Manhattan’s returnees look to build on the achievements of last season’s senior class

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Manhattan’s Steve Masiello (AP Photo)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

When it comes to sports, for as much as we like the spontaneity of the events, many are also fans of the storyline. And when it comes to the NCAA tournament, one of the usual storylines is that of the smaller school that takes advantage of its opportunity on the big stage. Whether its an upset victory or a valiant fight to the bitter end, that program becomes (for the time being) a fan favorite and the head coach, if young enough, is labeled the next “rising star” in the business.

In making their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2004, the Manhattan Jaspers looked to fit the bill, playing an uptempo, attractive brand of basketball led by a passionate coach in Steve Masiello, who both played for and coached under Rick Pitino. Led by seniors Rhamel Brown, George Beamon and Michael Alvarado the Jaspers gave Louisville a run for its money before falling short, and shortly thereafter Masiello came to an agreement to take over as the head coach at South Florida.

The familiar storyline seemed to fit Manhattan … until it didn’t.

A background check revealed that Masiello hadn’t completed his bachelor’s at Kentucky, resulting in USF pulling its offer off the table and many wondering how Manhattan would handle the situation. The school gave Masiello the opportunity to take care of the situation, reinstating him once that was accomplished. But what about the players? To say that the situation was a roller coaster for them would be an understatement, as they went from having a coach to seeing him prepare to move on, only to have him return amidst controversy.

They simply made the best of the situation, applying some of the lessons learned during a three-year process in which Manhattan went from winning six games in the season prior to Masiello’s arrival to reaching the NCAA tournament in March.

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“In every situation I think you have to find the positive and learn from things, good, bad or indifferent,” Masiello told NBCSports.com earlier this month. “The one thing that really hits home is that I deal with 18, 19, 20 and 21-year old men every day, and something I did at that age could have cost me my career. I’m thankful that it didn’t. So I’m constantly preaching to my players that the decisions they make today can affect them at 35, 40, 45 (years of age). It’s a great lesson of accountability in that everything we do there are consequences.

“We’ve really put a microscope on it from a preaching standpoint,” Masiello continued. “What we want our culture to be, how we hold ourselves accountable, how we view ourselves and putting ourselves in the best position to be successful at all times. I think it was a great lesson to learn from my mistake, and make yourself better because of it.”

What also helped the players was the fact that they had veteran leaders capable of shepherding them through that period, and that includes the three seniors (Alvarado, Beamon and Brown) who exhausted their college eligibility in March. At a point in time when most seniors would be focused solely on what their next step would be, whether it’s moving into the work force or playing professionally, those three helped the remaining Jaspers stay on task with the goal being to make sure that the work put forth to rebuild the program didn’t go to waste.

“I give a lot of credit to the seniors, who helped me a lot both on and off the court,” senior forward Emmy Andujar told NBCSports.com. “Especially with the leadership role that I’ll have to take on this year.”

And while the losses of Alvarado, Beamon and Brown are big, Manhattan returns multiple contributors from last year’s rotation. From a leadership standpoint one player in particular, senior guard RaShawn Stores, is expected to be the “influencer.” Stores is the classic case of a player who’s overlooked by the uninitiated, with the focus on statistics resulting in some not understanding his impact on the team. As a junior Stores accounted for 4.9 points and 1.9 assists per game, but it’s the intangibles he brought to the locker room that were so valuable to the Manhattan program. And that isn’t expected to change at all, with his head coach noting that the team will go as far as Stores can lead them.

“As much credit as I want to give those three seniors, and they deserve it all, we had a lot of guys who were big pieces of the puzzle. We bring a lot back,” Masiello noted. “As for RaShawn, I’ve said for the last two years that we go as he goes. When he’s in a good place and feels good about himself, this team is a different team. RaShawn Stores has a greater impact on this team than I do, and I’ve said that for years because he’s such a great leader and guys follow him.

“I can be in a great place, but if RaShawn’s not I know the team’s going to struggle. It’s my job to make sure RaShawn Stores is in a good place because of the impact he has on this program.”

Players such as Andujar, Shane Richards and Ashton Pankey will be asked to take on greater responsibility on both ends of the floor in light of Manhattan’s personnel losses as well. Richards was one of the best freshmen in the MAAC in 2012-13, and he followed up that debut season with a solid sophomore campaign. Richards led the Jaspers in made three-pointers (77), scoring 8.3 points per game while shooting 41.4 percent from the field and 42.1 percent from beyond the arc. The goal for Richards heading into his junior season is easy to see when looking at his numbers from a season ago, but it’s a goal that can be tough to reach for a player who was most productive as a jump shooter.

Richards will need to expand his offensive game in order to help Manhattan account  for the perimeter scoring provided by Alvarado and Beamon, and that’s something he’s worked to do this offseason. Of Richards’ 203 field goal attempts in 2013-14 183 were three-pointers, and he made just 35 percent of his attempts inside of the arc (7-for-20). Similar splits aren’t expected from Richards this season, and his progression will be something to keep an eye on as Manhattan works to navigate a difficult non-conference schedule.

source: AP
Emmy Andujar and Shane Richards will be key players for Manhattan. (AP Photo)

“You’ll probably see the biggest jump in Shane Richards,” Masiello said. “He’s by far the most improved player (on our team); I love Shane, but I don’t recognize him now. His mind is in a great place, he’s really confident and he’s put in a lot of work on his game. He’s doing a lot more things that he hasn’t done before on the basketball court; he’s become more than just a spot-up shooter.”

As for Andujar, his versatility is one trait that should serve the Jaspers well in 2014-15. The senior has been a steady player throughout his time at Manhattan, averaging 8.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists per contest last season. Shooting just over 53 percent from the field, Andujar also ranked second on the team in assists, and his passing ability from the forward spot can help Manhattan attack opposing defenses from multiple areas of the floor. But after starting just five games a season ago, Andujar’s had to prepare for a greater role in advance of his final campaign.

“Being more vocal on the court and getting quicker,” Andujar noted when asked what he worked to improve upon this offseason, and he also made note of his need to be a little more aggressive offensively. That plays into his coach’s desire to see a more consistent Andujar in 2014-15, as noticeable stretches of single-digit scoring nights were occasionally broken up by a double-figure night (he scored 28 in a home win over rival Iona in February).

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Andujar’s one of three players expected to lead the way in the front court for Manhattan, with Pankey and Cincinnati transfer Jermaine Lawrence being the others. Pankey was solid in his first season after transferring in from Maryland, averaging 7.1 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. Yet while he’ll be asked to step forward from a productivity standpoint, and the same can be said for Lawrence, they can’t get into the mindset of having to play the way Rhamel Brown did. Brown averaged 10.1 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.6 blocks per game as a senior, winning MAAC Defensive Player of the Year honors in each of his last three seasons. He brought a different set of skills to the table than either Pankey or Lawrence.

And in the eyes of Masiello, while new players will look to earn the minutes left open by Brown’s departure there’s no replacing a player of his caliber.

“I don’t think you’re going to be able to account for Rhamel Brown,” Masiello stated. “He was one of the best big men in college basketball bar none, and I don’t think anyone realized how good he was. He was extremely underrated. That being said, what Ashton and Jermaine bring I don’t know if Rhamel could’ve brought so we’ll be different in that sense. Doesn’t mean we’ll be better or worse, I think you’ll see a different team.

“Jermaine and AP can affect the game in a lot of ways, and that’s what I really like about this team. This team will be different than teams I’ve had here in the past, but I think this team has a ceiling higher than any team I’ve had here.”

The scenario in front of Pankey and Lawrence is, in a sense, similar to what the entire program faces as it approaches the start of the 2014-15 season. Ten players played an average of at least 11.9 minutes per game last season, and given Manhattan’s style of play that should once again be the case with senior Donovan Kates and sophomores Rich Williams and Tyler Wilson back with four freshmen joining the program. Yet even with this being the case, this is a group different than any that Masiello has coached during his time at Manhattan.

Many of the available players having the combination of size and athleticism that can help the Jaspers in games against major conference opposition. Both Pankey and Lawrence are 6-foot-10, and in total Manhattan has six players who are at least 6-foot-8; last year’s team had just two (Pankey and 6-foot-10 Carlton Allen) with the 6-foot-7 Brown serving as the stalwart in the middle. Yet while some of the tangible characteristics have changed, Manhattan’s path to sustained success will continue to include the intangibles that resulted in the program’s turnaround.

While Masiello and his staff certainly deserve credit for the fact that Manhattan is in a position where the goal of extended success is undoubtedly attainable, the seniors who left this past spring shouldn’t be forgotten either. Not only did Alvarado, Beamon and Brown go through the full process of helping to rebuild the Manhattan program, winning just six games as freshmen, they also stepped forward at a point in time when uncertainty surrounded the program. And their efforts haven’t been forgotten in Riverdale, where the latest group of veterans hopes to build on what that trio was able to accomplish.

Gardner, No. 3 Virginia rally for 70-68 win at Michigan

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Tony Bennett’s team passed all its tests in the opening month of the season.

Jayden Gardner made a go-ahead jumper with 39.9 seconds left and blocked Jett Howard’s 3-point shot just before the buzzer, allowing No. 3 Virginia to stay undefeated with a 70-68 win over Michigan in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Tuesday night.

The Cavaliers (6-0) won their first true road game against a team that was ranked in the first two polls this season, a little more than a week after beating then-No. 5 Baylor and then-No. 19 Illinois in Las Vegas.

“It got pretty intense in here,” Bennett said.

Virginia trailed by 11 points at halftime, rallied to go ahead with 7:25 left and built a five-point lead that didn’t last.

The Wolverines (5-2) went ahead 66-65 at the 1:42 mark when Hunter Dickinson made one of two free throws.

Michigan missed chances to stay or go ahead when Dickinson missed a hook shot with 1:01 to go and Princeton transfer Jaelin Llewellyn turned the ball over with 16 seconds left.

“Hunter has made that running hook before,” coach Juwan Howard said. “The turnover, yes, down the stretch, it hurt, but overall that’s not the reason we lost the ballgame.

“We could’ve easily put our heads down when they came out in the second half and made a run.”

Reece Beekman, who finished with 18 points, stepped in front of Llewellyn’s pass in the final minute and made one of two free throws.

Virginia’s Armaan Franklin missed two free throws with 5.7 seconds left, giving Michigan a chance to extend or win the game. Howard took a contested shot beyond the 3-point arc on the right wing – near his father, Michigan’s coach – and Gardner came up with the block against the freshman guard while Wolverines coaches and players screamed for a foul call.

It appeared that Gardner got all ball on the block.

Kihei Clark scored 16 points, Gardner had 12, Kadin Shedrick fouled out with 12 points and Ben Vander Plas added 10 for the balanced Cavaliers.

“You need different guys, and that’s what it takes, to make plays offensively and defensively,” Bennett said.

Dickinson scored 23 points, Jett Howard had 11 of his 15 in the first half and Kobe Bufkin added 11 points for Michigan.

“Jett is a gamer, he’s going to compete no matter what,” Juwan Howard said. “He’s loved basketball since he was a little baby boy.

“He’s going to help us win a lot of games this year.”

The Wolverines started slowly, trailing 9-2 in the opening minutes, before Howard scored eight points to lead a 13-2 run. Michigan led 45-34 at halftime when Bufkin made a layup after a steal.

“We can’t be sloppy like that on the defensive end, but we did battle hard in the second half,” Bennett said.

Vander Plas scored nine points during an 11-2 run that put Virginia ahead 65-60. The Cavaliers then went 4 1/2 minutes without a basket before Gardner’s big shot.

THE TAKEAWAY

Virginia: The Cavaliers have their highest ranking since the 2018-19 season – which ended with a national title – and are off to their best start since being 7-0 three years ago. The team continues to honor the memory of three football players who were fatally shot on campus earlier this month, wearing warmup jerseys with their names.

Michigan: Juwan Howard’s team matched up well in its first game against a ranked opponent this season.

“When we come out with the effort like we did today for 40 minutes, I love our chances against any college team in the country,” he said.

UP NEXT

Virginia: Hosts Florida State (1-7) on Saturday.

Michigan: Plays No. 19 Kentucky (5-2) on Sunday in London.

Marquette’s defense overwhelms No. 6 Baylor in 96-70 win

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
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MILWAUKEE – Marquette has developed a habit under Shaka Smart of saving its top performances for the best opponents on its schedule.

Olivier-Maxence Prosper scored 24 points and Marquette capitalized on a dominant start from its defense to roll past No. 6 Baylor 96-70 on Tuesday night in the Big 12-Big East Battle. This was the highest-ranked team Marquette (6-2) has beaten under Smart and the Golden Eagles improved to to 7-6 against AP Top 25 squads in his tenure.

“Most of the time against these great teams, they don’t have us winning that game,” said David Joplin, who scored 19 points. “We just come out, we want to go out and prove everybody wrong. And that feeling, that chip makes us play so much better.”

Marquette nearly produced its most lopsided victory against a Top 25 team. The Golden Eagles trounced No. 16 Providence 88-56 on Jan. 4 in Smart’s debut season.

“When you go into a game and the game is bigger in the minds of your players than anything else, to me that’s the best recipe for winning,” Smart said. “It should be that way all the time, but human nature sometimes messes with that.”

Marquette’s defense embarrassed a highly regarded Baylor backcourt.

The Golden Eagles raced to a 51-25 halftime lead thanks to a 24-0 edge in points off turnovers. Baylor (5-2) already had a season-high 16 turnovers by halftime.

Baylor entered Tuesday ranked third among Division I teams in assist-turnover margin. The Bears had 20 turnovers and 12 assists against Marquette.

“I didn’t see that coming,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “Credit the crowd. Credit them for building momentum. Credit Shaka for having them prepared and how hard they played. At the end of the day, we fed to the fire by turning it over and making some uncharacteristic mistakes.”

Prosper scored 10 points and sank two 3-pointers during a 23-2 run that turned an early 7-2 deficit into a 25-9 advantage. Chase Ross capped the spurt by getting a steal and throwing down a left-handed dunk.

Baylor never cut Marquette’s lead below 22 points in the second half.

Kam Jones had 20 points as Marquette shot 58.3% overall to win its third straight. The Golden Eagles shot 12 of 25 from 3-point range, with Jones going 4 of 7 and Prosper and Joplin each going 3 of 4.

Baylor’s LJ Cryer had 17 of his 19 points, in the second half. Adam Flagler had 16 and Keyonte George added 12 for the Bears.

BIG PICTURE

Baylor: The Bears shot 48.2% (27 of 56) but had no answers for Marquette’s defense and dug too deep a hole. Baylor rallied from a 25-deficit to force overtime in an NCAA Tournament loss to North Carolina last season, but the Bears never mounted any kind of comeback Tuesday.

Marquette: After losing to Purdue and Mississippi State earlier this season, the Golden Eagles delivered the kind of performance that showed they’re capable of beating anyone. Marquette will try to prove that again when it hosts Wisconsin on Saturday.

BIG 12 VS. BIG EAST

The Big 12-Big East Battle started Tuesday and runs through Sunday. Last season’s Big 12-Big East Battle ended in a 5-5 tie.

HONORING THOMPSON

Marquette came out of its locker room wearing shirts with No. 24 to honor George Thompson, who died in June of complications from diabetes. Thompson played for Marquette from 1967-69, and he was the school’s career scoring leader for 40 years.

Tuesday would have been Thompson’s 75th birthday. A No. 24 banner with Thompson’s name hangs from the Fiserv Forum rafters.

“I really felt like we needed to win tonight to honor George,” Smart said. “If you make it George Thompson Night, you couldn’t lose.”

UP NEXT

Baylor: Faces No. 14 Gonzaga on Friday in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Marquette: Hosts Wisconsin on Saturday.

Houston reaches No. 1 in AP poll for first time since 1983

Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports
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Make some room, Phi Slama Jama. Another Houston team has reached the top of men’s college basketball.

Nearly four decades after Clyde Drexler and Akeem Olajuwon took the Cougars to No. 1, the latest bunch led by Marcus Sasser and star freshman Jarace Walker took over the top spot in the AP Top 25. They received 45 of 63 first-place votes from the national media panel, easily outdistancing second-place Texas and third-place Virginia.

“It’s not like we went online and applied for it and waited for a response back. We’ve been working for this,” said Houston coach Kelvin Sampson, whose team is coming off a Final Four and Elite Eight trip the past two seasons. “But remember, it’s a rental. You don’t own it. You’re just renting it because someday somebody else is going to be No. 1.”

North Carolina had been No. 1 all season, but the Tar Heels lost to Iowa State and in a four-overtime thriller to Alabama at the Phil Knight Invitational to cede the top spot to Houston, which beat Kent State in its only game last week.

The last time the Cougars ascended to No. 1 was the final poll of the 1982-83 season, when “The Glide” and “The Dream” along with coach Guy Lewis were the favorites to win it all. They rolled through the NCAA Tournament before falling to Jim Valvano and North Carolina State in an iconic championship game in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

“I’ve never been ranked No. 1,” said Sampson, now in his 34th season as a college basketball coach. “We were ranked all 12 years at Oklahoma. I’m sure we were ranked at Indiana. Then we’ve been ranked five or six straight years. We’re used to having a high level of success.”

Texas received eight first-place votes and Virginia received two. Arizona climbed from 14th to fourth after emerging from a stacked field to win the Maui Invitational. Purdue jumped from 24th all the way to fifth and scooped up eight first-place votes after beating West Virginia, Gonzaga and Duke at the Phil Knight Legacy tourney.

“Our guys are competitive. They’re fun to coach. They get along. They’re out there playing with purpose and that’s what you have to have,” said Boilermakers coach Matt Painter, whose team was briefly No. 1 about this time last season.

“Early in the season, very few teams play with the purpose collectively,” he said. “I thought our guys played with a purpose.”

Baylor was sixth, Creighton seventh and U Conn climbed from 20th to eighth after beating Oregon, Alabama and Iowa State to win the Phil Knight Invitational. Kansas fell from third to ninth after losing to Tennessee in the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis, while Indiana rounded out the top 10.

There was a tie for 11th between SEC rivals Alabama and Arkansas with the Volunteers, another conference foe, right behind them. Gonzaga dropped from sixth to 14th, its first time outside the top 10 since Feb. 5, 2018, and Auburn was 15th.

Illinois was next followed by Duke and North Carolina in a tough week for Tobacco Road. The Blue Devils fell from eighth after their 75-56 loss to the Boilermakers.

Kentucky and Michigan State joined UCLA, Maryland, Iowa State, San Diego State and Ohio State in rounding out the poll.

RISING AND FALLING

Purdue made a rare 19-spot jump as the poll underwent a massive shakeup. UConn climbed 12 spots, Arizona moved up 10, Tennessee climbed nine and Alabama seven. On the flip side, the Tar Heels tumbled 17 spots, Duke dropped nine, Gonzaga fell eight and San Diego State fell seven.

IN AND OUT

Despite all the movement, Iowa State was the only newcomer this week, checking in at No. 23 after beating Villanova and North Carolina before falling to UConn. The Cyclones replaced Iowa, which dropped out after a one-week stay following its loss to TCU in the title game of the Emerald Coast Classic.

CONFERENCE WATCH

There are six difference conferences represented in the first seven teams in the poll. The Big Ten leads the way with six in the Top 25 while the SEC has five and the Big 12 has four, though three of them are in the top 10.

South Carolina tops women’s AP Top 25; Stanford, UConn next

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South Carolina remained the unanimous No. 1 choice in The Associated Press women’s poll, as the Gamecocks keep close watch on the foot injury of reigning Player of the Year Aliyah Boston.

The Gamecocks received all 29 first-place votes in the poll, a day after Boston left a game with her injury. Coach Dawn Staley said Boston was “questionable” going forward but added that the “team doctor wasn’t too, too concerned.”

South Carolina’s next game is at home against No. 15 UCLA.

Stanford remained No. 2 after cruising through a tournament in Hawaii. It’s the 618th appearance for Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer, tying the late Pat Summitt for most all-time. Summitt’s teams only missed being in the poll 14 times during her Hall of Fame career at Tennessee.

UConn, Ohio State and Indiana rounded out the top five.

The Huskies are one of four Big East teams to be ranked this week as Marquette entered the poll at No. 24. It’s the first time the Big East has four ranked teams since the conference realigned in 2014. The league is 56-14 so far this season, including going 8-2 against ranked teams.

“We’ve been trying to earn a little more respect,” Marquette coach Megan Duffy said of the Big East. “Tried to schedule tougher non-conference (games). ‘Nova’s playing people. Us going to the Bahamas was great. Creighton’s doing what they’ve been doing since last season. Getting some of those quality wins is everything.”

North Carolina moved up two spots to No. 6 after rallying to beat then-No. 5 Iowa State in the Phil Knight tournament. The Cyclones fell to eighth.

The Tar Heels visit the Hoosiers on Tuesday in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Indiana returns home after winning two games in Las Vegas at a subpar venue that lacked basic necessities.

Notre Dame remained No. 7 while Virginia Tech and Iowa finished off the top 10. At No. 9, Virginia Tech has matched its best ranking ever and is in the top 10 for the first time since 1999.

Tennessee fell out of the poll this week marking the 56th time in the 827-week history of the poll that the Lady Vols weren’t ranked. Kansas State also fell out with Gonzaga moving in at No. 23.

FALLING CARDINALS

Louisville dropped to 18th in the poll this week after falling to South Dakota State in the fifth place game at the Battle 4 Atlantis last week. It’s the Cardinals lowest ranking since Jan. 11, 2016.

Louisville entered the top 10 in the preseason poll in 2017 and hadn’t been out since, a span of 98 consecutive weeks. It was the longest active streak.

“It’s a compliment to the consistency that we built here,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said of being ranked in the top 10 for so long. “Obviously are goal would have been to stay in the top 10, but it’s a new team and growing.”

Edey scores 21 as No. 24 Purdue beats No. 8 Duke 75-56

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Zach Edey and No. 24 Purdue shook off a slow start. When No. 8 Duke tried to rally in the second half, the Boilermakers finished strong.

Edey had 21 points and 12 rebounds, and Purdue beat Duke 75-56 on Sunday in the championship game of the Phil Knight Legacy men’s tournament.

Fletcher Loyer scored 18 points for Purdue (6-0), and reserve Caleb Furst finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

“I feel like we weren’t getting the looks we wanted early. As we settled into the game, we kept our poise and kept getting the shots that we wanted,” Edey said. “They were making some tough twos at the beginning of the game, shots we’re OK with all season.”

The 7-foot-4 Edey was 7 for 13 from the field and 7 for 8 at the line. He was named tournament MVP.

“They have the most unique player in the country,” Duke coach Jon Scheyer said of Edey. “He’s a hard guy to prepare for because there’s nobody else like him.”

Duke (6-2) shot 36.2% (21 for 58) from the field. Tyres Proctor scored 16 points for the Blue Devils. Kyle Filipowski and Jeremy Roach each had 14.

Ethan Morton had a steal and a dunk to help Purdue open a 58-41 lead with 15:37 left in the second half.

Duke countered with an 8-0 run, capped by two foul shots by Dariq Whitehead. But Furst made a layup and a jumper to help hold off the Blue Devils.

A hook by Edey and a 3-pointer by Loyer made it 68-56 with 5:03 remaining.

Duke got off to a 14-7 start before Purdue worked its way back into the game.

“I don’t feel like we came out bad today, but they matched our energy,” Edey said.

A 3-pointer by Brandon Newman pushed the Purdue lead to 46-28. A late run by Duke cut the Boilermakers’ lead to 46-35 at halftime.

BIG PICTURE

Duke: It looked as if Roach had an issue with his left foot at one point, but he went back into the game. Scheyer said Roach had hurt his toe.

Purdue: Although neither team had great offensive games, Purdue was the better team from range. Purdue made seven 3-pointers to just two for Duke.

UP NEXT

Duke: Hosts Ohio State on Wednesday.

Purdue: Visits Florida State on Wednesday.