Previewing the Manhattan Jaspers

Posted In News - By Alan Kelly On Friday, November 28th, 2014 With 0 Comments


Following a disappointing trip to Puerto Rico, George Mason returns home on Saturday to host Manhattan at 4pm. The Jaspers, picked third in the MAAC preseason poll, enter Saturday with a 1-3 record, including losses at UMass in overtime and to Northeastern on a neutral court by 14 points.

The Patriots are 3-0 all-time against the Jaspers, with the first win coming in Fairfax, 78-66, in a 2005 ESPN BracketBuster game most famous for Tony Skinn’s ankle-breaking crossover. George Mason also won the return game in November 2006, 72-66. The most recent meeting, for the first time in the Paul Hewitt era, was on December 23, 2011 in Fairfax, and Mason won 81-61 behind 25 points and 10 rebounds from Ryan Pearson, and 16 and 11 from Mike Morrison.

As Mason prepares for one of the biggest out-of-conference home games of the season, I asked Jaden Daly, founder of New York City-based A Daly Dose of Hoops, to answer a few questions about the Jaspers.

masonhoops.com: Head coach Steve Masiello led the Jaspers to a 25-win season and an NCAA berth last season, but graduated three starters, including two-time All-MAAC first teamer George Beamon, three-time MAAC defensive player of the year Rhamel Brown, and guard Michael Alvarado. What are some realistic expectations for Manhattan this season?

JD: Manhattan is going to struggle from a win-loss sense compared to last season, and it is expected even before you look at the Jaspers’ schedule. Steve Masiello has said on numerous occasions already that this team will not “get it” completely until the middle of the season because of what he needs to replace, but conversely, he’s stated that this team has a higher ceiling than any other he has coached. It’s not the pieces or the names that were lost, but more so the culture that last year’s seniors instilled.

masonhoops.com: With Beamon and Brown gone, who are the key players to keep an eye on?

JD: The first name you should see often is Emmy Andujar. A 6-6 senior forward who can play just about every position on the floor at any given time, Andujar is trying to replace Rhamel Brown inside and George Beamon in terms of breaking down defenses and setting up the backcourt. He reminds me of VCU’s Treveon Graham, only more muscular and physically imposing.

His frontcourt partner, Ashton Pankey, will be another name to watch out for. At 6-10, he will have a size advantage under the boards, but will need to stay out of foul trouble.

Finally, junior guard Shane Richards has been Manhattan’s biggest breakout thus far now that he has added more facets to his game than just outside shooting. It will be fun to see him match Patrick Holloway from long range, but pay more attention to what he sets up and takes inside the arc.

masonhoops.com: Is there any one key statistic or facet of the game that tends to indicate what kind of day the Jaspers are having?

JD: Take a look at free throws first and foremost. Manhattan’s physical nature will send both teams to the line early and often, but the Jaspers have had problems putting games away at the line too many times than Masiello cares to count. Points off turnovers are also a factor with the full court press Manhattan employs. When the Jaspers can’t get out in transition and set up in the half court on the offensive end, it takes them a long time to readjust.

masonhoops.com: Steve Masiello, much like his mentor Rick Pitino, often employs a full-court press defense. How good is Manhattan’s press this season? The Patriots have struggled to break full-court presses in recent seasons.

JD: So far, Manhattan hasn’t been able to press as effectively as last season, but a lot of that has to do with how much more difficult the schedule has been compared to last season. In their second game of the year against UMass, the Jasper press was as strong as it had been at any point leading up to the game, but the effort wasn’t replicated against Northeastern five days later. If Manhattan can stay consistent with on-ball pressure, you’ll see their defense in full effect.

masonhoops.com: Last offseason, Masiello almost left Manhattan to become the new head coach at South Florida, but the deal was called off when a background check revealed that he’d never actually completed his degree at Kentucky. Now that he took some summer classes and officially graduated, how secure is Masiello’s position at Manhattan? Winning cures almost anything, but has his standing taken a hit?

JD: Steve Masiello has about as much job security as he did before the South Florida saga began. If he didn’t, Manhattan wouldn’t have brought him back. Yes, there are some who still feel deceived and/or let down by what happened, but almost everyone closely affiliated with the program—both on and off the court—supported him during that time not just because he was winning, but also because without him, the team identity would be almost nonexistent. A lot of the charm in Manhattan last season was how the team embraced, and adopted Masiello’s unbridled intensity and competitive fire, an intangible that contributed to several wins down the stretch.

masonhoops.com: On the flip side, how strong is Masiello’s commitment to Manhattan? Do you think he’ll stay long term now that they stood by him through his academic embarrassment, or will he be looking to move on as soon as the season is over?

JD: Only one thing is certain in college basketball: You never know. Personally, I feel Masiello’s heart is with the Manhattan program enough to where he wouldn’t bolt as soon as he had the chance, but I felt that last year too and then South Florida happened. There’s also the issue of some schools being turned off by everything that went down so much that he wouldn’t be considered, but if the right situation came along, I’d think he would at least listen.

Masiello’s return was the best thing that could have happened to all parties involved, and he has said he wanted to build the program into the elite mid-major the Jaspers were when he was an assistant to Bobby Gonzalez (2001-05), but like I said, you never know.

masonhoops.com: What are some of Masiello’s strengths and weaknesses as a coach? At age 37 and in his fourth season, is he a young coach on the rise?

JD: Masiello’s biggest strength is his ability to prepare, something almost everyone on the Rick Pitino coaching tree has, most notably Billy Donovan, Richard Pitino and Mick Cronin. A film savant, Masiello can find the slightest flaw in an opposing team’s game and style, and spend 40 minutes exploiting it. Another one of his strengths is his motivational ability, not to mention the bond he has with his players, almost like an older brother figure. The most common characteristic of his Manhattan teams is that each one would run through a flaming brick wall for him.

People will compare him to Pitino for obvious reasons, but he gets his talent for uniting his teams and bringing out the best in them from Gonzalez, who for all his faults, was one heck of an in-game coach.  There really isn’t much to speak of from a weakness standpoint other than his 0-3 record at Siena, but that’s something that can be overlooked eventually. At only 37, he definitely is a rising star in the industry, and his big break will come soon.

About - Alan Kelly is a 2010 and 2013 graduate of George Mason University and a former member of the Patriot Platoon. He had the memorable experience of being in the middle of the college decision process as George Mason's Final Four run unfolded. He currently resides in Northern Virginia.

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