Jayhawks Meet Up With Siena Tonight

Soon after Kansas beat No. 14 Tennessee Saturday afternoon, one reporter was already looking ahead to the Jayhawks' matchup with No. 7 Michigan State in East Lansing on Jan. 10.

He asked KU coach Bill Self if the victory over the Vols would give the Jayhawks (10-3) confidence versus the Spartans.

Oh, wait a second.

“I think it definitely gives us confidence, but we’re not thinking about Michigan State. We got Siena coming in,” Self said. “They did some unbelievable things last year with their entire cast of players returning. We won’t look at Michigan State until Wednesday.”

Siena (10-4), which had one of the best seasons in school history last season, comes to Allen Fieldhouse tonight in a 7 p.m. tipoff (CST).

The Saints went 23-11 in 2007-08 and crushed Vanderbilt by 21 points in a stunning first-round upset in the NCAA tournament. Siena would have actually played KU in the Sweet 16, but lost to Villanova, 84-72, in the second round.

The Saints return all five starters, including preseason player of the year Kenny Hasbrouck and first-team all-Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference selections Edwin Ubiles and and Alex Franklin. Hasbrouck, a 6-3 senior guard, led the league in steals last season (2.26 spg) and ranked in the top 15 in several MAAC categories. He’s tied with sophomore guard Clarence Jackson for team lead with 13 three-pointers, while ranking third on the team in scoring at 11.9 points per game.

Ubiles, a 6-6 junior guard, leads the team with a 14.5 point scoring average and 17 blocked shots, while also averaging 4.9 rebounds per game. He is a high flyer and the most talented player in the MAAC. Just check out YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dbQb2n3N0WU&feature=related), where his  monster tomahawk dunk against Niagara last season has been viewed 3,446 times.

Franklin, meanwhile, is another force who averages 13.8 points and a team-high 6.9 rebounds per game. The 6-5 junior forward is the league’s top returning rebounder (7.8 rpg) and also finished fifth in field goal percentage (.568) and sixth in steals (1.59 spg) last season.

Siena, which is located in Loundonville, N.Y., near Albany,  has other weapons as well. In fact, the team’s most important player may be 6-0 junior point guard Curtis Moore, who leads the Saints with 5.9 assists per game while also averaging 8.4 points and 3.1 rebounds per contest. He is one of the most underrated point guards in the country, and will be looking to make a splash on the national scene against KU’s Sherron Collins.

“Siena needs Moore,” wrote Albany (N.Y.) Times Union writer Mark McGuire. “He allows everybody else to do what they do. More often than not, the junior is going to be a key reason why Siena wins a game, whether that means dishing to the Saints' big guns, hitting a 3-pointer or leading the break.”

The Saints’ fifth starter is sophomore forward Ryan Rossiter, who averages 8.7 points and ranks second on the team with 6.3 boards per game.

Siena, which is off to a solid start playing its toughest schedule in school history, brings a 4-0 conference record and five-game winning streak into Allen Fieldhouse. The Saints’ losses this season came against Oklahoma State, Wichita State and nationally ranked Tennessee in the Old Spice Classic in Orlando in November, and then at current No. 1 Pittsburgh, 79-66, on Dec. 17.

Self knows the Saints are quite dangerous. After all, they walloped Kevin Stalling’s Vanderbilt team last season in the NCAA’s, 83-62, their first appearance in the Big Dance in 14 years. Hasbrouck scored 30 points while graduated senior guard Tay Fisher added 19.

“That was remarkable how they dismantled a really good Vanderbilt team,” Self said on his Hawk Talk radio show Monday night.

Like Self, McCaffrey has taken three different teams to the Big Dance — Lehigh,  UNC Greensboro and Siena. He’s resurrected the Siena program, which was 6-24 just before he took over in 2005.

“They’ll win their league,” Self said. “They’re good, and Fran has obviously done a good job there. They’re getting 12, 13,000 people to their (home) games. The community has really jumped on and supported their program. This team can give anybody in the country problems on their court, and our guys understand that. We’ve shown enough film and we spent extra time in scouting report. Although our biggest concern is who we are and what we do, certainly our guys will have total respect of their ability.’

And rightfully so. Self compared the athletic, up-tempo Saints to Tennessee, although Siena (73.4 points per game) averages 11 points less than the Volunteers.

“They press as much as Tennessee,” Self said. “They probably don’t deny the ball to get it in as hard, but they definitely do that. They actually press more than Tennessee once the ball is inbounds. They play fast. This is certainly not going to be one of those walk it up type games.”

The Jayhawks enter the game with great confidence and momentum after their 92-85 victory over Tennessee, their best game and best crowd this season.

“Our crowd was great,” sophomore center Cole Aldrich said. “They came out right from the get-go when we made some shots. They just kept riding us. They just give us a great boost of energy when we hit shots and do good things on defense.”

Kansas will need some help from the Allen Fieldhouse faithful again in another tough non-conference matchup. Don’t count on the Jayhawks overlooking the Saints with the Michigan State game looming four days later.

“They’ve got three guys (Hasbrouck, Franklin and Ubiles) who should be (among) the top five players in their league,” Self said. “So that tells you how good they are.”

“Our fans should enjoy their style of play,” Self added. “It should be a fun game.”

Notes:

*KU junior guard Sherron Collins was named Phillips 66 Big 12 Player of the Week (Dec. 29-Jan.4). He had what he called the best game of his career against Tennessee, scoring a career-high 26 points and dishing out nine assists. In two victories (KU beat Albany on Dec. 30) last week, Collins averaged 16.5 points, 6.5 assists and 2.5 rebounds. The Chicago native has led the team in scoring in 10 of 13 games this season. This was the second time Collins has been selected as Big 12 Player of the Week and the first for Kansas this year.

*Self said Mario Little was sore a day after the Tennessee game, but practiced full speed on Monday. The 6-5 junior forward made his season debut after battling back from a stress fracture in his left leg and a broken bone in his left wrist. 

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