Steve Masiello has the Manhattan Jaspers dancing once again

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source: AP

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – The last time Manhattan qualified for the NCAA tournament, current head coach Steve Masiello served on staff as an assistant. In 2011, he took over the program, inheriting a 6-25 team. In only his second year he had the Jaspers one-win shy of punching their ticket.

Those dreams were dashed last season by rival Iona. On Monday night, Masiello and Manhattan returned the favor with a 71-68 victory over the Gaels in the MAAC Tournament championship game at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, Mass. advancing to the tournament for the first time since 2004.

“It’s just been something I’ve been working my whole life to get to this point,” Masiello said. “I’m just fortunate to be around a lot of great people, who have helped me along the way, and who have meant the world to me. They’ve really taught me about coaching, basketball, life, and it’s all helped me tremendously.”

In September, the midway point between Masiello’s heartbreaking, season-ending loss to Iona and Monday night’s MAAC title win, Masiello’s former coach Rick Pitino was enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, forever having his greatest coaching achievements stored in Springfield, the birthplace of basketball.

Following Monday’s championship win, Masiello will link his most memorable coaching moment, maybe the best in his basketball career, with Springfield as well.

“I’ve been to two Final Fours and this is right there with it,” Masiello said.

Masiello met Pitino when he was 12-years-old as a ball boy for the New York Knicks. Seven years later, he followed Pitino to Kentucky where he was a walk-on. He logged 215 minutes of action in four years, compiling 42 total points.

“Don’t cheat my playing career,” Masiello joked during Monday night’s press conference. “I won at national title. That’s pretty good.

“And I have another Final Four with Rick [in 1997].”

Pitino and Masiello were reunited again in 2005, when he joined Pitino’s staff at Louisville for the first of six seasons before taking over the Manhattan program.

Maseillo was known as a top recruiter while with the Cardinals. When he was hired at Manhattan, his roster wasn’t exactly filled with guys he had helped land for Pitino.


“The irony for us is you look at these young men and Mike Alvarado, I was told not to keep. George Beamon had no scholarship offers. … Rhamel Brown, no one knew about,” Masiello said.

In three seasons, the senior trio have helped the Jaspers win 60 of their last 98 games.

“I didn’t know him,” Beamon said. “I knew [former Manhattan guard] Luis Flores, he told me he was a good guy. And I just believed in him. Coming from 3-15 (MAAC record) you have to put your trust in something. I got my guys together and we believed in him. Last year we made it to the championship game and now we are here. We made it.”

The winner of the MAAC was being projected as a No. 13-seed entering the evening, which has to be an unsettling feeling for numerous top-25 teams. Manhattan ranks among one of the nation’s top 50 teams in adjusted defensive efficiency. The Jaspers are 71 in the RPI while ranked 69 by kenpom.com.

The third-year head coach has rejuvenated a once struggling program. He’s been embraced by past stars such as Durelle Brown, who stayed up watching film with Manhattan until the early hours of Monday morning.

“There is a lot of tradition with these guys,” Masiello said. “They started it and we’re finishing it and we’re keeping it going. That’s where I’m lucky.”

He’s been to a pair of Final Fours and won a national championship at Kentucky. As a coach, he helped bring in the pieces that set up another title in 2013 for Louisville. He won the MAAC on Monday night. He’s come back home and led Manhattan to a NCAA tournament berth in less than 36 months, and that might just top all of his previous March moments.

“It’s pretty amazing,” he said.”This is home for me and for me to be able to do at home is special.”

Kennesaw State blows eight-point lead in 16 seconds, loses to Elon

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Kennesaw State entered Monday night at 1-6 on the season, but with 19 seconds left, it looked like the Owls have their second of the season locked up. Kendrick Ray made a pair of free throws with 19 seconds left to put KSU up 89-81, and all they had to do was avoid a complete meltdown to get out with a win.

They couldn’t.

A Luke Eddy layup with 16 seconds left cut the lead to six, and after KSU’s Nigel Pruitt missed two free throws, Dainan Swoope his a three with seven seconds left to make the score 89-86.

On the ensuing inbounds, Kennesaw State threw the ball away … and then proceeded to foul Eddy when he was shooting a three. This is what that disaster looked like:

Eddy would hit all three threes before, shockingly, KSU turned the ball over again. Elon could not capitalize this time, sending the game to overtime, where the Phoenix outscored the Owls 14-4.

Elon won 104-94.

Here’s what the comeback looked like on the play-by-play:

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Rick Pitino: Louisville ‘just ignored’ in top 25 due of scandal

Rick Pitino
(AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
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Louisville beatdown Saint Louis at the Barclays Center on Sunday night, a 77-57 win that was much closer at halftime than the final score might indicate.

The win moved the Cardinals to 5-0 on the season, and that, in turn, got Louisville into the back end of both top 25 polls.

They’re 24th in the AP Poll and 22nd in the Coaches Poll, but that happened on Monday morning. On Sunday night, Pitino made sure to get a rant in about how this team is viewed and why pundits and voters should overlook the scandal currently plaguing his program.

“I think people are looking at that and they’re not really studying the team,” he said, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal, adding that he thinks the team is “just ignored” because of the accusations leveled by self-described madam Katina Powell in the book she published back in October.

And here’s the thing: he is 100 percent correct. Louisville was overlooked in the preseason because the scandal, when combined with the fact that the Cardinals are integrating so many new pieces into their rotation, made it tough to see how they would be able to compete at a level that we’ve come to expect out of Louisville teams.

I know that because it’s why my colleagues at NBCSports.com, against my wishes, refused to allow me to rank Louisville in the preseason top 25. In other words, I’ve had first-hand interactions with the haters. But if we’re going to be honest here, scandal or no scandal, Louisville probably wasn’t going to find their way into the preseason top 25, not when they had to replace Terry Rozier and Montrezl Harrell.

And scandal or no scandal, no team from outside the top 25 is going to play their way into the top 25 by beating the likes of North Florida and St. Francis (NY) without some shenanigans — like Fred VanVleet getting hurt, like Indiana collapsing, like Arizona and Cal and Notre Dame playing their way out of the top 20 — happening around the country.

So Pitino is right: the scandal probably did have an impact on how his team was viewed in the preseason.

But Pitino the scandal isn’t what kept them out of the top 25 until Monday.

That weak non-conference schedule and roster turnover was why.

And if we’re going to be honest here, it probably should have kept them out for another week.