Manhattan finished the regular season 14-16 overall with a 9-9 league record and enters this weekend’s MAAC tournament as the #5 seed. The Jaspers will face off against local rival Iona in the quarterfinal round Saturday night at 9:30.
The Jaspers and Gaels squared off in three consecutive MAAC finals between 2013 and 2015, but will now meet in an earlier round of the tournament for the first time in over 16 years.
“Iona’s set the bar for this conference, and we understand that,” Manhattan coach Steve Masiello said of his first round opponent. “We’re going against a team that has done it and continues to do it. He’s done it with different kids, and he’s done an excellent job. So whether it’s in the quarters, whether it’s at Iona, at Nassau, it doesn’t matter where it is or what round it’s in. It’s Iona.”
Player to Watch: #33 Pauly Paulicap, So. F
Manhattan is led by fifth-year senior Rich Williams, who averages 14.7 ppg along with 4.8 rebounds per game and 2.7 assists per game. Williams is the only current Jasper to have played in multiple NCAA Tournaments, and will be trying to get back to his first since 2015. The Brooklyn native missed all of last season with a knee injury, but returned to be named to the All-MAAC Second Team this year.
Williams is the Jaspers’ leader on the court, but sophomore forward Pauly Paulicap their most electric player. Paulicap was recently named the MAAC Defensive Player of the Year, and should remain locked into the same position for the next two seasons.
Paulicap has quickly established himself as an elite rim protector and a violent force in the paint. His 6.7 rpg leads the team, and his 2.6 blocks per game leads the MAAC by a wide margin and ranks 16th nationally. The Elmont, NY native also adds 9.8 ppg while connecting on 56.0% of his shots, and has been known to come through with a highlight reel dunk or two each night.
Manhattan’s crew of four seniors includes Zane Waterman, Zavier Turner, and Calvin Crawford alongside Williams. Each has played a pivotal role in getting Manhattan to this point and all are capable of leaving an indelible mark on the program this postseason.
Waterman anchors the frontcourt alongside Paulicap and contributes 11.9 ppg along with 6.6 rpg and is capable of stepping out to the perimeter to knock down a three. The North Carolina native was named to the All-MAAC Third Team, and scored double figures in seven of nine games down the stretch.
Zavier Turner holds down the point to the tune of 10.6 ppg and a team-leading 4.2 apg, and is one of the league’s best free throw shooters at 82.1%. The Ball State transfer is entering the MAAC tournament in great form. Turner scored 31 points with eight assists in the Jaspers’ season finale against Quinnipiac, and turned in a career-high 11 assists two games ago at Iona.
Crawford has been solid on the wing this season, averaging 8.2 ppg along with 4.6 rpg. His versatility and ability to stretch the floor has allowed Masiello to gameplan efficiently and provided space for Waterman and Paulicap to work inside.
“I’ve been pretty encouraged throughout the year about this group just because of who they are,” Masiello said. “I’m optimistic about this team just because of the battles they’ve been through, some fifth-year seniors, fourth-year seniors, guys who have been to the [NCAA] Tournament. I’m encouraged because of who they are.”
The Jaspers have always been active on the defensive end under Masiello, and their high-pressure schemes have often led to success in the conference tournament. Per KenPom.com, Manhattan is among the top 20 teams in all of Division I in Defensive Turnover Percentage
Additionally, Manhattan’s success along both sides of the arc could prove a difficult matchup for Iona and any further opponents. The Jaspers lead the league in three-points offense (41.7%) and rank third in perimeter defense (35.4%). Though the Gaels have topped the Jaspers the last six times they’ve met, Manhattan has earned the victory the last two times they square off in the MAAC tournament.
Manhattan owns the pedigree to make a March run through Albany, and if able to pass its initial test, should prove difficult to handle at any other point along the way.
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.