FSU's first opponent is a good one. Manhattan won the MAAC bid last year and then took Louisville to the buzzer before falling. Tomahawk Nation answered questions about FSU over at A Daly Dose of Hoops, which you should check out. We also reached out to Ari Kramer at One Bid Wonders for some insight on the Jaspers.
TN - Steve Masiello and resume-gate was the big off-season story line. What's the feeling around the program now that he's back at Manhattan? Do you think this will be a one year gig before he jumps to a power seven conference or do you see him sticking in Manhattan a while and trying to build them into a smaller-school power?
OBW - The team has moved on. I asked Masiello how that happened so seamlessly -- if there was a player or two, in particular, who helped rally the troops -- and he said he wasn't sure. But it's clear that this group is unified and motivated to bring maximum effort for their coach. That said, they know opposing crowds will relentlessly ridicule Masiello. It's not a scandal that's going to disappear, and they're prepared to handle whatever adversity may come their way because of it.
As for the second question, I'm not sure. I think it depends on what else happens on the coaching circuit. If, for example, St. John's fires Steve Lavin, I wouldn't be surprised to see Masiello hop boroughs -- if St. John's will take him. That's the roadblock. Would high-profile schools in vulnerable situations -- the openings would exist for a reason -- risk their image on a coach who falsified his resume? They know Masiello completed his degree over the summer, but, as I mentioned before, people haven't forgotten the scandal -- for proof, look no further than you posing this question first. Masiello can still rectify his reputation in the eye of the greater American public. Can he do it in a year? If he can't, is there a school willing to hire him? We'll see. My guess is he's still at Manhattan next year, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him leave if offered a bigger job.
TN - Last year's Manhattan team - which nearly knocked Louisville out of the tourney - graduated all three double digit scorers, one of who was a 1st Team All Conference player and another who was conference Defensive Player of the Year. Where is the leadership going to come from this year? And do you expect the program to take a step backwards?
OBW - Masiello has said he's more concerned about replacing the leadership than he is the numbers. He has repeatedly said George Beamon, Rhamel Brown and Mike Alvarado embodied Manhattan's culture. However, Rashawn Stores was a leader on last year's team, and he's back. Emmy Andujar and Ashton Pankey should also be able to step into that role.
This team is good. The MAAC coaches picked the Jaspers third in the preseason poll. I think they belong second, behind Iona. Either way, they'll be in the thick of the hunt for the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The key, in my opinion, is how they adjust to not having Rhamel. As great as Beamon and Alvarado were, Manhattan has players that can fill their roles. Pankey looks like he has improved since his strong finish to last season, but his defensive presence at the rim isn't nearly as imposing as Rhamel's. Rhamel could change games with his interior defense. I don't see Pankey as that type of defender. And this year, Manhattan doesn't have a bruiser to replace the starting center, be it for fouls or rest. Last year, Manhattan could have either Rhamel or Pankey on the floor for most of the game -- if not both at the same time. Now, if Pankey gets into foul trouble, opponents will be able to attack a softer big like Carlton Allen or a thinner five like Zane Waterman.
Even if this team lacks a solid rim protector in the middle of the matchup zone, the Jaspers are long and athletic, which suits their style well. Calvin Crawford and Jermaine Lawrence -- 6-foot-8 and 6-foot-10, respectively -- are athletic forwards who will bolster Manhattan's press, and the 6-foot-9 Waterman is a relentless hustle player who finds ways to disrupt opponents. So the defense will still wear down opponents. I expect Manhattan's defense to still be one of the MAAC's best. It'll just derive its efficiency from different sources.
When I said before that the Jaspers have the players to replace Beamon and Alvarado's offensive production, I meant they have, in my estimation, players that can fill their void by committee. If it's Rich Williams scoring 17 and Rashawn Stores giving 12 one night, it could be Jermaine Lawrence and Shane Richards the next. But I think the real key to replacing Beamon and Alvarado is having Andujar consistently show an ability to put the team on his back. Beamon and Alvarado did that so many times throughout their career. Andujar has that potential, and we've seen it several times, like in last year's overtime win over Iona.
No matter how you break it down, this team will look different from a personnel standpoint. I think it'll take some time, but at some point, I wouldn't be surprised if this team is better than last year. The record won't reflect that because Manhattan will lose some games while its new faces and players in new roles adjust, but I would fully expect the Jaspers to have as good of a shot as any MAAC team of making the NCAA tournament.
TN- I can't imagine that the MAAC has had many consensus 5* recruits before, but Manhattan has one in Jermaine Lawrence. He was relatively quiet last year at Cincinnati, but what are the expectations for him this season?
OBW - One thing that's clear: Masiello expects Lawrence to rebound. The coach pulled his star transfer from Saturday's exhibition because he didn't like Lawrence's lack of ferocity crashing the glass (he had two rebounds). I think the baseline expectations are that he'll rebound, defend and run the floor well, but he showed no hesitation in launching four treys (and hitting three) in the exhibition. He didn't shoot a single three at Cincinnati. So if he can also score with range out beyond the arc, he'll be an all-league player by season's end and Manhattan will have a "big three" that can match Iona's.
TN - FSU likes to get out and run. They can really struggle when teams slow them down and force a half court game. What about Manhattan? Do you think this will be a grinder or will both teams be looking to run?
OBW - My guess is Manhattan will run opportunistically. The Jaspers press to cause havoc and force teams to start their offensive sets later in the shot clock. They do trap in the right scenarios, and if they force a turnover, they will run. But I don't think Manhattan's going into this game to out-run Florida State.
TN - Manhattan has had back-to-back seasons where they've been in the nation's top 10 in free throw rate. Was this driven by personnel, or are Masiello's teams constantly attacking the rim?
OBW - I'm more inclined to say personnel. Alvarado never showed any fear attacking the rim, so he got fouled a lot. Beamon was one of the league's more challenging defensive assignments because of his quickness, so he got fouled a lot. Rhamel was a big man who struggled at the foul line, so he got fouled a lot. Is that to say this year's team doesn't have players who will attack, be hard to guard or struggle shooting foul shots? No. Andujar attacks the rim -- it's no secret that that's how he scores most of his points -- and he draws fouls in doing so. This year, he'll have more of an offensive responsibility, so you'll see him driving even more. Lawrence could be hard to guard because of his athleticism and mismatch potential, and Ashton Pankey shot 51.8 percent from the line last year.
TN - Finally, give me a score prediction and a bit about how you think the game will play out.
OBW - This one's tough because it's the first game of the season AND I don't know much about Florida State. I don't expect it'll be a blowout either way. I'll give you that.