AP

Steve Masiello has the Manhattan Jaspers dancing once again

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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.

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“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.”

POSTERIZED: Cal’s Jaylen Brown has his dunk contest entry

California's Jaylen Brown lays up a shot against Oregon State in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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Cal picked up a big win over Oregon State in Haas Pavilion on Saturday night, and the exclamation point was this emphatic dunk from Jaylen Brown:

Niang, Morris lead No. 14 Iowa State past No. 24 Texas

Iowa State forward Georges Niang drives past Texas guard Tevin Mack, left, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Ames, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
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After falling at Texas Tech for the second straight season midweek, No. 14 Iowa State needed to bounce back with No. 24 Texas visiting Hilton Coliseum. The return of Jameel McKay, who was suspended for two games, certainly helped the Cyclones and the play of Georges Niang and Monte Morris was key as well. But the biggest difference on this night was the fact that Iowa State was able to limit the effectiveness of Texas point guard Isaiah Taylor.

 

Taylor scored just nine points on 3-for-14 shooting from the field, and with Morris and Niang scoring 24 points apiece the Cyclones won by the final score of 85-75.

Taylor had multiple opportunities to make plays around the basket thanks to his ability to beat defenders off the bounce, but he struggled to finish. Add in a 0-for-4 night from three, and Texas’ most dangerous offensive option was unable to duplicate his performance in the first meeting between the two teams. In Texas’ 94-91 overtime win over the Cyclones January 12, Taylor scored 28 points and dished out six assists with just one turnover, shooting 11-for-17 from the field.

Four Longhorns finished in double figures, with Tevin Mack and Javan Felix scoring 18 apiece, but with Morris decisively winning the point guard matchup Texas was unable to pick up the win on the road.

For Iowa State the aforementioned tandem of Morris and Niang performed as they did in the first meeting, which should come as no surprise. What helped them, especially when it came to Texas attacking the basket, was the presence of McKay. McKay finished the game with eight points, seven rebounds and four blocks in 22 minutes of action, and to have their best interior defender back on the floor certainly helped the Cyclones on this night.

With their lack of depth Iowa State’s margin for error is small, especially when it comes to foul trouble, injuries and disciplinary reasons. Even with Texas’ size advantage Iowa State outscored them in the paint 48-34, and McKay’s defensive ability factored into that. The Cyclones can put points on the board with the best of them, but at some point they’ll need to string together stops as the games get even bigger.

Iowa State managed to do that down the stretch, with Morris and Niang running the show offensively. And that’s a good formula to be able to rely upon as the season approaches its most important month.