that as Carter gets healthier and his minutes rise that Schrand’s minutes are adversely affected.

Game Info

Time: 7 pm

TV: FSN/YES

Line: Xavier -20.5, 140.5 o/u

Pick

After getting outscored by Jacksonville in the second half and failing to cover, it seems unlikely that Xavier would cover a similar spread against a better opponent. Xavier is likely the best team on Siena’s schedule and Pickett is a legitimate draft prospect, this figures to be the one of the best chances for NBA scouts to see him against comparable talent. As such, it’s hard to see Xavier winning by 21 or more since Pickett will likely be going all-out even if Xavier has pulled away. There may also be some value in the over, so long as the opener was more indicative of this Siena team than last year was.

Prediction: Xavier 84, Siena 68