Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Team Report: Despite Losses, Manhattan Men Solid

Here's another in the "Team Report" series, taking a look at the 2013-14 season and a crystal-ball look ahead for conference programs.

Up now ...


2013-14 RECORD: 15-5 in MAAC play, 2nd place; 25-8 overall.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Picked to win the MAAC's regular season, Manhattan finished second with a resume that included one loss to eventual titlist Iona, two to a tough Quinnipiac and somewhat harder-to-explain setbacks to Siena and Fairfield. But, the team more than made up for the slight regular-season stumble by out-efforting everyone in the conference's post-season tournament to earn a trip to the NCAA's. Once there, head coach Steve Masiello re-affirmed that he can indeed coach. The Jaspers drew highly regarded Louisville in the opening round, a less-than-desireable coaching match between Masiello and his acknowledged mentor Rick Pitino. And, then, the heavy underdog Jaspers followed a near-perfect game plan and held a 60-58 lead with a little over three minutes left before some late-game missed shots enabled Louisvile to sneak off with a 71-64 victory ... The team had very few injury losses, only two games from leading scorer swingman George Beamon (18.8 ppg.) and one by point guard Mike Alvarado. Inside force Rhamel Brown (120 blocks) was third nationally in rejections. As a team, Manhattan was 18th in steals, and 4th in free-throws attempted, both stats indicative of how hard the team played all season ... Brown, Beamon and Alvarado combined for a nice threesome ... an inside force, a slashing win and an underrated/effective pint guard. They weren't alone in providing ocntributions. Junior Emmy Andujar, a 6-6 foward, (8.6, 5.3) continued to show signs, sophomore wing Shane Richards provided long-range shooting (71 made treys while playing just 21.1 minutes per game), Maryland transfer 6-10 sophomore Aston Pankey (7.1, 4.3) increased his contributions late in the season (he led Manhattan in rebounding three times i the last five games), and put up his numers in just 17.7 minutes per contest. Back-up guards RaShawn Shores and Tyler Wilson both helped out and both had more assists than turnovers. The team also had impressive non-league victories at Illinois State, at South Carolina and a double-overtime decision over La Salle. After a few league bumps, Manhattan won 11 of its last 12 games before heading to the NCAA Tournament.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Not much, discounting the failure to win the regular-season title. There was a greater emphasis on offense this year than the previous season, whilc resulted in Manhattan's points-against-total to be 173rd nationally. Manhattan was also a little small, at least when Pankey wasn't in the game (Brown is only about 6-6), yet still outrebounded opponents by one per contest. Any minor deficiencies were overcome by effort, determination and tough play, hallmarks of Masiello's teams in his three seasons at the school to date. Some might look at losing a late-game lead to Louisville in the NCAA's a disappointment, but that Manhattan hung in there so long and played so well before falling has to be considered more of a positive. It was enough so that Masiello became a hot off-season candidate to move, which he did. He accepted a five-year contract from South Florida (total value reported at $5.4 million), but subsequent vetting by that school revealed that Masiello never graduated from college (he attended Kentucky), a requisite for the job. Manhattan has the same requisite, but clearly failed to do the required research twice: once when it hired Masiello as an assistant and, then, again when he became the program's head coach. The events brought some less-than-positive publicity to the program. School administrators claimed Masiello did not knowingly misrepresent himself (say what?) and, when USF withdrew its offer, allowed him to return to the program upon completion of degree work which did occur recently. It remains to be seen how much that affects future recruiting.

WHAT'S AHEAD: A little uncertainty, mostly over Masiello's situation. Clearly, he's a viable candidate to move on and one wonders (as might recruits) if he'll jump ship again at first opportunity. Then again, the situation might have dimmed Masiello's proverbial star and unless the team at least duplicates this past season he might be at Manhattan for the foreseeable future. And, that's not a bad thing. He has clearly proven that he can coach. Now, though, the question is whether he can recruit. The team loses its top three players, Beamon, Alvarado and Brown, and all three were brought in by former coach Barry Rohrssen (which has graciously and regularly been acknowledged by Masiello). The best player he has brought in to date has been Pankey, a transfer. And, now, it appears there's another strong transfer in the form of 6-9 forward Jermaine Lawrence, who played about 15 minutes per game last season at Cincinatti where he averaged 2.8 points and 2.9 rebounds per game. Some, reports, though, have questioned his "motor," but there aren't many better motivators than Masiello. Lawrence has petitioned for a waiver of the transfer rule that would require him to sit out a season (he has what appears to be a legitimate family health issue). If the waiver is granted and he can play immediately, the combination of Lawrence and Pankey will potentially be as good a one-two front-court punch as there is in the league. Andujar and Richards are also both quality pieces. The team's big question mark, though, will be finding a replacement for Alvarado at the point, a role likely to fall to Stores (64 assists/33 turnovers) this past season, whose leadership abilities earned him a co-captain's position this past season. And, despite Masiello's off-season status, only one recruit de-committed and the rest of the incoming group seems strong. Zane Waterman, a 6-9 forward; and Samson Usilo, a 6-4 wing, appear to be the best of the incoming players.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION: Any time a team loses its best three players, there almost has to be a dropoff. Still, Manhattan has enough coming back ... and, that includes Masiello ... to remain competitive. This scribe's early prediction was for the Jaspers to finish fifth in the upcoming seaso, behind Iona, Siena, Saint Peter's and Quinnipiac. But, that was before the addition of Lawrence. If Lawrence gains his eligibility for the coming season, Manhattan is a candidate to move up and, potentially, compete to be in the top three.

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