It's hard to figure what to make of Siena this season. The Saints dropped their first four home games for the first time in Division I, one of them a sound drubbing at the hands of Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference rival Fairfield. They were sitting at 2-6 before scoring victories over Florida Atlantic and Georgia Tech, the latter gained Dec. 22 without the services of injured guard Clarence Jackson, their second-leading scorer.
"I said all year that we're a good team and I think tonight we proved it," Siena coach Mitch Buonaguro said after the win over Georgia Tech and former Siena coach Paul Hewitt. "The defense tonight was as good as it can be."
The one constant for the Saints has been the play of 6-foot-9 center Ryan Rossiter, a senior who begins his final tour of Western New York at 7 tonight when Siena meets up with St. Bonaventure in the Reilly Center. It's the first game of a four-year, alternating-site deal in which the schools will play for the Franciscan Cup. (Siena plays at Canisius Jan. 7 and at Niagara Jan. 9).
Rossiter was often the unsung hero as Siena made three straight NCAA appearances beginning with his freshman season. Teammates such as Kenny Hasbrouck, Alex Franklin, Ronald Moore and Edwin Ubiles were the primary scorers, yet Rossiter's contributions were vital in a supporting role. He started 11 games as a freshman, averaged 10 points and eight rebounds as a sophomore, then 13.8 points and 11.1 rebounds as a junior. This season he's tied for 23rd in the nation in scoring (20.2) and fourth in rebounding (13.3) while having raised to 40 his total for career double-doubles.
Rossiter never has been one of those players who impresses with an abundance of talent. It's commonplace to look at the final box score and wonder how he accumulated all those points and rebounds. His defining characteristics are his sound fundamentals and relentless drive. He took a shot to the face the week of the Georgia Tech game, took a shot to the face during the Georgia Tech game, received two IVs pregame while dealing with a sinus infection -- and still finished with 19 points and 13 boards in 33 minutes.
"He's a big-time player," Hewitt said. "We thought that coming into the game. He did a really nice job of hanging in there."
The trip to St. Bonaventure pits Rossiter against Andrew Nicholson, St. Bonaventure's 6-9 junior center who also ranks among the nation's top 25 in scoring (18th, 21.4 pgg) and rebounding (23rd, 10.0). The Bonnies (6-4) are coming off an overtime loss to Virginia Tech in Rochester, which was preceded by a four-overtime victory over Ohio at the Reilly Center.
The Nicholson-Rossiter matchup makes Bona-Siena one of two delicious games at the local college basketball scene this week. The other comes Thursday, when 23rd-ranked Brigham Young (12-1) and elite guard Jimmer Fredette face the University at Buffalo (7-3) at 7 p.m. at Alumni Arena. Fredette, a Glen Falls native, is a 6-foot-2 senior who ranks fifth in the country in scoring at 24.2.
*On the Week: Canisius (5-6) and Northwestern (La.) State (8-4) complete their in-season home-and-home series at 7 Wednesday night at the Koessler Athletic Center. The Demons won the opener, 86-74, on Dec. 19 in what was the first of consecutive 22-point efforts by Griffs senior forward Elton Frazier. It's the final tune-up for Canisius, which shifts into full MAAC mode Monday at Saint Peter's (7-5, 2-0). Bona remains home for the week and follows up the Siena game with a visit by Marshall on Sunday afternoon. Sophomore forward Marquise Simmons saw his first action on the season for the Bonnies against Virginia Tech, playing three minutes. He had been sidelined with a hand injury. Niagara (3-9) heads back on the road (so what's new?) with games at Drexel tonight (Radio 1520, 7 p.m.) and Maryland-Baltimore County Thursday. It'll be a trip of extremes for the Purple Eagles. Drexel is 8-2 with a Dec. 14 win at Louisville. UMBC is 0-12 and one of four winless Division I teams. The others are Colgate, Alcorn St. and Centenary. Niagara resumes MAAC play Monday at Fairfield. UB completes its prelude to the Mid-American Conference season next Monday at Cornell.
*Stat Watch: UB guard Byron Mulkey (Niagara-Wheatfield) remains second in the nation in steal at 3.7 per game. Montana's Will Cherry leads at 3.9. Fredette's backcourt mate at BYU, Jackson Emery, ranks sixth at 3.0. UB freshman forward Javon McCrea is seventh in field goal percentage (66) and the Bulls are 39th in the country as a team at 47.6 percent.
*Nationwide: Fairfield, one of the favorites in the MAAC, couldn't get to Florida for a game tonight, so it was cancelled. No. 1 Duke plays on an opponent's home floor for the second time this season Wednesday night when it journeys all the way to UNC-Greensboro. Which raises the question: Why no limit on the number of home games at team can play? Could there be a more rapturous end to 2010 in the state of Kentucky then No. 14 Kentucky at Louisville Friday? How good is No. 5 Syracuse? Saturday's visit by No. 20 Notre Dame will shed some light.
Big 4 women's games
Three of the Big 4 women's basketball teams have games today.
Canisius (3-7) will play its first home game since Dec. 4, hosting Maryland-Eastern Shore (2-6) at the Koessler Center at 7 p.m. On Monday, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference named Canisius freshman Courtney VandeBovenkamp as its Rookie of the Week after her career-high 19 points at Bowling Green. She is the fourth Griff to receive the honor this season.
St. Bonaventure (8-4) is back on the road again after last week's victory over host Texas-San Antonio in the UTSA Holiday Classic. The Bonnies will play at Sacred Heart (Conn.) at 2 this afternoon.
Niagara (1-9) travels to Eastern Michigan (8-5) in Ypsilanti, Mich., at 7. EMU defeated the Purple Eagles, 83-68, in the Gallagher Center on Nov. 22, 2009.