George Beamon returns from season-ending ankle injury to team with Rhamel Brown on a Manhattan team expected to contend for MAAC championship. (Photo courtesy of the New York Daily News)
Just about 72 hours ago, Manhattan College released its 2013-14 nonconference schedule, a nine-game slate that will challenge and prepare the Jaspers in equal doses as Steve Masiello's team attempts to rebound from an underachieving 14-18 campaign that started out slow due to injuries, yet finished strong with a narrow three-point loss to Iona in the championship game of the MAAC Tournament.
The Jaspers lose valuable seniors Mohamed Koita and glue guy Roberto Colonette from last year's roster, but regain the services of George Beamon, who will enter his senior year as a MAAC Player of the Year contender; as well as bruising 6-10 big man Ashton Pankey, who is eligible after sitting out last season following his transfer from Maryland. Beamon and Pankey will join incumbent point guard Michael Alvarado and forwards Emmy Andujar and two-time reigning MAAC Defensive Player of the Year Rhamel Brown as the projected starting five for Manhattan, with sharpshooting swingman Shane Richards leading the charge off the bench. Here's what the Jaspers start their ledger with before MAAC play, with some insight from Masiello to help paint a picture of what to expect in Riverdale:
Masiello on Manhattan's offseason trip to the Bahamas in August: "All I want to do is establish our team identity and get better every day. That's all we're doing. We're not talking about destinations. Our goal is to understand our identity of where we are as a basketball team."
Saturday, November 9th at La Salle: Dr. John Giannini brings back the core of an Explorers team that advanced to the Sweet 16 last year to earn the distinction of being the last Atlantic 10 program left standing in the NCAA Tournament. Led by guards Tyreek Duren, Sam Mills and Tyrone Garland, La Salle will also challenge the Jaspers up front with their interior duo of Steve Zack and Jerrell Wright. "I think it's a major test," said Masiello of this matchup that serves as Manhattan's season opener. "I think we're jumping right into the fire. With us kind of emulating a team like La Salle, it should be a great test for us."
Tuesday, November 12th at Columbia: Manhattan hopes its second consecutive trip to Levien Gym turns out better than it did last year, when they were defeated by the Lions. This time around, however, Kyle Smith's Columbia squad no longer has point guard extraordinaire Brian Barbour, but they return his replacement in sophomore Grant Mullins; who made great strides as a freshman last season, as well as sharpshooter Steve Frankoski and rising star Alex Rosenberg, a 6-7 power forward going into his junior year. The physical Manhattan frontcourt should have a more favorable go of it against the Lions this year, though, especially since Columbia center Mark Cisco has graduated.
Masiello on having two fewer nonconference games due to MAAC expansion and a 20-game schedule: "The MAAC is all over the place in a good way, one team might be all zone, another team might be 1-3-1, another team might play a little man. It's really a buffet of coaching styles, so you have to get your team ready for all those styles in the nonconference, and that's kind of our approach to it. So, we had to get nine different teams with all different styles, that are going to play us different ways, to make sure we've seen it all going into the MAAC, because that's all that matters."
Saturday, November 16th vs. George Washington: The Jaspers' home opener is one of two nonconference games they will play at Draddy Gym, both of which coming against Atlantic 10 teams. Mike Lonergan brings a Colonials team that nearly upset NIT participant UMass in the A-10 Tournament last season into Draddy, led by senior swingman and Villanova expatriate Isaiah Armwood. Remember this name, however: Patricio Garino. The Argentina native had an underrated and scary good freshman season last year, and is on the precipice of an even bigger breakout campaign. Look for him to challenge Rhamel Brown at various points in this matchup.
Wednesday, November 20th at Illinois State: The one surprise to some on the Jaspers' schedule is this matchup with Dan Muller and the Redbirds, the first in the history of the two schools. Illinois State loses both halves of its inside-outside duo of Jackie Carmichael and Tyler Brown, both of whom were instrumental in guiding the program into the NIT two years ago; and Jon Ekey has transferred to Illinois, leaving Muller with a younger team that does not have a senior on its roster. All six of the Redbirds' top leading scorers are no longer around, leaving sophomore Nick Zeisloft to shoulder most of the offensive load in the backcourt, while fellow second-year guard Kaza Keane attempts to build from a rookie season in which he averaged more than three assists per game coming off the bench. "That conference says it all, that conference is terrific," Masiello stated with regard to the Missouri Valley, calling it one of the best conferences in the country. "I don't think they're rebuilding, I think they've lost a lot of great players, but they still have a ton left, and they have a great coach in Coach Muller. That place is a difficult place to play, it might be the hardest game with the atmosphere included, right next to La Salle on our schedule," Masiello said. "Those two games alone are no joke."
Masiello on his two nonconference home games: "They're home games at Draddy, which we don't get a lot of. They're early in the year, which is something that's been really hard to get for us, which I like. I'm excited about it."
Tuesday, November 26th vs. Fordham: The Battle of the Bronx returns to Draddy for the first time since December 7th, 2011, when the Jaspers thrashed Tom Pecora's Rams 81-47 in Masiello's first season. Chris Gaston has graduated, leaving Fordham with a major hole to fill up front, but Christ the King product Jon Severe will instantly make his presence felt in a backcourt that ranks among the best in the Atlantic 10, led by senior Branden Frazier and sophomore Mandell Thomas. The key in this game will be how Fordham's frontcourt handles adversity, as the duo of Travion Leonard and Ryan Rhoomes; both of whom are sophomores now, made crucial mistakes down the stretch against Manhattan last season at Rose Hill. Junior center Ryan Canty had the first of many breakout games against the Jaspers last season, and will be looking for a similar effort this season as well.
Saturday, November 30th at Hofstra: Manhattan renews its rivalry with the Pride for a third consecutive year, and travels to the Mack Sports Complex to take on a new-look Hofstra team with a new head coach in Joe Mihalich, whom Masiello and the Jaspers know quite well from his time at Niagara. Hofstra will have almost an entirely new set of personnel, but senior forward Stephen Nwaukoni will be a threat on the defensive glass once again alongside Moussa Kone. Pay attention to Hofstra's backcourt, as senior Dion Nesmith will provide much-needed experience to complement freshmen Chris Jenkins and Eliel Gonzalez.
Sunday, December 15th at UNC Wilmington: The Jaspers return the now-defunct BracketBuster game from the 2011-12 campaign against the Seahawks, who will now take on the daunting task of having to replace do-everything scorer and rebounder Keith Rendleman. Senior point guard Chris Dixon, who averaged close to ten points per game last season, is back for one more campaign in Michael Jordan's hometown, with sharpshooter Craig Ponder and 6-9 junior forward Cedrick Williams there to step in and help pick up the pieces. Keep an eye on 6-2 senior Tanner Milson, whose 37 percent clip from three-point range led Buzz Peterson's team last season.
Tuesday, December 17th at South Carolina: After a hotly contested defensive battle at the Barclays Center last season, Manhattan travels to Colonial Life Arena in Columbia to get a rematch with Frank Martin and the Gamecocks, who will rebuild from a 14-18 season with their core of Bruce Ellington, Brenton Williams and Michael Carrera each coming back. Ellington will most likely not be available for the Manhattan game, as he is also on the football team at South Carolina, but Williams will now move into a starting role as a senior after averaging eleven points per game and shooting 40 percent from three-point range off the bench. Carrera, a 6-5 swingman from Venezuela going into his sophomore season, may turn out to be one of Martin's best recruits after showing mounds of potential while averaging ten points and seven rebounds per game as a freshman. Lithuanian imports Mindaugas Kacinas and Laimonas Chatkevicius will be counted on to improve their offensive productivity, especially in a matchup of this magnitude.
Masiello on playing two nonconference road games in three days: "I don't worry about it, because that's what we're going to have to do in the MAAC, and that's what we're trying to get ready for. I'm trying to prepare the guys for that, and that's why we scheduled it that way. Two very good teams, Frank Martin, obviously, the job he's done to where he's gotten that program in one year is remarkable."
Saturday, December 21st vs. Buffalo: Manhattan returns their second BracketBuster with a neutral court showdown at the Barclays Center against a Buffalo team that introduces a new head coach in Bobby Hurley, who gets burgeoning forward Javon McCrea back for a senior season on the heels of an 18-point, 8-rebound per game average last season for a 14-20 Bulls team. Former Virginia transfer Will Regan stands 6-8, but has a deceptively strong outside shot that hit at a 42 percent rate last year. Sophomore point guard Jarryn Skeete is expected to grow this season, and now gets one of the best possible mentors in Hurley to help him along. "I'm sure he'll play a lot like his brother (Rhode Island coach Dan) and his dad," (Hall of Famer Bob) Masiello said of Bobby Hurley. "A team like that will give you a lot of different looks to handle."
Masiello on playing at the Barclays Center: "Any time you play in that venue is special, and it gives us a chance to play a great young head coach."
Masiello on George Beamon: "He's not the player he was yet, but he will be. It's still pretty early, and we're just excited to see him on the court."
Masiello on Ashton Pankey: "The one thing about A.P. is how hard he plays, he plays certainly, extremely, hard, and that's what I'm really excited about. He's got a blue-collar mentality, he likes a challenge, he likes contact, he wants to hit you, and he's a presence."
Masiello on Quinnipiac and Monmouth, and what each school brings to the MAAC: "I haven't seen Quinnipiac play a whole lot last year, but I am familiar with Tom Moore, he coached at UConn, and I think he's done a terrific job at Quinnipiac, he's turned them into a very good program. He's got that program in a great place, and King Rice is a friend of mine, he's really getting that program going at Monmouth, and he's finally getting his players. I think you're looking at two teams that will both be different, and should both be interesting."
Masiello on the New York basketball landscape: "I've seen it when New York's been really up and really down on both ends, and I think New York is very cyclical; with what happened last year, you could have the complete opposite happen this year. The one thing about New York is we love winners and we hate losers. When you see other teams having success, you want to get a taste of that, you want a piece of that, so I think it's a little contagious when it comes to winning. When you see the accolades winning teams get, you want to be involved in that."