With Iona losing Scott Machado and Mike Glover and Loyola Md. losing some key pieces, Manhattan has emerged as a potential favorite to win the MAAC in 2012-13.
The Jaspers won 21 games a year ago, good for a plus-15 win differential from 2010-11, and return almost every key player. Without Ashton Pankey — a 6-foot-9 Maryland transfer who is still waiting for an NCAA response to his appeal for immediate eligibility — Manhattan won’t be the clear favorite to win the league. There’s still a chance Pankey is cleared to play, though. Either way, the Jaspers have the pieces to be one of the country’s better mid-majors.
Led by George Beamon on offense, Manhattan has one of the most potent scorers in mid-major basketball. Steve Masiello’s system transformed the Jaspers into one of the MAAC’s best defensive teams, and with the high-pressure defense, Manhattan frustrated teams and scored many points in transition.
But entering 2012-13, Ken Pomeroy has Manhattan ranked No. 131 nationally, 22 spots behind Iona and two behind Loyola Md. Kenpom pits the Jaspers at No. 139 in adjusted defensive efficiency, and that’s where the problem with the ranking lies.
Last year, Manhattan ranked No. 92 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. It was Masiello’s first season at the helm, and the rookie head coach’s system is unequivocally responsible for the top 100 ranking.
Statistical rankings can only discern so much. Coaching change is taken into account by Kenpom’s preseason ranking, but it plays a minor role. And therefore, his algorithm predicts Manhattan’s defense will regress towards the level of the Barry Rohrssen era — it doesn’t think the Jaspers can sustain such a level of efficiency. But Rohrssen is gone, and Masiello’s system is entirely different to its core.
In reality, Manhattan actually should be more efficient on defense this year. For one, the returners already have a season of Masiello’s system under their belts, so they are less prone to mistakes. But Manhattan also lost just two rotation players to graduation, both of whom are replaceable on the defensive end.
Liam McCabe-Moran was a good shooter — more so in the first half of 2011-12 — but his lack of quickness actually made him a defensive liability. Kidani Brutus was very determined and active defensively — definitely at least your average defender — but his loss cannot be viewed as crucial.
At least not when C.J. Jones, reputed as one of the best defenders in his freshman class, is set to suit up. Masiello called Jones “the best on ball defender” he’s ever seen, and while that may be somewhat exaggerated, the former Louisville assistant has seen many ferocious defenders.
Additionally, if the NCAA grants Pankey’s appeal, Manhattan would have the best defensive frontcourt in the MAAC, led by block machine Rhamel Brown.
Preseason rankings are essentially nominal, whether assessed by coaches, media or an algorithm.
But for what it’s worth, Manhattan should rank higher than No. 131 in the country.