Just about halfway into this 2008-2009 season, the Jaspers have yet to play to their best ability for a full game. Inconsistency is the word to describe the Jaspers thus far, as they can look energetic and cohesive in one game while they play flat and lackluster in another. Different players have been clicking at different times, but they cannot collectively put it all together.
The Jaspers have an overall record of 7-6 and are 1-1 in MAAC (Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) play. The Jaspers do not have much to be proud of so far, but they have most of conference play left to prove that they belong in the upper tier of the MAAC.
Although a 7-6 record may not sound bad, at this point, the Jaspers expected themselves to be far better than that. Coach Barry Rohrssen did not schedule games against quality opponents, to say the least, and the Jaspers still are only one game above .500.
In the RPI ratings (Rating Percentage Index), which is a measure of a team’s strength of schedule and performance against their opponents, the Jaspers place 221 out of 343 teams. That is seventh in the MAAC, only ahead of Iona, Marist, and St. Peter’s. However, when looking at strength of schedule itself, which puts aside performance, the Jaspers are 311 of 343. That is dead last in the MAAC.
In contrast, Siena, the top-rated team in the MAAC, has an RPI of 37 and a strength of schedule of 26. St. Peter’s, with a 4-8 record, is 301 in strength of schedule. Even N.J.I.T., which has lost an NCAA Division I record 42 games in a row, including 13 in a row this season, is 282 in strength of schedule.
The best team Manhattan has beaten is Binghamton, which ranks 211 in RPI. Manhattan only has six games on its schedule with teams that are currently in the RPI top 100, and they are all in the MAAC: Siena—37, Niagara—66, and Fairfield—81. Manhattan had a demoralizing road loss on Nov. 26 to St. Francis of Brooklyn, which places 241 in RPI.
Rohrssen certainly did not take advantage of the out-of-conference schedule. It may have helped the Jaspers to schedule a game against higher quality opponents to get some experience in big games and prepare them for conference play.
Arguably the most inconsistent part about the Jaspers is their offense. As a team, they average 67.8 points per game, which is fifth in the MAAC. In wins, Manhattan averages 71 points, while in losses they average 62 points.
When watching the Jaspers, it seems they have no offensive strategy, as players just pass the ball around the perimeter until someone has an open three or someone drives to the basket and creates. Most points come off of three-pointers and fast breaks.
The sophomore Chris Smith is Manhattan’s leading scorer with 14.6 ppg. In wins, Smith averages 19.8 points, while in losses, Smith averages just 7.6 points, including three games with five points or less. They need consistent production from Smith in order to be successful this season. That is a lot to put on one player’s shoulders though.
After Smith, Darryl Crawford averages 11.8 and Devon Austin averages 11.7. Crawford had 29 points against Binghamton but has been inconsistent as well. Austin has been Manhattan’s lone three-point threat the last two seasons, but this year he is shooting only 29.7 percent from beyond the arc.
Austin is one of two seniors on the team, and they need him to step up and be a consistent scorer if the Jaspers are to succeed. Austin has only had three 15+ point games, and he has four games with 10 or less, including two two-point performances. The Jaspers need Austin to be a leader.
Not only do the Jaspers need more consistency at shooting guard, but point guard as well. Antoine Pearson is without a doubt Manhattan’s best point guard, as he has proved in the past. He has the ability to beat anyone off the dribble and sees the floor well.
However, he is not seeing as much action as he has in the past. This year, he only plays 24.3 minutes per game opposed to last year’s 29.5 mpg. Too many people are running the point this year, and it makes it very difficult for the Jaspers to get into an offensive rhythm.
This year Pearson does not drive to the basket as much as he has in past years, and the Jaspers have to chuck up more threes. This is partly due to the lack of a set offense. But if Pearson can create more for himself, it will help his teammates get open, and they will no longer need to rely on the three.
The Jaspers have had a hole at the center position ever since the graduation of Guy Ngarndi in 2006. The Jaspers need an inside presence not only for scoring, but for rebounding too.
Manhattan’s tallest starter has been Herve Banogle at 6'8". Banogle is only averaging 4.5 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. His backup, Brandon Adams, is 6'6" and averaging 4.8 points and 4 rebounds per contest. There is a visible absence at the center position for Manhattan, which forces them to heavily rely on their guards.
Andrew Gabriel, the 6'6" sophomore power forward, is averaging 6.2 points and 4.8 boards. Even though Gabriel’s numbers are acceptable, he is an undersized power forward.
In a small conference such as the MAAC, it is very difficult to find quality big men, and the Jaspers have had a lot of trouble when they play teams with dominant centers and power forwards.
A few matchups to watch will be when Manhattan plays Niagara, Siena, and Iona. Niagara has 6'10" Benson Egemonye, who is averaging 12.1 points and 7.4 rebounds. Siena has 6'6" center Alex Franklin, who plays very much like he is 6'10", averaging 13.8 points and 6.8 rebounds. Iona has 7'0" junior transfer from Louisville center Jonathan Huffman, who is averaging 7.1 points and 3.9 boards.
Manhattan’s big men are providing the Jaspers with just 25.1 percent of their points. In order for Manhattan to compete with top conference opponents, they will need much improved performances from Banogle, Adams, and Gabriel.
A bright spot has been the play of 6'9" sophomore Laurence Jolicoeur. He had six points and eight rebounds (six offensive) in just 17 minutes off the bench vs. American University.
Free Throw Shooting
Manhattan’s free throw shooting has been despicable. Manhattan is shooting 66 percent from the line this year, and it has cost them some much-needed wins. In wins, Manhattan is shooting 76 percent from the line, while in losses they are shooting a pathetic 56 percent.
In a 70-68 loss at St. Francis, Manhattan shot just 11-22 from the line. In a 65-61 loss to Hofstra, Manhattan shot 17-27 (63 percent) from the line. Against American University, Manhattan shot just 7-12 (58 percent). If Manhattan wants to start winning these close games, they need to convert at the free throw line.
Coach Rohrssen has done an excellent job in getting talented guards to attend Manhattan. However, getting big men has been a different story. This year, Manhattan brought in just one scholarship freshman, Djibril Coulibaly. Coulibaly is a 6'8" center who has seen just six total minutes in one game so far.
In Rohrssen’s first season in Riverdale, 2006-2007, the Jaspers finished 13-17, but 10-5 in the MAAC. He also brought in Pearson and Crawford. That year, Austin averaged 12.4 points, Crawford averaged 9.6, Pearson averaged 9.5, and Patrick Bouli (another guard) averaged 6.3. It seemed Manhattan was on the rise.
In 2007-2008, Manhattan finished 12-19 and just 5-13 in the MAAC. The Jaspers had a much worse MAAC season and saw little improvement from the previous year, even though they only lost one player in Guy Ngarndi. This year, Pearson is averaging about the same as he did three years ago, while Austin is averaging less. Manhattan has seen little improvement in three years both in record and production.
The Jaspers do have a lot of potential though, as they have displayed it at different times. They need better play inside and more consistent play from the guards. It is just a matter of everything coming together at once.
What to Watch for
Manhattan hosts the first place Siena Saints at Draddy Gymnasium on Sunday, Jan. 11 at 4 pm. Expect the Jaspers to be close, as they have knocked off the number one teams at home in each of the last two seasons, beating Marist 75-74 in 2007 and Siena 73-72 in 2008. On Saturday, Jan. 24, the Jaspers get a shot to play at the World's Most Famous Arena as Manhattan plays Iona at Madison Square Garden at 9 pm.
On Saturday, Jan. 31, Manhattan hosts Niagara at 7 pm. It should be interesting to see the Jaspers against the fast-paced Purple Eagles offense with 6'10" center Benson Egemonye. On senior day, Sunday, Feb. 15, the Jaspers host the Rider Broncs and Ryan Thompson, the MAAC points leader. He is also the brother of Jason Thompson, the 6'11" rookie for the Sacramento Kings.