Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Manhattan and Monmouth similar, but largely different as both teams prepare to face off Thursday

Steve Masiello leads Manhattan against Monmouth Thursday, taking on a Hawks team bearing resemblance to his championship outfits of past two years, but still largely different. (Photo courtesy of Vincent Simone via Big Apple Buckets)

Looking at Monmouth's sensational start to a season that will be remembered among the greatest in program history no matter how or where it ends, as well as the makeup of the Hawks' roster, a somewhat striking resemblance to one of its Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference brethren comes to mind.

Although their non-conference schedule lacked the high-major presence of teams such as UCLA, Notre Dame, USC, Georgetown, or Rutgers, Manhattan College enjoyed similar success in 2013-14, going 7-2 in the non-league portion of their schedule before concluding Steve Masiello's third season at the helm with 25 wins and the program's first conference championship since 2004. The Jaspers, whose deep and talented roster was the formula for their breakthrough, also came within an eyelash of upsetting Louisville in the NCAA Tournament, when Rick Pitino and the Cardinals were only one year removed from a national championship.

As Manhattan prepares to entertain a Monmouth team whose depth and talent draws noticeable comparisons to the two consecutive championship teams that have come out of Riverdale, the common threads end there, says Masiello.

"I think they're a terrific team," he offered, praising Monmouth before the Hawks visit Draddy Gymnasium on Thursday. "King Rice is Coach of the Year in this conference. I think they have really good players, and I've seen a couple of their games. King is a dear friend, and I have so much respect for him and the job he's done. The way he's built that program is a phenomenal blueprint."

"I don't see similarities, because we were more of a front line-dominated team," he continued. "Emmy, (Andujar) AP, (Ashton Pankey) Rhamel, (Brown). That's where we've had success, which the MAAC hasn't really seen teams do. It's been a guard league, and we kind of changed that. We've had great guards in Mike, (Alvarado) George, (Beamon) RaShawn, (Stores) and Shane, (Richards) but I think they're their own team. They have their own identity, and I think King has done a great job of putting his stamp on that program. I do see the depth and their style and how they get out on the break, but they're just a really good basketball team. That's what I see."

Across the court, his counterpart echoed the same thought process.

"This is our team right now, this year," Rice declared. "That was a couple of years ago. We tried to build our program how we were trying to build our program. Steve has had his program and has done it how he needs to do it. I think one of the similarities would be we both play a lot of guys, but I'm not focused on how they played, what they did back then. I'm focused more on what they're doing right now, and they're a tough matchup because Steve is the coach."

Winners of five straight, their two most recent victories coming against a pair of MAAC heavyweights in Iona and Siena, Monmouth now enters a place where it has never won. The Hawks came close in each of their last two occasions, losing by single digits both times; first two years ago after a career day from then-freshman guard Tyler Wilson, then falling short last January after Ashton Pankey took over in the final minutes of regulation.

"They have great players that have won championships in the league," Rice said of Manhattan, who comes into Thursday's contest at 7-10 on the year, but 4-4 in MAAC play. "They have major contributors from two championship teams. I've watched them on tape, and Steve does as good of a job as anybody of watching your team, and then finding areas where he can beat you. It's going to be a tough, hard-nosed, hard-fought game. Those kids know that we've never beaten them, so we've just got to keep trying to get our team a little bit better every day, and if we do that, we'll like where we end up."

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