Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Team Report: Manhattan Men Picked To Claim Crown

Here's another in the series looking back, and ahead, at conference teams.

Up now ...


2012-13 RECORD: 9-9 in MAAC play (tied for 6th), 14-18 overall.

2012-13 RECAP: Lost the MAAC's leading scorer from the previous season, George Beamon, after four games due to foot injuries and still advanced to the conference tournament's championship game, where it came within two baskets (losing 60-57 vs. Iona) of earning a trip to the NCAA's. Along the way, Manhattan started 5-14 and, then, went on a 9-3 run before the league tournament title-game loss.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Hard to recover from losing a potential Player of the Year in Beamon, particularly so early in the year. And the team's entire style of up-tempo play was predicated upon Beamon's ability to score in bunches. Manhattan struggled for a good portion of the season after Beamon's loss until shrewd head coach Steve Masiello changed from his preferred wide-open game to a half-court, grind-it-out, physical style of play that stressed defense more than offense. It turned a disaster of season into a pretty good one, with the Jaspers going 9-3 over the 12 games leading up to the MAAC tournament's championship game. In getting there, Manhattan beat Fairfield twice in the regular season to secure the tie-breaker that enabled it to avoid the tournament's play-in round. Manhattan's late-season run also included a satisfying double-overtime victory over Iona. The style switch turned the team's emphasis over to inside banger Rhamel Brown, a 6-6 post player who wound up averaging 11.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and was 10th nationally in blocked shots (2.97 per game). Freshmen Shane Richards and Rashawn Stores contributed and the Jaspers' work came without a single senior averaging more than four points per game. Swingman Emmy Andujar just about duplicated a strong freshman season, and led the team in assists from the wing for the second straight year. Guard Mike Alvarado was his usual steady self.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Beamon's injury was devastating, and caused not only a mid-season change in playing style but some time to adapt to the change. It all precipitated to the 5-14 start and a sub-.500 overall record from a program that most picked to contend for the regular-season title, particularly with just about everyone back after a 21-victory 2011-12 season. Manhattan, though, was a little undersized and not only missed Beamon's scoring, but his 5.7-rebound average from the previous year. It left the slightly undersized Brown to do most of the rebounding, although sophomore Emmy Andujar helped out with 5.0 per game. Without Beamon, Manhattan just struggled to score, getting more than 70 points just twice all year, and one of those was in a double-overtime contest. Only 11 teams (of 343) nationally scored fewer points than the Jaspers last season. Manhattan might have better survived Beamon's loss had Maryland transfer Ashton Pankey, a 6-10, 225-pound post player, been eligible. But, Manhattan's application for Pankey to become eligible without sitting out the traditional transfer season, was not approved, much to the consternation of Masiello and others familiar with the waiver request.

WHAT'S AHEAD: All good, at least on the immediate horizon. Pankey, who averaged 4.7 points and 4.9 rebounds in 20.7 minutes per game as a Maryland freshman, is now eligible. If he and Brown can effectively work together, Manhattan has arguably the best post combination in the league. It should also have Beamon back at full health, and he's as explosive a scorer as there is in the league. Alvarado, seemingly always  underrated, contributes in a variety of ways. And, Alvarado, Beamon and Brown are all seniors, meaning the Jaspers have more then the requisite quality upperclass presence that usually bodes well in the conference. And, the other two likely starters are junior Andujar and Pankey. It stacks up with any starting five in the MAAC, and makes Manhattan (it says here) the preseason favorite to win the upcoming regular-season title. There's also considerable depth with three players (6-6 Donovan Kates, 6-5 Shane Richards and 5-10 guard Rashawn Stores) likely to come off the beach who each started at least six games last season. Stores and Richards were all-MAAC Rookie Team selections this past season.. And although the program will graduate Beamon, Brown and Alvarado, a strong freshman group of 6-10 Carlton Allen, 6-5 Rich Williams and 6-0 Tyler Wilson, will get quality tutelage this season and, theoretically, be ready to step into bigger rules in the future.

PREDICTION FOR 2013-14: Iona will be strong again, and Canisius will likely contend as well. But, barring injury, everything seems to be in place for Manhattan capturing the regular-season championship.

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