Sunday, August 13, 2017

Breaking down Manhattan's non-conference schedule

Manhattan's leading scorer last season, Zavier Turner will once again be counted on to be driving force in Jaspers' backcourt this season, which begins November 15 against St. Francis Brooklyn. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

Two years removed from their last taste of conference championship glory, Manhattan starts the process anew once more, hungry to return to the heights for which they have come to be renowned under head coach Steve Masiello.

The bar in Riverdale is always set with the goal of cutting the net on the first Monday in March at the Times Union Center, signifying a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship victory, and the first step toward what would be a third league title in five seasons was taken Friday morning, when the Jaspers released their non-conference schedule.

Beginning on November 15, when St. Francis Brooklyn steps onto the Draddy Gymnasium floor, and culminating in a December 23 matchup against Seton Hall, we will break down each of Manhattan's 12 contests before the start of MAAC play, offering a brief preview of the opponents and the road ahead in what the Jaspers and their fans are hoping to call a resurgent campaign.

St. Francis Brooklyn: Wednesday, November 15 - Draddy Gymnasium
The Jaspers play at home on November 15 for the second straight year, only this time, they will be looking for a better result after last year's 94-81 defeat at the hands of eventual Big South Conference champion Winthrop in an early-morning soiree that was part of ESPN's Tip-Off Marathon. For the third year in a row, they will take on the Terriers, a team that has nowhere to go but up following a 4-27 campaign marked by the lack of a true front line. Head coach Glenn Braica possesses a strong backcourt, though, as Staten Island's Glenn Sanabria returns to assume the controls from the point guard spot while sophomore Rasheem Dunn; St. Francis' leading scorer as a freshman, looks to be the former St. John's assistant's latest diamond in the rough as he shoulders more offensive responsibility in the wake of Yunus Hopkinson's graduation. Cori Johnson, a 6-foot-9 sophomore from Canarsie's South Shore High School, will be a difference-maker in the paint as he returns to the floor after missing the entire 2016-17 season due to injury.
Did You Know? Manhattan will be opening the season at home for the first time since 2011-12. In Masiello's debut as head coach, the Jaspers got 15 points and 10 rebounds from George Beamon, with Roberto Colonette and Donovan Kates also posting double-figure scoring totals in a 62-48 victory over NJIT.

Harvard University: Saturday, November 18 - Draddy Gymnasium
Tommy Amaker and the perennial Ivy League power Crimson make their first appearance on the schedule since a 34-point victory over the Jaspers in November 2012. Siyani Chambers has since graduated, but Patrick School product Bryce Aiken will be the man who makes Harvard's motor run, looking to build off the hype and success of a freshman season that validated his Top 100 ranking as a recruit. His fellow sophomore classmate, 6-foot-7 wing Seth Towns, should see an uptick in already solid averages of 12 points and four rebounds per game while another second-year player; 6-foot-9 big man Chris Lewis, protects the rim for a team with tremendous upside.
Did You Know? The Jaspers open the year with back-to-back home games for the first time since 2006-07, when they played their first five contests in Riverdale during Barry Rohrssen's first season on the bench, compiling a 2-3 record in that stretch. Coincidentally, one of the two victories came on November 18, a 79-77 win over Hofstra, who also appears on Manhattan's schedule this season.

Gulf Coast Showcase: Monday, November 20 - Wednesday, November 22 - Germain Arena; Estero, Fla.
The field for the fifth annual Gulf Coast Showcase has yet to be announced, but Manhattan will be competing in three games in as many days while in Florida. A breakdown of each team in the tournament will be posted at a later date once the participants in the eight-team event have been revealed.
Did You Know? Manhattan is the fourth team from the New York metropolitan area to compete in the Gulf Coast Showcase. Wagner finished third in the inaugural edition of the event in 2013, while Marist recorded a seventh-place showing the following year. Most recently, Hofstra finished third as well when they took part in the field last season. The Jaspers will also be taking a trip to Florida for the third time in the last four seasons, having played Florida State in both November 2014 and December 2016.

Fordham University: Sunday, November 26 - Rose Hill Gymnasium; Bronx, NY
The 110th Battle of the Bronx returns to Fordham's home floor this season, a court in which the Rams scored an 87-64 thrashing of an undermanned and injury-depleted Manhattan squad. The Jaspers settled the score last December in a gritty 60-53 victory that emphasized the defensive mindset that Masiello has made his calling card since taking over as head coach. His counterpart, Jeff Neubauer, loses the services of Javontae Hawkins on the perimeter; as well as combo guard Antwoine Anderson and power forward Christian Sengfelder to graduate transfers, but retains all-Atlantic 10 point guard Joseph Chartouny as the Canadian floor general enters his junior season. Fordham will be counting on junior forwards Prokop Slanina and David Pekarek to make more of an offensive mark alongside senior slasher Will Tavares.
Did You Know? Masiello is 4-2 lifetime against the Rams, but only one of those wins came at Rose Hill. In Fordham's 2012-13 home opener, Michael Alvarado took charge down the stretch, stealing a victory from the jaws of defeat en route to Mike Cohen Most Valuable Player honors in a come-from-behind 65-58 win in a season where the Jaspers ultimately reached their first of three consecutive MAAC championship games.

College of the Holy Cross: Friday, December 1 - SSE Arena; Belfast, Northern Ireland
Now two years removed from an improbable Patriot League championship as the conference tournament's No. 9 seed, the Crusaders will be Manhattan's first draw in the inaugural Belfast Classic. Head coach Bill Carmody loses four starters and four of his six top scorers from last season, leaving senior and Rutgers Prep alum Karl Charles as the team's primary option. Junior Patrick Benzan, Holy Cross' sixth man last season, will slide into the starting point guard role as a group of six freshmen step into the fire of Division I college basketball for the first time.
Did You Know? A former MAAC rival of the Jaspers, Holy Cross will be taking the floor against them for the first time since December 28, 2003. Dave Holmes led the way with 19 points in a 56-54 win at Madison Square Garden that was the first of back-to-back Holiday Festival championships for then-head coach Bobby Gonzalez in a season that is best remembered for the Jaspers' upset of No. 5 seed Florida in the NCAA Tournament less than three months later.

La Salle University or Towson University: Saturday, December 2 - SSE Arena; Belfast, Northern Ireland
Should the Jaspers face La Salle in their second contest across the pond, they will see a roster that returns five of its top seven scorers as head coach Dr. John Giannini seeks to bring the Explorers back to the top of the Atlantic 10. Senior B.J. Johnson, La Salle's 6-foot-7 leading scorer and rebounder one year ago, should be a surefire all-conference player as he anchors an offense that also boasts dynamic junior guard Pookie Powell and fifth-year senior point guard Amar Stukes. In Towson, Manhattan will see a team that is younger than both their own and La Salle's players, as head coach Pat Skerry retools on the heels of a 20-win season. Senior guards Mike Morsell and Deshaun Morman, the latter a transfer from Cincinnati, are still around to lead the way, but the Tigers have a void to fill in the interior, one they are hopeful of seeing 6-foot-9 junior Alex Thomas help secure.
Did You Know? Manhattan and La Salle have not faced off against one another since the Jaspers' 2013-14 season opener, a 99-90 double-overtime victory in Philadelphia that led to a 25-win effort and near-upset of Louisville in the NCAA Tournament later that year. Should Towson be the opponent, it will be the third meeting between the two schools and first since the 2011-12 season, when Manhattan posted an 81-62 triumph over the Tigers.

Morgan State University: Saturday, December 9 - Draddy Gymnasium
Five of the Bears' top six scorers return for head coach Todd Bozeman this season, led by senior and Harlem native Tiwian Kendley, who carved up the Jaspers for 40 points and a game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer in overtime last season. Kendley averaged 21 points per game while six-foot-8 senior Phillip Carr recorded a near-double-double with averages of 16.6 points and 9.6 rebounds per game on his way to Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year honors. Junior guard Antonio Gillespie is Morgan State's most prolific three-point shooter among the Bears' incumbents, having connected at a 37 percent rate from long distance last season.
Did You Know? Phillip Carr is an alumnus of Transit Tech High School, as is Manhattan's Rich Williams, who returns for his senior season after a torn meniscus cost him the entire 2016-17 campaign. Also, while this is the fourth straight season in which these two programs have met, Morgan State comes to Riverdale for the first time since December 2014, when the Jaspers emerged with a hard-fought 73-69 victory highlighted by Shane Richards breaking the school record for career three-point field goals.

University of Tulsa: Saturday, December 16 - Reynolds Center; Tulsa, Okla.
The Golden Hurricane struggled to a 15-17 record last year, one season after a surprise NCAA Tournament berth. Nonetheless, head coach Frank Haith returns four starters as Tulsa attempts to climb back up the ladder in the American Athletic Conference. Fifth-year senior Junior Etou, a former Rutgers forward who played against the Jaspers in the 2014 Holiday Festival, led the team in both scoring and rebounding last season, and will look to do the same this year, as Jaleel Wheeler and point guard Sterling Taplin direct traffic in the backcourt. This is only the second meeting in the history of the two schools, and first since December 30, 1978, when Tulsa scored a narrow 77-74 victory. Steve Masiello was only 15 months old when that game was contested.
Did You Know? Two members of Tulsa's roster transferred to MAAC schools in the offseason. Forward TK Edogi is now plying his wares for the Jaspers' biggest adversary, Iona, as a graduate transfer; while freshman wing and Brooklyn native Travis Atson will sit out this season at Quinnipiac before suiting up for his first of three years with the Bobcats in 2018-19.

Hofstra University: Wednesday, December 20 - Center for Recreation and Sport; Garden City, NY (Adelphi University)
Although a Hofstra home game, the Pride will be calling Adelphi University their stomping grounds on this night, as the Mack Sports Complex on the Hempstead campus had already been booked for December's mid-year commencement exercises. Regardless, head coach Joe Mihalich; a longtime Jasper foe from his time at Niagara, brings his usual high-scoring backcourt into battle. Junior Justin Wright-Foreman burst onto the scene last season and made the transition from Juan'ya Green and Ameen Tanksley smoother than initially projected, and should be a contender for Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year honors this season. Fellow junior Desure Buie is fully recovered from a knee injury suffered early last year, and former Siena castoff Kenny Wormley is back in the Division I ranks after a season in junior college to split time with Buie at the point while sophomore Eli Pemberton returns on the wing after a promising rookie showing. Up front, seniors Rokas Gustys and Hunter Sabety; the former one of the nation's leading rebounders and a walking double-double, form an imposing duo for the Pride whenever they can stay out of foul trouble. Hofstra's lack of depth in relation to Manhattan's double-digit rotation will be a story to watch during this contest.
Did You Know? Steve Masiello has never lost to Hofstra in any of his four matchups against Nassau County's flagship program. Last season's edition of this local rivalry saw the first of many breakout performances from Aaron Walker, as he posted a then-career-high 15 points in an 80-68 win that also saw Zavier Peart make each of his first eight shots from the floor.

Seton Hall University: Saturday, December 23 - Prudential Center; Newark, NJ
Arguably the marquee opponent in Manhattan's non-league slate, the Pirates come into this year off back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances and possess a quartet of seniors that will bring a likely Top 25 ranking onto the court two days before Christmas. The Hall's explosiveness begins with Angel Delgado, the reigning Haggerty Award winner who flirted with turning pro at the end of last season, only to announce he would be back in South Orange for one more go-round. The 6-foot-10 All-American is flanked by defensive wizard Ismael Sanogo in the interior, and on the wing by fellow senior Desi Rodriguez, who should be an all-Big East selection once again. In the backcourt, all eyes will be on Khadeen Carrington as he transitions into the point guard spot for a full season, with the goal for the former Bishop Loughlin star to be just as much a facilitator as he is a scorer. With sophomore Myles Powell stepping into the starting lineup, such a task will not be as arduous for Carrington as it may seem on paper. Getting additional minutes for forward Michael Nzei will be a boon for Seton Hall's chances, especially if Delgado finds himself in foul trouble. Elsewhere on the bench, incoming freshman Jordan Walker will serve as Carrington's apprentice at the point before taking on a larger share of the workload next season.
Did You Know? The history between the Jaspers and Pirates is rich, and more interwoven than most may realize. For starters, Bobby Gonzalez left Manhattan after four postseason appearances in seven years to replace Louis Orr at Seton Hall, a coach and team he had beaten in January 2003 at Continental Airlines Arena en route to the first of two MAAC championships. Moreover, Gonzo's replacement, Kevin Willard; now in his eighth season at the helm of the Pirates, coached against the Jaspers for three years at Iona before being hired at Seton Hall by Pat Hobbs. The Gaels were reportedly close to naming Steve Masiello as Willard's replacement before ultimately pulling the trigger on Tim Cluess, a decision that has paid off to the tune of three MAAC championships, four NCAA Tournament berths, and 20-win seasons in every year since Cluess arrived in New Rochelle. Finally, not only are Manhattan and Seton Hall the two most recent New York-area schools to win an NCAA Tournament game, but both teams did it in the same season, AND in the same building. As noted before, the Jaspers upset Florida by the final of 75-60 on March 18, 2004; also Gonzalez's 41st birthday, in the first game of the day at what was then known as the RBC Center, now PNC Arena, in Raleigh. Later that evening, Seton Hall, a No. 8 seed, defeated Lute Olson and Arizona by an 80-76 count to earn a second-round date with Mike Krzyzewski and Duke two days later.

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