Friday, December 22, 2017

Encouraged by Jaspers' momentum, Masiello sees opportunity in road test at Seton Hall

As Manhattan embarks on final non-conference game at Seton Hall Saturday, Steve Masiello admits Jaspers are far from finished product, but suggests better results are ahead. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

Steve Masiello has been in almost every possible place in the standings with his Manhattan program when the calendar turns from December to January, from a 7-2 start in non-conference action during the Jaspers' 2013-14 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship season to a 2-7 beginning the following year before the program successfully defended its conference crown. And at 5-6 heading into Saturday's matchup at Seton Hall, his program may be right in the middle of the aforementioned ends of the spectrum, but is also showing signs of improvement that were not necessarily there in each of the past two seasons due to the rash of injuries that curtailed progress more often than not.

"Really aside from the Fordham game, we've played good basketball for the most part," Masiello assessed as the Jaspers close out the non-league portion of the schedule Saturday afternoon in a 12 p.m. matinee at the Prudential Center against the No. 23/22-ranked Pirates. "We've gotten better defensively from Harvard (November 18) until now. I think the way we defended Hofstra, the way we defended Morgan State; even our first initial defense at Tulsa, we've done a good job defending and really getting ingrained on what our rotations are, what our schemes are, what we're doing in situations."

"I think we're going in the right direction, I think our momentum's going in the right direction," he opined. "We sit here at 5-6 -- we lost three games by a total of seven points, we could be sitting here 8-3. I like the way we've been playing, and I think that will lead to good things for us in January, February and March."

Manhattan's most recent effort, a 63-61 victory against Hofstra Wednesday night in which the Pride were held to just 32 percent shooting from the floor and just 3-of-14 from three-point range, suggests a return to the form that made the Jaspers a perennial MAAC threat, and Masiello sees similarities in the components that helped make the program's most recent championship runs possible.

"You look at that 25-8 team we had (in 2013-14), we should have lost to Columbia, we could have lost to La Salle, we should have to lost to Buffalo," he recounted, citing three games the Jaspers pulled out en route to a MAAC title. "Our product of basketball is still our same product of basketball. Our record may not be where that year's team's record was, but the product of basketball is right on pace with that. Last year, it wasn't. Two years ago, it wasn't because of injuries. I'm very happy with the product. It's not record-based, it's defensive-based. You look at our defensive numbers relative to the MAAC -- field goal percentage defense, three-point defense, forced turnovers, blocked shots -- all of the things that we really concentrate on, we're in a good place relative to where the rest of the league is."

With that said, one more game remains before MAAC play commences, and while Seton Hall and their Top 25 status can signify a good barometer on paper, the Jaspers are not caught up in the present value of what facing the Pirates can bring to their program. Rather, the potential for greater things is what carries the most weight in the locker room.

"I think in March, this would be a great test for us," Masiello imparted. "That doesn't mean we can't come out, compete and do very good things. I'm not looking at this as a gauge. I'm looking at this as more of an opportunity, a chance for us to go play against a Top 25 team, and I want to see how we handle the adversity, how we handle being on the road. I want to see how we handle those things."

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