Rich Williams will lead Manhattan through strong non-conference slate as Jaspers seek a third MAAC championship in four years. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)
Their championship reign may have been broken, but their work ethic remains unmatched and unhindered.
Five months after their elimination in the quarterfinals of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament, Manhattan College is putting in a strenuous effort to get back to a stage on which the program feels it belongs, that of the conference championship game.
Tuesday afternoon, the first piece of the puzzle was unveiled for the Jaspers, who released an 11-game non-conference schedule that features a full smorgasbord of postseason teams, up-and-coming mid-majors, and high-major foes that will test the team's mettle early in preparation for the 20-game league slate to follow.
"I think it's a much stronger schedule," head coach Steve Masiello remarked when assessing this season's agenda compared to last year, in which Manhattan navigated a daunting non-league portion of the season amid their numerous injuries. "To be fair to last year, we scheduled very good, but I just think we were handicapped with players. We didn't have a full roster to compete with that schedule, but I think this year, you look at six teams in postseason, teams like West Virginia, Temple, teams that made great runs last year, it's going to be a very competitive schedule every night out."
Beginning with their November 11 season opener at reigning Patriot League regular season champion Bucknell and ending in a December 22 home game against Eastern Kentucky, we break down each game for the Jaspers, offering a preview of what each contest will bring to a season where a third NCAA Tournament appearance in four years is the ultimate goal in Riverdale.
Bucknell University: Friday, November 11 - Sojka Pavilion, Lewisburg, Pa.
Manhattan's opening act is a return game from last year's home opener at Draddy Gymnasium, one in which the Jaspers fought valiantly and led through most of the first half before falling short against the Bison by the final of 80-67. Forward Zach Thomas, who led Bucknell in scoring that night while posting a double-double, joins fellow forward Nana Foulland up front as each enters their junior season for second-year head coach Nathan Davis. Stephen Brown, another junior, is also back to reprise his role at the point guard position one year after averaging over five assists per game. However, the Bison must replace two of their most impactful guards, as both four-year stalwart Ryan Frazier and leading scorer Chris Hass have graduated.
Did You Know? Bucknell will be competing in its second consecutive game against a MAAC opponent. The Bison, who won the Patriot League regular season championship, saw their season come to an end at the hands of MAAC regular season champion Monmouth last March in the opening round of the National Invitation Tournament.
Winthrop University: Tuesday, November 15 - Draddy Gymnasium
Winthrop, perhaps best known as the school that launched the successful career of Gregg Marshall, now the head coach at Wichita State, comes to Riverdale on the rise, having reached the finals of the Big South Conference tournament in each of the last three seasons. Head coach Pat Kelsey, a former assistant to both the late Skip Prosser at Wake Forest and Chris Mack at Xavier before setting out on his own, has quietly become one of the most underrated mid-major coaches in the nation, and will bring a deceptively strong and talented group into battle this season. Standing just 5-foot-7, Keon Johnson may be diminutive in stature, but there is no doubt that he is the man who makes the Eagles' motor run, having averaged almost 19 points per game last season while shooting 39 percent from three-point range, a mark that ranks second among Winthrop's incumbents, trailing only Australian wing Xavier Cooks, whose 6-foot-8 frame will cause matchup problems for the Jaspers on the wing and in the interior, as his 7.1 rebounds per game led the team a year ago.
Did You Know? In addition to this being the first game in Manhattan's commitment to the NIT Preseason Tip-Off, an event in which the Jaspers are participating for the first time in program history, it is also the first meeting between these two schools.
Hofstra University: Friday, November 18 - Draddy Gymnasium
The Pride face off against Manhattan for the first time since November 30, 2013, when the Jaspers came to the Mack Sports Complex in Hempstead and scored one of their twelve true road wins in a gritty 66-59 victory headlined by Michael Alvarado's 23-point effort. Hofstra loses reigning Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year Juan'ya Green and all-CAA selection Ameen Tanksley to graduation, but they retain the services of senior sharpshooter Brian Bernardi and junior forward Rokas Gustys, a walking double-double who is a strong bet to follow in Green's footsteps as CAA Player of the Year. The Pride welcomes back Jamall Robinson as well after he redshirted last season, and 6-foot-10 Andre Walker should be a force alongside Gustys in the paint. Sophomore guards Desure Buie and Justin Wright-Foreman make a solid backcourt even deeper.
Did You Know? Hofstra head coach Joe Mihalich is the winningest coach in MAAC history, winning 264 games in 15 years at Niagara before replacing Mo Cassara in 2013. Also, senior point guard Deron Powers, who transferred from Hampton and sat out last season, scored eight points and dished out seven assists against the Jaspers in the 2015 NCAA Tournament, as his Pirates defeated Manhattan, 76-64, to advance out of the First Four and into a first-round matchup with Kentucky.
Temple University: Sunday, November 20 - Liacouras Center, Philadelphia, Pa.
Manhattan's second game in the NIT Preseason Tip-Off comes against a Temple team who was bounced from the NCAA Tournament in excruciating fashion, losing their first-round matchup to Iowa on a putback from Adam Woodbury at the buzzer in overtime. The Owls are a much younger unit now after graduating Quenton DeCosey, Jaylen Bond and Devin Coleman, but junior forward Obi Enechionyia is poised to take the next step on the heels of a sophomore campaign that saw him connect on three-pointers at a 39 percent clip, improving after a promising freshman season that culminated in the semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament. At 6-foot-9, Enechionyia is an integral piece of the puzzle for Fran Dunphy, who will team him with senior Daniel Dingle to create a potential two-headed monster in the frontcourt. Senior point guard Josh Brown posted a 3.5:1 assist-to-turnover ratio last season, and should be among the top passers in the American Athletic Conference if he comes anywhere close to replicating his exceptional facilitating skills. Sophomore wing Trey Lowe and senior forward Mark Williams will also be counted on to shoulder a greater load for Temple this season.
Did You Know? Although they face Temple for the first time since the 1980-81 season, Manhattan's last trip to Philadelphia was a winning one. On November 9, 2013, the Jaspers began a season that ended with a near-upset of Louisville in the NCAA Tournament with a thrilling 99-90 double-overtime victory against La Salle at Tom Gola Arena. Five Jaspers scored in double figures that afternoon, led by George Beamon's 24 points and a 14-point, 11-rebound double-double from Emmy Andujar.
University of Detroit-Mercy: Saturday, November 26 - Dick Vitale Court at Calihan Hall, Detroit, Mich.
The Titans and their uptempo offense, which averaged nearly 84 points per game and ranked seventh in the nation, loses three of its five leading scorers, but the style will still pose an interesting dynamic against the defense-oriented Jaspers; who also push the ball up the floor at a quick pace, in their third game of the NIT Preseason Tip-Off. Double-double threat Paris Bass has departed, leaving junior forward Jaleel Hogan to pick up the pieces down low after he averaged 10.5 points per game last season in an efficient 57 percent shooting effort from the floor. Colorado expatriate Chris Jenkins is a long-range weapon, having connected on 43 percent of his shots from beyond the arc a year ago, and six-foot guard Josh McFolley is line for an increase in production following a rookie season where his 68 assists ranked second among the team.
Did You Know? Detroit head coach Bacari Alexander, who replaced longtime coach Ray McCallum at the helm this offseason, is the first of three former John Beilein assistants that Steve Masiello will coach against this season. Jeff Neubauer, now the head coach at Fordham, and Marist head coach Mike Maker are the other two.
West Virginia University: Monday, November 28 - WVU Coliseum, Morgantown, W. Va.
When last we saw the Mountaineers, they were soundly defeated by Stephen F. Austin in the NCAA Tournament, as Thomas Walkup guided the 14th-seeded Lumberjacks to the upset inside Brooklyn's Barclays Center. Six of the top nine scorers on that West Virginia team return for Bob Huggins this season, led by point guard Javon Carter (9.5 points, 3.3 assists per game) and defensive specialist Daxter Miles Jr., (1.4 steals per game) both of whom enter their junior seasons in the backcourt. The interior will be a project, though, as both Devin Williams and Jonathan Holton must be replaced, with sophomore Esa Ahmad and senior Nathan Adrian, who combined to post nearly six rebounds per game, expected to be the primary options for Manhattan's final opponent in the NIT Preseason Tip-Off.
Did You Know? Manhattan's victory over West Virginia in the 1958 NCAA Tournament came at the expense of Los Angeles Lakers great Jerry West, as Jack Powers; who became the first Jasper to have his number retired last February, led the way in an 89-84 upset. The Jaspers will also be aiming to score their first victory against a current member of the Big 12 Conference since 1995, when Fran Fraschilla guided a No. 13-seed Manhattan team from an at-large spot to a 77-67 upset of fourth-seeded Oklahoma in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
Morgan State University: Tuesday, December 6 - Hill Field House, Baltimore, Md.
Manhattan faces Morgan State for a third straight season and second straight on the road, meeting once again in the Charm City. This season's incarnation of the Bears will be a different unit than what the Jaspers have faced in each of the past two meetings, as head coach Todd Bozeman has a much younger roster. In fact, only two seniors will suit up for Morgan State. Junior forward Phillip Carr, a high school teammate of Rich Williams, is the Bears' top returning scorer, with an average of 10.5 points per game last season. Sophomore Antonio Gillespie only scored 91 points last season, but 17 of them came against Manhattan, as he shot 7-of-11 from the field.
Did You Know? Before graduating as a 1,000-point scorer and the most prolific three-point shooter in school history, Shane Richards set records against Morgan State in each of the past two years. On December 20, 2014, Richards became the all-time three-point king in a 73-69 win at Draddy Gymnasium; and one year to the day later, connected on seven three-pointers en route to a then-career-high 28 points in a 78-66 Jasper victory.
Fordham University: Saturday, December 10 - Draddy Gymnasium
The 109th Battle of the Bronx returns to Riverdale for the first time in three years, and Manhattan will be seeking revenge after an 87-64 rout at the hands of the Rams last November. The Jaspers dressed only seven players due to injuries, but the 23-point defeat still resonated in the locker room. "I want them to feel the pain, because this is going to be our motivation," said Masiello in his postgame press conference. On the opposing bench, Jeff Neubauer; who became the third consecutive coach to win his Battle of the Bronx debut last season, loses Mandell Thomas and Ryan Rhoomes to graduation, and will have his work cut out for him in replacing both of Fordham's four-year veterans. Sophomore point guard Joseph Chartouny was among the best passers in the Atlantic 10 last season while winning Rookie of the Year honors, and will be a solid matchup for Tyler Wilson in the backcourt, while Christian Sengfelder is hoping to rebound from a sophomore season that did not match the high productivity he enjoyed as a freshman under former coach Tom Pecora. Antwoine Anderson will have a much larger role in the backcourt this season, and graduate transfer JaVontae Hawkins has the opportunity to make a huge impact right away after arriving from Eastern Kentucky.
Did You Know? Steve Masiello is 3-2 lifetime against Fordham, but has only defeated the Rams once on Manhattan's home floor, thrashing the Rams in December 2011 by the final of 81-47 in his first game against Fordham. The Jaspers soldiered on gamely in their last home game against Fordham, but were defeated, 79-75, in November 2013, as Travion Leonard's dunk in the final seconds sealed an unlikely victory for the visiting Rams.
Florida State University: Saturday, December 17 - BB&T Center, Sunrise, Fla.
Manhattan heads to the Sunshine State to compete in the Orange Bowl Classic, taking on the Seminoles for the second time in three seasons as part of a doubleheader that also features Florida and Charlotte in the second game. While Leonard Hamilton loses Malik Beasley after he was selected by the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the NBA Draft, sophomore Dwayne Bacon returns after leading the team in scoring as a freshman, and point guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes is back for his junior season, eager to improve upon his team-leading 146 assists in the backcourt. Up front, Michael Ojo returns for his final season after missing all of last year due to injury, and in addition to his game-changing ability on both ends, he will also serve as a mentor to 6-foot-10 freshman Jonathan Isaac and 7-foot-4 Jean-Marc Christ Koumadje, who was not as much of a factor in his freshman season as some may have envisioned.
Did You Know? Florida State has won all three of their previous meetings against Manhattan, the most recent of which being an 81-66 decision in Tallahassee that opened the Jaspers' 2014-15 season, which saw the team successfully defend its MAAC championship.
St. Francis Brooklyn: Tuesday, December 20 - Pope Physical Education Center, Brooklyn, NY
Manhattan returns a home-and-home series with Glenn Braica and the Terriers following a 71-60 victory at Draddy Gymnasium last December that quelled a 1-7 start and prompted a passionate defense by Masiello of his team and players despite the slow beginning. St. Francis loses seniors Amdy Fall, Chris Hooper and Tyreek Jewell, but returns two experienced backcourt members in senior point guard Yunus Hopkinson and Glenn Sanabria, the latter of whom is healthy once again after a separated shoulder sacrificed the majority of his 2015-16 campaign. Icelanders Dagur Jonsson and Gunnar Olafsson are potent marksmen, and their skills may come in handy as Braica goes about rebuilding his front line, which features 6-foot-9 Joshua Nurse as its tallest player at the moment.
Did You Know? Before being named Manhattan's head coach in 2006, Barry Rohrssen began his career on the corner of Remsen and Court Streets, first as an alumnus before a two-year stint as an assistant coach. Braica and Masiello also coached against each other as assistants in the Big East Conference, with Braica serving as Norm Roberts' top deputy at St. John's while Masiello was on Hall of Famer Rick Pitino's staff at Louisville.
Eastern Kentucky University: Thursday, December 22 - Draddy Gymnasium
The second matchup of a four-year series between the Jaspers and Colonels is Manhattan's final tuneup before resuming MAAC play, and it comes against an Eastern Kentucky team that got the better of a Manhattan team plagued by early foul trouble last December, despite a career-high 23 points from Zane Waterman. Both leading scorers for the Colonels are gone, leaving sophomore forward Nick Mayo as the most productive returning player after he averaged 14.5 points per game as a freshman, shooting 61 percent from the floor to establish himself as an efficient option in an offense that averaged over 80 points per contest. The Colonels are young, with six freshmen on the roster, New Jersey native Asante Gist being perhaps the most notable. A 6-foot-1 guard out of Bob Hurley's powerhouse program at St. Anthony, Gist singlehandedly defeated The Patrick School with a commanding performance in January's Dan Finn Classic in Jersey City, and should blossom into a stellar player sooner rather than later.
Did You Know? Eastern Kentucky head coach Dan McHale and Masiello were assistant coaches together at Manhattan in the early 2000s, and later served on the same staff again under Rick Pitino at Louisville before McHale joined Kevin Willard at both Iona and Seton Hall.