DAYTON — Louisville Coach Rick Pitino said Siena is already at the level of Xavier and Gonzaga in terms of talent.
Siena Coach Fran McCaffery, although flattered by the comparison, admitted that his team hasn't quite accomplished enough yet to be mentioned in that breath.
But the Saints, the Midwest Region's No. 9 seed, could take a significant step up that ladder if they can knock off top-seeded Louisville on Sunday.
"I think honestly our goal is to be a Gonzaga or a Xavier," McCaffery said. "We have had patches of success, and I think the challenge for us now is to continue what we have going right now."
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The Saints have advanced past the first round for the second consecutive year. Last year they ripped Vanderbilt as a No. 13 seed. And Friday they knocked off eighth-seeded Ohio State in double overtime.
During the regular season Siena lost to tournament teams Tennessee, Oklahoma State, Pittsburgh and Kansas. But those losses were on the road and none was a blowout.
"Siena could go into the Big East right now and be in the middle of the pack and hold their own with any of us," Pitino said.
Much like Pitino, McCaffery uses an uptempo style that relies heavily on full-court pressure and three-point shooting. The Saints have the MAAC Player of the Year in Kenny Hasbrouck (14.8 ppg) and another first-team all-league player in Edwin Ubiles (14.6 ppg).
"They're basically like a carbon copy of us," said Louisville guard Preston Knowles.
Well, not quite. Although the Saints do press and take a lot of threes, they have only one starter over 6-foot-6: sophomore center Ryan Rossiter, 6-9 and a lanky 227 pounds.
Don't be surprised to see the Cards try to pound the ball in the paint with 6-9 junior Earl Clark and 6-8 freshman Samardo Samuels.
"They don't have much size, so we're going to try and expose that," Clark said. "We're going to bang inside, and try and get the high-low game going with me and Samardo and hopefully we'll have a chance to do something."
Another key will be Siena junior point guard Ronald Moore. He was the hero of the Ohio State game after hitting a game-tying three at the end of regulation and the game-winner from near the same spot in the second overtime. But his biggest responsibility will be handling Louisville's full-court press, which has worn down teams in the second half all year. Pitino called this his best pressing team in eight seasons at Louisville.
Moore has a sparkling 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, but his coach knows he'll need help.
"I have a lot of faith that (Moore) will be able to handle that," McCaffery said. "But the critical thing when you're playing Louisville, if you rely on one person to break that pressure, I think you'd be sadly mistaken. It's got to be a collective effort."
Siena's five starters went the majority of minutes during Friday's double-OT win over Ohio State. But McCaffery knows he won't be able to get away with that against a Louisville team that will go 10 deep and hover like vultures the entire game.
"I'm going to have to go to my bench more because I didn't do it much last night," McCaffery said. "And when we go to the bench those guys are going to have to come and meet the ball and make plays."