Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Veteran Jaspers hungry to put last season's bitter end behind them

Rich Williams returns from injury this season to give Manhattan four seniors looking to atone for recent downturn as Jaspers seek third MAAC championship in five seasons. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

Manhattan's season came to a heartbreaking end last March, befallen by a last-second three-pointer against Rider and betrayed by a game clock that had reached all zeroes less than a second before Zavier Turner appeared to have gotten what would have been a game-winning layup to fall, leaving an enduring reminder of what could have been during a 10-22 campaign whose curtain was dropped in the opening round of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament.

Five months later, the Jaspers have reemerged, bearing the scars of last season's disappointment as they enter a season in which their four returning starters and cadre of experience places them among the projected top tier of the MAAC in what those inside the program are hoping will be a year of resurgence and redemption.

"I think anytime you go through a year like last year, where you have injuries and you have a tough year, you have to find a positive in it," head coach Steve Masiello said when summarizing the climax of a season that did not go as planned for Manhattan, one in which Rich Williams; the Jaspers' second-leading scorer in 2015-16, was lost before it even began, having suffered a torn meniscus. "You have to embrace some of the things you went through, some of the embarrassment you went through, the long bus rides you went through, and really ask yourself if you want this to happen again or if you want to be back in this situation again. What can you do to change that?"
"You discuss those things as a family, as a team, and you put that into action in your offseason," he continued. "I think so far, the guys have done a good job in that area."

In some ways, last season's final act seems reminiscent of the end of the 2012-13 season, one in which the Jaspers finished 14-18, but fell three points short of a MAAC championship, losing to Iona in the conference title game. In a coincidental, yet similar, vein, Manhattan navigated both of those seasons without the services of a star player; as Williams was out for the entire season last year, while George Beamon missed all but four games five years ago with a high ankle sprain that was aggravated when he tried to return in December. Fueled by the near-miss, the Jaspers went through practices the following summer and fall eager to claim what they felt was theirs, even displaying the 60-57 final score of the Iona loss on the Draddy Gymnasium scoreboard in every drill and intrasquad scrimmage. The tactic paid off handsomely the following March, as Manhattan knocked off the Gaels for their first of two straight MAAC titles, the fourth and fifth overall in school history. And although last year's frustration was not at the level of coming so close to a championship and subsequent NCAA Tournament berth as the Jaspers did in 2013, Masiello still sees the shared parallel in the two tales.

"I think there's some similarities there, without a doubt," he admitted. "I don't think this team had as much as a heartbreak. That team was three points away from getting to the dance, this team wasn't that close. I always feel the further you go, the more invested you become, the bigger the heartbreak is as well. I think this team definitely has some heartbreak with that. I wouldn't say it was to the level of that year, but I think the similarities are the same in the sense of we had a tough year, guys felt it, we had a very good player sitting out that we needed, and we have a lot of players returning. In those areas, I think there were a lot of similarities, so I'm curious to see how these guys respond to it, but I think we're set up to better ourselves."

This season, Williams returns as a fifth-year senior with the experience of playing a role in both of Manhattan's NCAA Tournament runs under Masiello. The Brooklyn native joins fellow seniors Zavier Turner, Zane Waterman and Calvin Crawford in what shapes up as one of the more experienced rosters not only in Riverdale, but in the MAAC as well, setting up what could be a fitting high note for the quartet to go out upon should the Jaspers hear their name in the field of 68 for the third time in five seasons.

"I think we're looking at a senior class that could, potentially, have four 1,000-point scorers," Masiello said, citing the accomplishments and upside of his veteran leaders. "There's a lot of experience, I think there's a lot of guys that have some great moments, some bad moments. More than anything else, they've seen just about anything you can see, and I don't mean that by arenas. I mean that by they've tried it their way, they've tried it my way, they've tried other coaches' ways. They've tried everything, and I think they understand what works and what doesn't. I think at this point in their careers, all these guys care about is winning, and I don't think you can say that when guys are younger."

"Certain guys care about getting their points, certain guys care about making their parents happy," he elaborated. "These four seniors, I can say, are committed to winning right now for the program. That's what's important about a senior class, because if your senior class isn't committed to that, it can be a problem. But when you have seniors committed to the cause, and we keep talking about this, keep the main thing the main thing; and that's our third (championship) in five (years), that's a great thing to have."

Seton Hall non-conference schedule: 4 Thoughts

Angel Delgado and Seton Hall embark on quality non-conference schedule that will once again prepare Pirates to be a Big East championship contender. (Photo by the Asbury Park Press)

Seton Hall's non-conference schedule, leaked several weeks ago by Jerry Carino; who covers the Pirates for the Asbury Park Press, became public Monday afternoon, featuring 12 games before the soon-to-be-released Big East slate begins for the Pirates.

Led by a four-deep senior class anchored by Angel Delgado and Khadeen Carrington, Seton Hall begins their latest campaign on November 10 against in-state rival Fairleigh Dickinson before seeing five reigning postseason teams leading up to their final non-league tuneup, which comes at home on December 23 against Manhattan.

With our Seton Hall wingman Jason Guerette currently in the midst of baseball season in his other line of work as the voice of the Southern Illinois Miners, we are honored to fill in for his customary thoughts, offering opinions and insight on the Pirates' first voyages of the 2017-18 season before the ball is tipped for the first time:

1) This may just be Kevin Willard's strongest non-conference schedule yet.
The eighth-year head coach has taken his share of criticism over the years regarding his teams' schedules, particularly in the early stages of his tenure in South Orange. To his credit, he has been up front when defending this topic, and remains so to this day. But as Seton Hall has risen from the middle of the pack in the Big East to their status as an established contender, so too has the quality of the opponents the program has faced, and this season is no exception.

Welcoming Indiana, albeit a retooling Hoosier program under a new coach in Archie Miller, to the Prudential Center for a Gavitt Games matchup on November 15, only underscores this point, and then you have the NIT Preseason Tip-Off matchups against Rhode Island (more on that one later) and either Vanderbilt or Virginia the following day, both of whom were NCAA Tournament participants just five months ago. Add a road trip to Louisville and a home game against a quality mid-major in VCU, and you have marquee matchups that will not only be stern tests on the floor, but largely beneficial to the RPI and computer rankings as the season goes on. All told, six of the Pirates' dozen opponents finished the season with KenPom ratings inside the Top 50.

2) Almost all of the games are commutable.
Jerry Carino touched on this point as well, and with good reason. Aside from the December 3 trek to Louisville, an 11-hour journey door-to-door from the Seton Hall campus to the KFC Yum! Center should you be ambitious enough to drive it, every other game on the early part of the schedule is easily accessible. Besides Louisville, the four other road or neutral-site games are at Barclays Center (Preseason NIT), Madison Square Garden (Under Armour Reunion vs. Texas Tech), or the RAC, which is the site of this year's annual clash with Rutgers in the Garden State Hardwood Classic. The Pirates have always thrived on fan support, and with the Top 25 buzz surrounding the program as we count down to the first days of practice, a good attendance turnout will be all the more critical from opening tip to final buzzer.

3) Saint Peter's is back on the schedule.
The Peacocks did not play Seton Hall last season because the two sides were unable to come to an agreement despite encouragement on the part of Saint Peter's head coach John Dunne to continue the longtime series, marking the first time since 1949 that the two did not match wits on the hardwood. Whatever differences may have gone unresolved last season have obviously been quashed, as the Peacocks will once again face off against the Pirates, this time inside historic Walsh Gymnasium on December 12 in the renewal of a rivalry between two proud New Jersey programs. Defending CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament champions, Saint Peter's will be retooled both in the backcourt and up front, but senior sharpshooter Nick Griffin will still be a force to be reckoned with as the Peacocks look for their second win over The Hall in the last five seasons.

4) All of the subplots.
In particular, four games stand out by having an angle that ties to Seton Hall, but before we delve further into that, take note of the fact that five of the seven other New Jersey programs are playing Seton Hall this season, which further promotes the rich basketball culture of the Garden State. Only Princeton and Rider are not on the ledger. 

Back to the storylines, if we may. First, the Thanksgiving night clash with Rhode Island (November 23) pits beloved Pirate Dan Hurley against his alma mater for the first time as head coach. Now in his sixth season at Rhode Island and coming off an Atlantic 10 championship, Hurley will have the Rams firmly positioned to repeat in the A-10, and the senior backcourt trio of E.C. Matthews, Jarvis Garrett and Jared Terrell will be a fun battle against Carrington, Myles Powell and Desi Rodriguez. Secondly, the Louisville game sees Willard square off against his mentor, Rick Pitino, for the first time since the Cardinals left the Big East in 2013. Next, the December 20 meeting with Wagner is significant in the form of Seahawks assistant coach Donald Copeland, who of course led the Pirates to the 2004 and 2006 NCAA Tournaments. Finally, the December 23 non-conference finale against Manhattan reunites Willard with Jaspers head coach and close friend Steve Masiello, with whom he served on Pitino's staff at Louisville before taking over as the head coach at Iona in 2007. If that isn't enough, Masiello was in consideration to replace Willard in New Rochelle before the Gaels decided to hire Tim Cluess in 2010. Bringing it full circle, Willard left Iona for Seton Hall to replace Bobby Gonzalez, who led Manhattan to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, with Masiello as his lead assistant.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Lincoln becomes first public school to win Hamilton Park Summer League

By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)

JERSEY CITY, NJ -- The time-tested coaching cliche tells us the foundation for championships in the winter is put together during the summer. There is truth behind that statement, yet the heat of the summer can be a source of success.

The Lincoln boys’ basketball team could certainly attest to that, having defeated Hudson Catholic, 64-56, to win the Hamilton Park Summer League championship this past Wednesday. The victory was significant on several counts.

In the 15-year history of this competitive high school circuit, St. Anthony won a dozen championships. Naturally, they were not in the field this year with the school having closed in June. Both Hudson, a powerful program of recent seasons, and Lincoln were in their first Hamilton Park final. With the victory, Lincoln became the first public school from Jersey City to capture the crown.  

Lincoln did what was needed, playing a strong first half to establish confidence and dictate the pulse of the game. The Lions led 29-26 at halftime as junior guard Dante Darby had 24 of the Lions points.

“We were aware of it,” Lincoln coach Bill Zasowski said of Darby’s scoring. “But it wasn’t a big deal. We do not have egos, and Darby was getting his points in the framework of the offense. Besides, he got a few layups off steals, thanks to his defense. He actually passed a few open shots up to feed his teammates.”

The second half saw Hudson try to limit transition and pay added defensive attention to Darby. Stepping up was DJ Henderson, a senior guard, scoring 13 of his 15 points after intermission to take up any scoring slack. Hudson was the beneficiary of a strong performance from Shackylle Dezonie (14 points) and Jonathan Delgado with 13.  Danny Rodriquez added eight points and was strong on the boards for the Hawks. In the final analysis, Lincoln had the answers.

Early in the fourth quarter, the Lincoln lead expanded to 16 points. All good teams make that final run. Hudson had one left in them. A full court pressure defense forced a succession of Lion turnovers. The free-flowing fluid offense was struggling to get in gear. The seemingly comfortable double-digit lead was now a two-possession affair with the eternity of three minutes left.  Lincoln, thanks to timely and accurate free throw shooting, was able to hang on.

Were those last few minutes a bit unnerving?
“Were they for you? They weren’t for me,” Zasowski said with a touch of humor. “Actually, I was never worried. These kids find a way to win. Hudson made their run, but I have faith and the kids do that we could make plays. Look at us as a free throw shooting team. We are not that great on the line, but when the game is in the balance, we convert. These kids are winners.”

Darby, a point guard just under six feet in height, earned MVP honors, finishing with 36 points. Henderson, as noted, added 15.

“Colleges are asking about Darby’s numbers,” Zasowski said. “I said forget numbers, the kid can just dictate the course of a game and he makes his teammates better.” Zasowski also complemented Henderson saying, “DJ is just so passionate. He wants to cover the other team’s best player.”

That mindset epitomizes the entire team. Lincoln has enjoyed its moments of success. On a  consistent basis the girls’ program, headed by former Lion and Saint Peter’s standout Tom Best, gets more recognition.

“These kids want to be challenged,” Zasowski said. “They work hard, they are tough kids, but there is not an ego problem among any one of them.”

The Lincoln mentor realizes there is work ahead.

“Hudson did not have their entire team and neither did we,” Zasowski said. “That is the nature of summer ball. At the end of the day, this championship reminds each of our guys we can win. We will face Hudson during the regular season. They have won the Hudson County title several years in a row. If you want to win the counties, you have to go through Hudson.”

Make no mistake, this summer left an impression.

“This,” Zasowski said, “puts us on the map.”

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.

Belfast Classic, Gulf Coast Showcase highlight Jaspers' non-conference schedule

Projected to be one of MAAC's top teams this season, Steve Masiello and Manhattan will use two in-season tournaments to test themselves before league play as part of non-conference schedule. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

Five months after a last-second loss eliminated Manhattan from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament, the Jaspers are back and ready to roll, releasing a 12-game non-conference schedule Friday morning that will prepare them for league play when that portion of the slate begins in late December.

For the first time since head coach Steve Masiello's first season in 2011-12, Manhattan will open its season at home, welcoming St. Francis Brooklyn to Draddy Gymnasium on November 15. This will be the third consecutive meeting between the Jaspers and Terriers, with Manhattan having taken each of the past two encounters since the inter-borough rivalry was rekindled in December 2014. The homestand continues three days later, as Ivy League contender Harvard makes their way to Riverdale on November 18.

The Jaspers will be competing in two in-season tournaments, beginning with the Gulf Coast Showcase, held from November 20-22. At the present time, the field for the eight-team event has yet to be revealed, but Manhattan will be playing three games at Germain Arena in Estero, Florida. Upon returning from the Sunshine State, a longtime local rival appears next on the ledger, as the Jaspers make the short jaunt to Rose Hill Gymnasium to take on Fordham in the 110th Battle of the Bronx, set for Sunday, November 26. Manhattan is 4-2 against the Rams in Masiello's tenure, and 57-52 all-time against their fellow Bronx brethren.

The meeting with Fordham sandwiches the Gulf Coast Showcase with the Jaspers' second multi-team competition, the Belfast Classic. While in Northern Ireland, Manhattan will first square off against Holy Cross on Friday, December 1, before entertaining either La Salle or Towson the following day. The last of three non-league home games is next on the schedule, as Morgan State returns to Draddy for a December 9 showdown. The Jaspers will be playing the Bears for the fourth straight season, but hosting the Baltimore school for the first time since December 2014, when Shane Richards became Manhattan's all-time three-point field goal leader at Morgan State's expense.

Following a week off for final exams, Manhattan hits the road for a stretch of three games in eight days, beginning against Tulsa on December 16. After the battle with the Golden Hurricane, Hofstra is next on the schedule, with the Jaspers and Pride matching wits on December 20 from Adelphi University. Hofstra's Mack Sports Complex will be the site of the university's mid-year commencement exercises that night, so although it is still a Hofstra home game, it will be held off their Hempstead campus.

Manhattan's final non-conference contest comes two days before Christmas, when the Jaspers take on Seton Hall in a December 23 matinee. All MAAC matchups will be released at a later date.

2017-18 Manhattan Non-Conference Schedule (all times TBD)
Wednesday, November 15: vs. St. Francis Brooklyn

Saturday, November 18: vs. Harvard

Monday, November 20 - Wednesday, November 22: Gulf Coast Showcase; Estero, Fla. (three games, tournament field TBD)

Sunday, November 26: at Fordham

Friday, December 1: vs. Holy Cross (Belfast Classic; Belfast, Northern Ireland)

Saturday, December 2: vs. La Salle or Towson (Belfast Classic; Belfast, Northern Ireland)

Saturday, December 9: vs. Morgan State

Saturday, December 16: at Tulsa

Wednesday, December 20: at Hofstra (Adelphi University; Garden City, NY)

Saturday, December 23: at Seton Hall

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Niagara releases non-conference schedule

Chris Casey and Niagara have most upside since he was hired in 2013, and Purple Eagles hope to capitalize in non-conference schedule released Thursday morning. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

Admittedly, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference is harder to predict this season following the graduation of a strong senior core across the conference, but one team in position to potentially reap the benefits of everyone else in the league retooling is Niagara, who returns guards Matt Scott and Kahlil Dukes to a roster that has significant upside as head coach Chris Casey begins his fifth season on Monteagle Ridge.

That upside is something the Purple Eagles will hone in a non-conference schedule released Thursday morning, a 13-game slate that opens against a pair of teams projected to be in the top half of their respective leagues.

Niagara raises the curtain on its 2017-18 campaign on Friday, November 10, as the Purple Eagles invade the Reilly Center for a battle with longtime rival St. Bonaventure. Five days later, they will travel to Minnesota to take on Richard Pitino and the Golden Gophers, a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament last season.

The road trip continues with the first of four games that are part of the Barclays Center Classic, as Niagara will visit the Mullins Center in Amherst to take on the University of Massachusetts on November 19, then journeying across the country to face Brigham Young on November 21. The Purple Eagles will next embark on a four-game homestand, hosting a Barclays Center Classic subregional that welcomes Alabama A&M to the Gallagher Center on November 24 before either Western Carolina or UT-Arlington await Niagara the following day. Army (November 27) and crosstown rival Buffalo (November 29) conclude the month of November on the Purple Eagles' home floor.

A December 5 trek to New Hampshire is next on the docket before Saint Francis University comes to town on December 10. From there, a stretch of three games in eight days conclude the non-conference portion of the schedule, beginning with a road game against Norfolk State on December 16. A home contest against Cleveland State on December 19 precedes the final non-league clash, which occurs in Ithaca against Cornell on December 23.

Niagara's MAAC schedule will be released at a later date.

2017-18 Niagara Non-Conference Schedule (times TBD unless noted)
Friday, November 10: at St. Bonaventure, 8 p.m.

Wednesday, November 15: at Minnesota

Sunday, November 19: at UMass

Tuesday, November 21: at Brigham Young

Friday, November 24: vs. Alabama A&M, 4 p.m.

Saturday, November 25: vs. Western Carolina or UT-Arlington, 7 p.m.

Monday, November 27: vs. Army, 7 p.m.

Wednesday, November 29: vs. Buffalo, 7 p.m.

Tuesday, December 5: at New Hampshire

Sunday, December 10: vs. Saint Francis U, 2 p.m.

Saturday, December 16: at Norfolk State

Tuesday, December 19: vs. Cleveland State, 7 p.m.

Saturday, December 23: at Cornell

Monmouth season preview podcast with Josh Newman

Shortly after Monmouth released its non-conference schedule Thursday afternoon, we resumed the tradition of bringing Josh Newman; who covers the Hawks for the Asbury Park Press and the New York college basketball scene for SNY and ZagsBlog, in for our annual preseason podcast. This year, the chat was not limited to Monmouth's non-league battles, as we also weighed in on who will help the Hawks take the next step as they begin life without Justin Robinson and the senior-laden roster that led the program to 55 wins in the past two seasons, as well as some early predictions for the 2017-18 season. You can listen to our 13-minute conversation by clicking below:

Monmouth releases non-conference schedule highlighted by meeting with Kentucky

Justin Robinson is gone, but King Rice and a strong core remain for Monmouth as Hawks begin life without their leading Division I scorer with arguably toughest non-conference schedule in Rice's tenure. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

Six years have passed since King Rice first arrived in West Long Branch, but one thing remains certain of Monmouth's head coach: He remains unafraid to play anyone and everyone in the non-conference season to test his Hawks for the rigors of Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play.

That much remains true after Monmouth released its non-league schedule Thursday afternoon, a 12-game slate that features games against blueblood programs and formidable mid-majors alike in what could be the most arduous slate the Hawks have faced, no easy feat considering the likes of UCLA, Notre Dame, Syracuse and North Carolina have appeared on the ledger over the past two seasons in the Garden State.

Regardless, the season commences at home on November 10, when Monmouth welcomes Bucknell to the OceanFirst Bank Center. The reigning Patriot League champion Bison will be making their second visit to West Long Branch in the span of 20 months, as Bucknell and head coach Nathan Davis were the Hawks' first opponent in the 2016 National Invitation Tournament after the well-chronicled and unceremonious NCAA Tournament snub.

A pair of local road contests await the Hawks after that, beginning on November 12 at the Prudential Center against in-state rival Seton Hall. The Pirates, led by a four-pronged senior class still looking for the program's first NCAA Tournament win since 2004, will host Monmouth for the first time since November 18, 2013. Two days later, a stretch of three games in five days concludes with a trip to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania for a November 14 skirmish against Lehigh.

The Hawks remain on the road for two additional contests that will be part of the NIT Preseason Tip-Off, taking on Virginia in Charlottesville on November 19 before traveling further south to meet UNC Asheville on November 22. Following the Thanksgiving holiday, Monmouth returns home to welcome Army and Albany to the Jersey Shore on November 25 and 27, respectively.

The month of December is the most attractive to the casual fan, and it begins with a trek to Gampel Pavilion to visit the University of Connecticut on December 2. The final of four home games before MAAC play takes place on December 6, when Monmouth hosts Hofstra in the first meeting between the two schools since the 2013-14 season opener, when the Hawks erased a double-digit lead to leave Long Island victorious. On December 9, the marquee matchup will be the order of the day, as Monmouth and Kentucky lock horns inside Madison Square Garden for the first of two battles between the Hawks and Wildcats, who will reprise the newly-created series in Lexington next season.

Three days after the Kentucky game, the Hawks return a home game by heading to Jadwin Gymnasium for a December 12 affair against Princeton, whom Monmouth defeated in a wildly entertaining 96-90 decision last December. The final tuneup before MAAC play takes place in New Haven, where Ivy League contender Yale awaits on December 22.

Monmouth's MAAC schedule will be released at a later date.

2017-18 Monmouth Non-Conference Schedule (all times TBD)
Friday, November 10:
 vs. Bucknell

Sunday, November 12: at Seton Hall

Tuesday, November 14: at Lehigh

Sunday, November 19: at Virginia

Wednesday, November 22: at UNC Asheville

Saturday, November 25: vs. Penn

Monday, November 27: vs. Albany

Saturday, December 2: at UConn

Wednesday, December 6: vs. Hofstra

Saturday, December 9: vs. Kentucky (Madison Square Garden)

Tuesday, December 12: at Princeton

Friday, December 22: at Yale

Maker still optimistic about Marist reversing its fortune

Now entering fourth season at Marist, Mike Maker must replace leading scorer Khallid Hart, but Red Foxes' head coach insists program remains on upswing. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

His first three years at the helm have not been easy, but if one thing has been learned about Mike Maker during his time at Marist, it is that he does not back down from a challenge.

Although the only thing keeping the Red Foxes from three straight experiences as the No. 11 seed in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament was a fortuitous coin flip result on the last day of the regular season last February, Maker remains upbeat in his hope that Marist will emerge from its morass and take the all-important step forward in a MAAC rife with uncertain projections after losing a bevy of its senior leadership to graduation. And even if the results are not quite there on paper, he is quick to remind those casting aspersions on both he and his program that progress has already been achieved, despite assertions to the contrary.

"Actually, I think we made a lot of progress," Maker reassured, exuding confidence where most would rather turn the page on the heels of an 8-24 season. "We had hoped to have a few more results as far as wins, but as far as how our program is progressing moving forward, I'm really pleased with the kind of young men we're attracting to Marist, their commitment level both in the classroom and on the court, and blending new guys that fit our style of play into a very competitive conference."

"The program is growing," he proclaimed. "It's at a slow pace, but it's a pace we thought it would be at, and I'm really pleased with the development of our younger players and encouraged by what we see. We have a big-picture approach to how we want our program to work, and we're getting closer to that. We're nowhere near where we want it to be, but we're closer than we were three seasons ago."

Such a declaration becomes even bolder in the absence of Khallid Hart, the Red Foxes' do-it-all point guard who graduated last May and left a legacy similar to that of Chavaughn Lewis, Marist's all-time leading scorer whom Maker deemed irreplaceable when he exhausted his four years of eligibility in 2015. But while Hart is impossible to replace individually, the pieces around him have the potential to make a greater collective impact in what will be a pivotal season in Poughkeepsie.

"Individually, you can't replace Chavaughn or Khallid," said Maker. "But what we hope to have is better balance. We may not have someone with the individual ability of Chavaughn or Khallid, but we have the balance necessary to become difficult to guard and if one of our better players doesn't have a normal night, we can absorb that with some other guys. We think Brian Parker and Ryan Funk -- if you look at them statistically compared to some of the guys we've had historically in this basketball program, they're as good as anybody."

"I know in the outside world, his numbers probably weren't what everyone was hoping for, but he's still on a pace as a rising junior that opens a lot of eyes in regard to the numbers he's putting up," Maker said of Parker, the 6-foot-2 multi-position threat who now becomes the de facto face of the program. "I thought Ryan Funk was one of the most improved players in our league last year, and we also have a transfer becoming eligible in Alex Dozic. So those three should give us a nice foundation to work with, and keep in mind, we've had two recruiting classes. We're better than we were three seasons ago, but not where we want to be. I think we've made significant progress, and hopefully we can make the jump this year."

While reserving comment about his incoming freshmen because he is still learning their intricacies and how to properly coach them, Maker is incredibly high on Dozic, who sat out last season after transferring from Marshall. A 6-foot-9, 220-pound sophomore from Montenegro who is projected to give the Red Foxes the jolt they desperately need in the paint, something they have not had since Adam Kemp protected the interior, Dozic has three years of eligibility remaining, giving his coach the hope that he can be a big help for his front line in every sense of the word.

"We're adding him to Brian Parker and Ryan Funk," Maker said. "Those three in particular will be the guys everybody else will be asked to blend with them. I think we'll have more depth and more balance. We're still another year from having a veteran roster that has impactful seniors and impactful juniors on it. We're not there yet. Our league last year was loaded with them. We're headed in that direction but not there yet, but I think that the addition of Alex Dozic with Brian Parker and Ryan Funk gives us the balance that we need moving forward."

All in all, the foundation is in place for upward mobility, as Parker and Funk lead a roster that also includes Kristinn Palsson, Isaiah Lamb and the aforementioned Dozic among its supporting cast. And amid the adversity, Maker remains a beacon of enthusiasm, insisting that better days are on the way for a program that has not enjoyed a winning season since 2007-08, when Matt Brady led the Red Foxes to an 18-14 record before taking over at James Madison.

"We're getting closer, we really are," Maker opined. "It's been challenging, to say the least. I don't think we've moved the needle in regard to wins and losses, but I think the people that have really followed Marist basketball can appreciate the long-term vision we have for our basketball program and how we want to play. All that combined is a challenging process, one that we embrace here, and I'm really proud of our guys."

"I was the third coach in as many years and the fifth out of eleven," he reflected. "It wasn't going to be easy, and I think the return on that investment is really close to coming here. The way we go about our work every day, as a staff and our players, I can tell you that the players have two feet in. They believe in the vision of this basketball program moving forward, they recognize that. If we play to our strengths and believe in the team over the individual, I think we'll make the strides necessary to make a jump."

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Liberty's resurgence shines through in MSG homecoming

Shavonte Zellous has been critical to Liberty's late-season resurgence, and at a most opportune time. (Photo by Ray Floriani/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)

NEW YORK -- Bill Laimbeer has seen this as a coach, and experienced it firsthand as a player.

When you come off a long road trip, it does not matter if you go 5-0 or 1-4. There is still a bit of a hangover, a trace of staleness and fatigue, the latter the result from travel and being on the go as much as playing the games. That first game back at home finds a team a bit off their mark.

The New York Liberty experienced that hosting the Indiana Fever on Tuesday. In the end, the Liberty were able to battle through, making the plays to ensure a hard fought 81-76 victory at Madison Square Garden.

“I could see in the afternoon shootaround we were not sharp,” Laimbeer said in the aftermath of the win. “We did not play well, but were able to get the win.”

The Liberty led the entire first half, taking a 46-40 lead into the locker room at halftime. Tina Charles setting up on the blocks was an inside force the Fever did not have an answer for. The former UConn star had 18 points in the opening stanza. While Charles was a defensive headache for Indiana head coach Pokey Chatman, a local product was giving the Liberty fits. Erica Wheeler, a guard out of nearby Rutgers, was on fire from the perimeter and keeping the Fever close. Wheeler led all scorers with 20 points in the first half.

“She hit jump shots. She wasn’t blowing by people to get to the rim,” Laimbeer said of Wheeler. “She has a quick release, got open, and hit jump shots. Give her a lot of credit, she shot them into the game.”

The second half saw the Fever respond by placing more help on Charles. On her every catch down low, the Liberty standout was faced with two defenders, resulting in her being limited to eight points after the intermission. On this night, a big reason the Liberty pulled through was the efforts of their bench.

“We played a lot of people,” Laimbeer said. “But that’s why your bench is there. To give you the help.” Prominent among those in relief was Kiah Stokes with a timely 12-point effort. In the fourth quarter, the Liberty finally slowed Wheeler down. Outside of two three-pointers in the last 20 seconds, she was quiet.

“We played Chicago and Indiana twice now recently,” Laimbeer said. “Those teams have you switching on screens. In the fourth quarter, we made an effort to get through those screens aggressively and not give her (Wheeler) room.”

Wheeler finished with a game-high 33 points. The only other Fever player in double digits was Candice Dupree, with 14. Charles led the Liberty with 26, with three teammates; Shavonte Zellous (16), Bria Hartley (13), and Stokes (12) also double-figure scorers.

The Fever fell to 9-18. The Liberty improved to 13-12, one game over .500; and with the playoffs less than a month away, the attitude remains upbeat.

“Things that we did not do well on the road trip are correctable,” Zellous said. “We are studying film and identifying those things, such as playing better transition defense.”

As a group, Zellous lauds the team’s ability to constantly stay together, even when facing adversity. She also echoed Laimbeer’s sentiments summing up the victory.

“We were aggressive on defense in that fourth quarter,” she said. “We responded and want nothing more to carry that over to Friday night when we visit Atlanta.”

Liberty 81, Fever 76: Ray Floriani's Photo Essay

NEW YORK -- Teams prepare mentally and physically to compete at their highest level.

It just doesn’t always work out.

The human element dictates when the best preparation will still see a team come out at less than optimum level. The team that can fight through those periods of malaise and earn a victory is one to be commended. And watched.
On Tuesday that was the situation facing the New York Liberty. Coming off a 2-5 road trip, they were operating at significantly less than peak performance. They were able to come away with an 81-76 victory over the visiting Indiana Fever.

The fourth quarter proved decisive. Tied at 70 with two minutes remaining, the Liberty scored while getting the all-important stops on the defensive end. They sealed the deal from the charity stripe. Game analysis and film study allows you to review, making technical alterations and tweaks on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. The intangible that cannot be quantified is effort, especially when the pulse of the game is in balance.

If coach Bill Laimbeer were to grade his Liberty team’s entire game performance, he might have given them a C, and that could be a product of grading on the curve. When it all came down to the last 120 do-or-die seconds, the final grade could be not just an E for effort but an A-plus. That is an admirable trait for a team to show. Winning on a night when you are far from your best.

Some of the usual Madison Square Garden concession stand fare:
A look at Indiana's pregame stretching exercises:
Courtside at The Garden:
Briann January, on the offensive attack for the Fever:
Official Tom Mauer, a WNBA and college veteran:
Liberty head coach Bill Laimbeer, all smiles after a victory:
Looking out at midtown Manhattan from the MSG media room: