Siena Prepares For Unlikely Postseason Championship

cbi practiceThe scene was an unlikely one on Saturday as hundreds of fans lined up to purchase tickets for the finals of the College Basketball Invitational postseason tournament to be held this week. Siena practiced for one last time at the Alumni Recreation Center before heading to the airport for a flight to California. They are preparing to face Fresno State in a three-game championship series which begins Monday night in Fresno.

The whole scene was something even the best of predictors would have never envisioned, but what an interesting ride it’s been so far. After being picked to finish tenth in the MAAC following a ninth place finish and an eight-win season last year, the Saints were able to finish fifth under first year coach, Jimmy Patsos. In advancing to the CBI finals, they already have 18 wins under their belt with a chance at 20. With the 3-game series certain to carry into April, it will be the longest season in program history.

“It’s really surprising,” said junior Rob Poole. “It’s cool we’re one of the last teams in the country playing. I don’t think anyone thought we’d be playing right now.”

For sophomore Brett Bisping, the Saints’ most improved player who has gone from a minor contributor as a freshman to the team’s second leading scorer this season, the turnaround has been a natural progression.

“I don’t think it surprises our team, but I think it surprises a lot of people,” said Bisping. “We knew what we were capable of. We just needed to pull it all together. I think we’re playing good at the right time.”

For Patsos, a realist who has stated that the Saints are climbing a mountain in an attempt to restore the program following three losing seasons, even he is a bit surprised at the turnaround the team has made in just one season.

“We were able to turn this around faster because of the fan base and the tradition and the players know it,” said Patsos. “We grinded out a lot of wins. We lost some close ones too. We’ve gotten a couple of recruits. I’m learning this job. The tradition and the support is why we’re getting recruits.”

For sophomore Ryan Oliver, being a part of the postseason is a welcomed part of his resurgent second season.

“I’m excited that we are still playing,” said Oliver. “We are in a great opportunity in the CBI. We worked hard all year so I’m glad our hard work is playing off. I’m still a bit surprised we’re playing in April.  Who would have thought that? I’m just excited for the championship series.”

 In preperation for Fresno, Patsos spoke to his team about the program they were facing.

“We had a good talk yesterday about Augie Garrido the greatest baseball coach in college baseball (Texas) went to Fresno. Jerry Tarkanian (played and coached there). They all know Paul George (Indian Pacers). That’s kinda cool to say one of the best players in the NBA played where we’re going,” said Patsos.

The postseason run has caused Patsos to rearrange his off season as he had to abandon the idea of going to the Yankees season opener, attending the Final Four and beginning his much anticipated yoga classes.

“I was gonna go watch my Yankees cause they open in Toronto but that’s not gonna happen,” Patsos explained. “But, it’s great to be playing. I’m really happy about all the fans here picking up their tickets. It says a lot about the school and the tradition of the program.”

Patsos and his players took time before and during practice to thank the fans who waited in line, many for well over an hour.

“The post season has been interesting,” Patsos said. “Stony Brook, we played against a great player in Warney and can we get by him. Then Penn State of the Big Ten. Illinois State. It’s going a lot longer than I thought. We’ve been taking two days at a time off. When you play this long, I learned something from Bill Musselman who coached here (Albany Patroons). Fresh legs with minds that are hungry to play the game.”

After flying into San Jose via Las Vegas, the Saints were heading to San Franciso where they would practice as well as take in some sites of significance as is a trademark of a roadtrip with Patsos.

“We’re gonna go to the Golden Gate, Castro, Haight-Ashbury, three-hour bus tour type stuff. I’m happy for the kids. That’s why you do this. It’s gonna be a great experience for them.”

Win or lose on Monday, Siena will return home for Game 2 on Wednesday and Game 3 (if necessary). That too will be unique as those games are to be played on campus at the ARC which for many fans brings back fond memories of when the program began to emerge. As for the series itself, that too will be something different for Patsos who compares it to life in the NBA.

“It’s different playing best of three. I don’t know what to say at halftime when I say, ‘If we lose then we’re done.’ They’re gonna sit there and say, ‘Now give us one of your theories.’ I can’t yell as them as much cause they can say, ‘Well what if we win both at home?’.”

No matter the outcome the CBI has proven to be worthwhile for Siena. It should prove intersting to see what else they have in store.


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