Manhattan coach Steve Masiello concluded the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference basketball conference call on Monday thus: “Frankly, I hope we never play them again.”
Frankly, I hope they do.
“They” are the Iona Gaels, who will be trying to repeat as MAAC tournament champions when the postseason takes place in Springfield, Mass., later this week.
If Iona, the No. 1 seed, and No. 2 Manhattan meet in the championship game on Monday, look out.
The MAAC suits must be salivating over a possible rematch of last Friday’s 80-77 overtime win by Manhattan over Iona that sets the stage for what would be a terrific championship game.
This won’t make Masiello any more comfortable, but the pick here is for the Jaspers to win again, avenging last year’s 60-57 loss to Iona in the championship game.
What it boils down to is I don’t trust Iona to play enough defense to get through the MAAC tournament.
At 84.0 points per game, the Gaels have the fourth-leading scoring offense in the country — that’s out of 345 Division I teams — but conversely are near the bottom, at No. 326, in scoring defense.
By the end of the regular season, the conference shook out to produce a Big Four — Iona, Manhattan, Quinnipiac and Canisius; a fifth seed, Siena, that played above expectations and improved so steadily that the Saints finished with their first four-game winning streak since 2009-10; and the Other Six, who will play first-round games on Thursday.
I’m tossing Quinnipiac and Canisius — not lightly — from championship consideration.
The Bobcats, who are on the same side of the bracket as Manhattan, and beat the Jaspers twice during the regular season, but both games were close and took place well over a month ago.
In the meantime, Quinnipiac lost third-leading scorer Umar Shannon, a good three-point shooter, to a season-ending knee injury.
Canisius is a little trickier, because they have the deserved Player of the Year, Billy Baron, and will be fortified by the return of power forward Chris Manhertz, who missed a few games with a broken nose.
The Gaels get to the title game from that side of the bracket, though, because their offense is so diverse and breathtaking to behold when it’s in gear.
Manhattan has been on the rise since Masiello took over three seasons ago and has a fullcourt press that can give anyone problems, with the second-leading shot blocker in the country, Rhamel Brown, back there.
Two X factors are the health of point guard Mike Alvarado and awful free-throw shooting. Masiello said that Alvarado, who rolled his ankle last week, is due to practice today.
Iona makes it to the MAAC final against Manhattan, but I’m not saying which team, Siena or Canisius, the Gaels will go through to get there.
Saving that for later in the week.