Facing Iona in MAAC Tournament for first time since defeating them for championship in 2015, Steve Masiello believes Gaels have advantage over Manhattan, but still is confident in his Jaspers rising to occasion once more. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)
After the emotional glow and euphoria of Manhattan's Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship victory in 2015, Steve Masiello said on several occasions the following season that had the Jaspers not been swept by Iona in the 2014-15 regular season, its subsequent title defense would not have happened.
A similar parallel strikes this Saturday, as Manhattan (14-16) comes into its MAAC Tournament quarterfinal matchup against Iona on the heels of two losses to the Gaels, pushing the streak to six straight since the championship victory, and seven of the last eight. This time, however, Masiello was far more complimentary of his program's biggest rival, effusively praising the job Tim Cluess has done in New Rochelle in the hopes of becoming the third school in conference history to complete a three-peat.
"I think they have our number, actually," he said of Iona and their recent dominance of Manhattan. "I think we really have a tough time matching up with them. I think they're terrific offensively. It's what makes Iona so good."
"They have a variety of weapons -- whether it's (Deyshonee) Much, Rickey (McGill), (Schadrac) Casimir -- they have guys that you have to pay attention to. That's one of the reasons why they're so good offensively and you have to do so many things."
Casimir, in particular, has played the role of assassin against the Jaspers in recent games, dating from the 22 he scored on them in his first experience of the Iona-Manhattan rivalry in 2015 to his 30-point outburst last Friday at the Hynes Athletics Center, and is a major focal point in the scouting report.
"He's a shot-maker," Masiello said of the redshirt junior. "He shoots it well, he finds a way to get to gaps in our zone and the corners a little bit, and we've done a poor job of identifying him and knowing where he is. We haven't had great focus, and give him credit for that. Obviously, we paid the price for that Friday night. He's had our number, and we know that."
With that said, the fighting spirit still exists in Manhattan, and as such, it would be folly to completely write the Jaspers off this weekend. But as long as the game plan is adhered to, the senior core that heads to the site of their greatest achievement in search of one last conquest believes good things will happen.
"If we take care of the defensive end and rebound, do all those things, and play together, I feel like we'll be fine," said Zavier Turner. "This group of guys that I'm playing with right now, they're phenomenal players, and I feel like that if we go out like we did Sunday (a win over Quinnipiac), we have nothing to worry about."
"I've been pretty encouraged throughout the year about this group just because of who they are," Masiello added. "So from that standpoint, I'm optimistic about this team just because of the battles they've been through -- some fifth-year seniors, fourth-year seniors, guys who have been to the (NCAA) Tournament. I'm encouraged because of who they are. You've got to kill them, and if there's life in them, they've got a chance. As a coach, I love that. It always gives us a fighting chance, no matter what."