Thursday, December 12, 2013

Preview: Manhattan Men Poised To Chase Crown

Here's another in the series previewing conference teams.

Up now ...


2012-13 RECORD: 9-9 in the MAAC, 14-18 overall.

KEY LOSSES: 6-7 forward Roberto Colonette (3.6 points, 2.8 rebounds), forward Mohammed Kaita (3.4, 1.4).

KEY NEWCOMERS: 6-10 sophomore forward Ashton Pankey, transfer from Maryland; 6-3 freshman guard Tyler Wilson.

EARLY STARTERS: 6-4 swingman George Beamon (16.8 points, 6.3 rebounds in four games last season), 6-7 senior forward Rhamel Brown (11.4, 5.2, 3.0 blocks), 6-2 senior guard Michael Alvarado (8.4, 2.4, 2.1 assists), 6-6 junior forward Emmy Andujar (8.0, 5.0, 2.4 assists), 6-0 sophomore guard C.J. Jones (1.7, 1.1).

NOTABLE: The loss of Beamon, the previous season's leading scorer in the conference, to foot injuries after four games last season appeared to make 2012-13 a lost cause. And, then, coach Steve Masiello made a mid-season change in the team's style of play, changing from up tempo and wide open to a slow-it-down, defensive emphasis. The change enabled the Jaspers to go 8-2 leading up to the MAAC Tournament's championship game where it nearly earned an NCAA tournament berth before losing, 60-57, to Iona ... The Jaspers are off to a 6-2 start, their best eight-game opening stretch since a 7-1 beginning to the 2001-02 season ... Beamon appears back at full strength and is averaging 20.4 points and a career-high 7.5 rebounds thus far ... The Jaspers certainly have the requisite senior star power. In addition to Beamon, Brown (8.0, 6.9 and 4.5 blocks) and Alvarado (11.6, 4.3 and 4.1 assists) are also seniors ... Brown, 10th in the nation in blocked shots per game last season, is currently tied for second. He had nine blocks in the loss to Fordham and eight in a victory over Monmouth so far ... Alvarado has become more of a point guard, averaging 4.1 assists per contest, nearly double last year's average ... Then, add Andujar (7.5, 5.1), a junior, to the mix and there's plenty of experience on hand ... Manhattan was just a little small last season, but no longer after the addition of 6-10 Pankey (5.5, 3.4), a transfer from Maryland who had to sit out last season ... The bench includes more quality, starting with 6-5 sophomore Shane Richards (8.9, 1.3) ... Richards, who had a nice frreshman year, has turned into a three-point specialist. He's 22-of-53 from long range so far, but hasn't made a shot (0-for-4) inside the bonus stripe ... Juniors Donovan Kates and RaShawn Stores also were key members of last year's playing group. Although their numbers are down this year, they add even more quality depth ... The top newcomer so far is 6-3 freshman guard Tyler Wilson, who had 15 points in a recent game ... Manhattan appears to have returned to the up-tempo style Masiello prefers, averaging 76.1 through the first eight games ... Its only losses thus far have come against George Washington and Fordham.

STRENGTHS: Defense, particularly in terms of blocking shots. And, the offense is back in full swing with the return of Beamon and a playing group that legitimately goes at least 10 deep.

WEAKNESSES: Still a little small when Pankey isn't in the game. But, the Jaspers are making up for that behind Beamon who, at 6-4, is averaging a team-best 7.5 rebounds and has become the complete player Masiello has  been asking him to become.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION: League coaches predicted the Jaspers, in their preseason poll, to win the regular season title. As did this blogger. No reason to change that prediction now. Iona looks like the only real challenger (although Canisius may sneak into the mix). The schedule maker did us a favor by matching Manhattan and Iona, in their second meeting of the regular season, on the last day of the season, Feb. 28. That one could decide the league title.

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