Already assured of having to go through opening round if they are to win third straight MAAC championship, Steve Masiello and Manhattan begin final weekend of regular season Friday against Iona. (Photo courtesy of Vincent Simone via Big Apple Buckets)
If there is one thing Steve Masiello and Manhattan know well, it is adversity.
One year removed from overcoming a 2-7 start to repeat as Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champions, the Jaspers were dealt a harsh hand once again this season, with numerous injuries and a lack of depth the primary causes of a campaign that began with losses in seven of the first eight games. But as he and his teams have always done, Masiello and his young charges soldiered on, and persevered to win nine games in the MAAC schedule.
Uncharted territory will once again exist for Manhattan next week, as the Jaspers will have to survive the opening round of next week's conference championship at the Times Union Center in Albany for the first time in Masiello's five-year tenure. With Fairfield having defeated Siena on Wednesday, any hope of the Jaspers claiming the fifth and final first-round bye was extinguished, but it has not deterred the reigning titleholders from finishing the regular season strong.
"Obviously, you want to be in the top five," Masiello admitted as Manhattan (12-15, 9-9 MAAC) prepares for its penultimate contest before the postseason, welcoming archrival Iona into Draddy Gymnasium for a 7 p.m. tip Friday evening. "It's one of those things where you want to be there, but with that being said, whether you're the 9-seed, the six, or the four, you try to win a championship. Whatever seed we get, we're going to have to play out of it and try to win a third title."
With a victory against Tim Cluess and the Gaels, who handled the Jaspers in a comfortable 70-56 triumph on January 29 at the Hynes Athletics Center, Manhattan can clinch the No. 6 seed in the MAAC Tournament, which will set up a meeting with Marist in Albany. Manhattan split their two meetings with the Red Foxes, losing a heartbreaker at home in December before a 20-point game from Calvin Crawford helped the Jaspers avenge that defeat at McCann Arena two weeks ago. Before anything is etched in stone, though, there remains the matter of Iona, and Manhattan's quest to settle another score, which they will look to do on senior night for two pillars of the Jasper program in Shane Richards and RaShawn Stores.
"It's Iona," Masiello candidly assessed of the Gaels, who come to Riverdale on the heels of convincing victories against fellow conference titans Monmouth and Siena as they wrap up a three-game road swing. "You know what you're in for, you know what you're capable of. I watched a little bit of their game the other night, but I haven't seen them enough recently to know how we're going to play them. But it's Iona-Manhattan, they're playing terrific, and we've got to bounce back."