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Season Preview: CHD sits down with Manhattan coach Steve Masiello

To prepare for the tip-off of another great year of college basketball, CHD is reaching out to coaches and players around the country to get the inside scoop on what we can expect this time around. Jon Teitel continues our season preview series by chatting with Manhattan coach Steve Masiello about losing a national championship in overtime and then winning a title the very next year.

masiello

Your non-conference road schedule includes games against La Salle and South Carolina.  Which of these two games do you feel will present your biggest test? I have the utmost respect for those two teams, but we have a very tough schedule from top to bottom so you cannot get locked in on just one or two teams. All those games get you ready for conference play. We prepare the same way for every team on our schedule, which is what we did at Louisville and Kentucky.

You return each of your top seven scorers from last year’s team, how big a factor do you think your team’s experience will be this season? I would like to think it is, but I have seen young teams who won a lot of games and experienced teams that did not reach their full potential. It helps to have a good core but it does not guarantee success. We want to play like an experienced team but there are a lot of good teams in our conference.

What are your expectations for the upcoming season? It is the same every year: we want to compete for a conference title and a spot in the NCAA tourney. We do not talk about destinations: our goal is to just try to reach our potential every day and always overachieve. Your approach might change but your mindset is going to be the same.

In the 1997 NCAA title game as a walk-on at Kentucky for Coach Rick Pitino, tourney MOP Miles Simon scored 30 points in a five-point OT win by Arizona.  What did you think of the free throw disparity (Simon’s 17 free throw attempts were as many as Kentucky’s entire team)? They were probably a little more aggressive off the bounce, but it was a well-played game.

In the 1998 NCAA tourney under Coach Tubby Smith, Jeff Sheppard had 18 points and 11 rebounds in a two-point win over Duke: how were you able to come all the way back from an 18-point first half deficit? We were known as the “Comeback Cats” after trailing several games during the year. We just had a great mental toughness as a team and did not panic: we knew that we would make a run due to our style of play.

Tourney MOP Sheppard scored 16 points in a nine-point win over Utah to clinch the title: what did it mean to you to win the title, and how was Coach Smith able to win a title in his very first year? Any time you are part of a national champion it is a very special thing: I will never forget those memories. Coach Smith came in and knew that he was taking over a very good program that had been to two straight title games and had a lot of young returning players. He did not change too much: you do not mess with success.

In the 2000 NCAA tourney Tayshaun Prince scored 28 points in a five point, two-overtime win over St. Bonaventure.  Were does that rank among the most exciting games of your career? It was an exciting game…but at Kentucky it is Final 4 or bust so you are expected to win in the early rounds. It should not have been as exciting as it was: the most exciting are the ones that are the most meaningful.

In the 2004 NCAA tourney as an assistant at Manhattan, Luis Flores scored 26 points in an upset of fifth-seeded Florida.  What is the key to pulling off an upset in March? You need the mindset that you believe in yourself but also that you understand what your opponent is going to use against you. If you know they will play a zone defense, then you need a great zone offense and the ability to rebound.

In the 2011 NCAA tourney as an assistant to Pitino at Louisville, Demonte Harper made a three-point shot with 4.2 seconds left in a one-point upset by #13-seed Morehead State (which Pitino said was as tough a loss as he had)  Were does that rank among the most devastating losses of your career? They were a very good team: it is always tough to play an in-state team in the tourney with a future NBA player like Kenneth Faried. There are always a lot of variables: if Derek Anderson had played for in 1997, then we probably would have won the title. That game was not a good set-up for us: you do not want to play little brother down the street because of the familiarity they have with your team.

In 2011 you were named head coach at Manhattan: why did you take the job? Being an assistant here gave me great familiarity with the program. I am from New York so that was also important, and I love the tradition of this program.

In the 2012 MAAC tourney Emmy Andujar had 11 points and 15 rebounds in a two-point, overtime loss to Siena (the fifth time in six years that Siena eliminated your school from the conference tourney).  Did you think it just reached a point where Siena had your number? It was my first year there so I did not focus on what other schools did against us in the past. They were a good team and we just came up short because our starting point guard was out with an injury.

JonTeitel