As Manhattan coach Steve Masiello was watching the NCAA Tournament Selection Show, he had two teams he was keeping an eye on.
His own Jaspers had qualified as the champions of the MAAC. He also wanted to know where his mentor, Rick Pitino, would be playing. Masiello spent six years on Pitino’s staff in Louisville and his Jaspers very much model themselves after the Cardinals.
When Louisville’s name flipped over first, he was happy to see his mentor heading to Orlando. When his Manhattan team’s name flipped over next, the fun and emotion of the selection got sucked out of him. He would have to play against his mentor and one of his key resources would not be around to help him.
“I would have played any of the 67 teams and been fine with it because there’s no emotion involved, not because of the basketball aspect, because they’re terrific teams, but the emotion is what makes it hard, and you have to cut that off right away. ”
It might be different for the players who will see familiar faces and a familiar style on the floor at Amway Center later tonight.
Guard George Beamon grew up playing against Louisville guard Russ Smith. Smith, of course, was recruited by Masiano and considered transferring to Manhattan with Masiello a few years ago.
Then, of course, there are the similar playing styles.
“Our philosophy is based after Louisville,” Manhattan guard Michael Alvarado said. “We’re like them, but they’re on steroids pretty much, so it’s like we both press, we both have similar philosophies and the better team is going to win.”
His teammate George Beamon agreed and noted that the Jaspers watched Cardinals game film to help them prep for their own offense and defense in practice. Masiello deadpanned throughout his press conference Wednesday about how little he knows Pitino and how the team will not press at all.
That is obviously not his team’s identity or what his team is about. They will have to play their style and be the same trapping aggressive team they always have been to defeat the defending national champion.
“We press like him, we trap like him, his offensive sets are just like ours, and they should be,” Rick Pitino said. “He played under me, he was an assistant coach. That’s why I don’t like the game. I don’t know why [the selection committee] would do it. This is not a 1-16. It’s not that type of [game] — it’s anybody’s game. He’s got a veteran ballclub that I have great respect for. We could lose the game if we don’t play well.”
Of course, there is a difference. Louisville has Russ Smith and some of the best talent in the nation.
Talent is never a guarantee for victory, but it sure helps. Especially coming off a national championship and especially on this stage which Manhattan may not be used to, having missed out on the last been to the Tournament 10 years ago.
“I think it’s just different,” Smith said with all respect to Masiano. “Obviously at this level at University of Louisville and a bunch of schools like that, it’s an athletic barrier that I think separates high major from mid major. But honestly, their guys guys are extremely talented.
“They’re extremely talented, so to say that we’re maybe bigger, a more athletic version of that, that may be the correct statement, but I don’t think we’re too far off. Maybe as a whole as far as 13 players down the roster, but in a starting lineup, Manhattan is extremely talented.”
Eventually little brother has to beat big brother right? It does happen in the backyard basketball games.
Thursday night, we will see if it happens at the NCAA Tournament.