by, Pete Janny, Sports Editor
Manhattan’s schedule looked a lot different than anticipated this weekend after it was announced that Monmouth was dealing with COVID-19 problems that will sideline them for two weeks.
It was later revealed on Sunday evening by Monmouth basketball’s Twitter account that the original positive tests were actually false positives. While Monmouth is spared for now from having to quarantine, it’s still a disappointing realization for both teams given that there was no threat after all. The false alarm was a similar episode to what the Manhattan women’s team experienced when they cancelled their first couple of games of the season due to a positive test that was later reversed to a false positive.
Manhattan entered the weekend on a three-game winning streak that was going to be put to the test against a Monmouth team currently occupying third place in the MAAC standings.
Although the series has been postponed, nothing has been announced yet as to when both teams will reconvene to play each other.
Manhattan now turns their attention to the Saint Peter’s Peacocks in anticipation for a weekend series in which both teams will play on Friday and Saturday nights at 8 pm in Jersey City, New Jersey.
“We gotta look at the film to see what we did and didn’t do well,” Masiello said after his team swept Niagara two weekends ago. “Then try to take away the strengths from the next team we’re playing.”
This season has seen a lot of schedule changes around college basketball, so technically there’s no guarantee that Saint Peter’s will be next on Manhattan’s agenda. Given the back-to-back format in the MAAC, it seems the conference has had a little more flexibility than other conferences around the country for making schedule adjustments whenever COVID-19 issues arise. But still, it hasn’t been easy by any means to keep the season going as sacrifices have to be made by almost every team. On any given day, the future could get more blurred if new cases are suddenly discovered within the tier one groups for programs. Things could change quickly, and that’s what happened on Friday when the news about Monmouth surfaced only a few hours before the series opener.
Despite the flexibility of the back-to-back schedule format and the relative close proximity of its member schools, the MAAC has enforced some of the strictest guidelines in the country, highlighted by the 14-day quarantines apparently agreed upon by conference officials. To contrast, there are division one teams around the country that have gone uninterrupted when an isolated case or two has been discovered within their program, putting them at a marked advantage compared to MAAC teams who are facing much stricter measures. It’s anyone’s debate as to what the right methods are to defend college basketball programs against COVID-19 outbreaks, but these discrepancies across conferences are having competitive implications and that goes without saying.
On the hardwood, Monmouth has had Manhattan’s number in recent years, having defeated the Jaspers in eight of their last nine meetings between the schools.
This season the Hawks boast the best scoring attack in the MAAC, averaging a supreme 79.6 points-per-game that could beat defenses in a variety of ways. The senior trio of Deion Hammond, George Papas, and Malik Martin is averaging a combined 41 points-per-game for the Hawks, with Hammond (18.3 ppg) owning the second-best scoring average in the MAAC behind only Iona’s Isaiah Ross (22.3 ppg).
On the other hand, despite their three-game winning streak, the Manhattan offense has lacked any real consistency, averaging a meager 62.4 ppg and 26.8 percent shooting from three to put them in last place for both categories. For context, Manhattan has recorded 70 points or more in regulation on only one occasion this season, when they beat Rider 87-77 in their second game of the season. By factoring in Monmouth’s 40 percent shooting mark from three, the amount of differences between both offenses grows even larger. Generally speaking, though, the recipe for winning games in this league has come on the defensive end, and that’s where Manhattan can outperform the Hawks. The Jaspers surrender only 64.6 ppg to opponents which is almost nine points less than Monmouth’s defense.
The series last season between the two schools saw Manhattan lose to the Hawks by seven at home before falling by 20 on the road in early March.
After starting the season slow, Manhattan has been playing better of late and shouldn’t be taken for granted by anyone, including top teams like Monmouth.
Any weekend in the MAAC is as tough to predict as the forecast for next month. In some of the more recent action alone, Manhattan’s Ebube Ebube fouled out in three minutes against Niagara, Saint Peter’s went over eight minutes without scoring against Siena, and Rider lost to Marist by only nine after trailing by as much as 34 points and could’ve made it even closer if not for a few missed bunnies down the stretch. The case in point is that crazy things happen in this college basketball circuit that just so happens to reside in the northeast. Rest assured, whackier things have been manifested in this conference than the prospect of Manhattan sweeping Monmouth, or Saint Peter’s, the Jaspers’ next scheduled opponent who is coming off a series split with heavyweight Siena.
After all, Steve Masiello’s locker room doesn’t look to have any quitters in it. That trait alone may be able to take the Jaspers farther than most might think.