The NCAA Tournament was still just a dream. Less than two weeks ago, Manhattan was in Massachusetts, looking to clinch its first tournament berth in 10 years. Before the MAAC championship, the Jaspers staff prepared a compilation of clips sent from family and friends, serving as motivation and inspiration. It began with Steve Masiello’s former Kentucky teammate, Scott Padgett, a former assistant at Manhattan. The clips kept coming, more than a dozen, including the team’s bus driver, Tony, and former Jaspers coach Fran Fraschilla. It ended with Louisville coach Rick Pitino. Masiello’s mentor listed a number of keys to winning and achieving their lifelong goal, closing by telling the Jaspers they had no bigger fans than the Cardinals. “He said, ‘Go Jaspers! We’re rooting for you out here in Louisville,’ ” junior guard RaShawn Stores recalled on Wednesday. “He said, ‘Go win the MAAC championship. I know you can do it.’ ” They did. Now, the 13th-seeded Jaspers will meet the defending national champion fourth-seeded Cardinals in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday night at the Amway Center. It is a weekend everyone has looked forward to all season, but an opponent neither side is eager to play. After cheering so hard for Manhattan to achieve its dream, Pitino reluctantly will try to crush it. “I didn’t even have to break down film because I watched everyone one of Steve’s games rooting like a passionate fan for him to get to the tournament,” said Pitino, who has known Masiello for more than 20 years, coaching him at Kentucky and hiring him as an assistant at Louisville. “I think sometimes committees make poor decisions in who they put you against … and I don’t think that’s right for either one of us.” Masiello and Pitino’s teams have played once, with Louisville handing Manhattan a 28-point loss last season, though the Jaspers were missing injured scoring-leader George Beamon. Though the Jaspers (25-7) and Cardinals (29-5) have each lost just once since Feb. 1, Louisville has done it in dominant fashion, winning its past 12 games by an average of 25 points. Beamon, however, said he isn’t overly concerned playing a title favorite that has made two straight Final Fours. The senior is making sure to enjoy every moment, knowing he’ll never be back again. “Feeling that tournament air, it’s just a different air out here,” Beamon said. “I’m just ready to play. I’m just happy to be here and be a part of this. Not just for us, but the fans and the community, it’s just a blessing to be out here.
Manhattan, Louisville unhappy to face each other
New York Post | Mar 20