Manhattan College ushers in the Steve Masiello era on Saturday afternoon with a season-opening game against the NJIT Highlanders. This will be the sixth consecutive year that the Jaspers open the season against NJIT—Manhattan won last year's opener 75-70.
The Highlanders—still infamous for their 51-game losing streak that stretched from February 24, 2007 to January 21, 2009—set a school record with 15 wins last year. They went 9-3 in the conference and finished No. 2 in the newly-formed Great West.
On the other hand, the Jaspers are in the rebuilding process. Rookie head coach Masiello, who spent four years as an assistant coach with the Jaspers (2001-2005), will be in charge of a team that won only six games last year en route to a last-place finish in the MAAC.
Keys for NJIT
The Highlanders' core group is composed mainly of upperclassmen. Their top returning scorers are senior Isaiah Wilkerson (13.6 PPG) and junior Chris Flores (12.6 PPG).
Manhattan is a much younger team and is playing with a new head coach. NJIT's experience could help the Highlanders get a handle on the game early on.
Free Throw Shooting
NJIT struggled last year from the charity stripe, shooting 61.8 percent. In last year's contest with the Jaspers, the Highlanders shot 13-for-24 (54.2 percent) from the foul line in a close game.
NJIT had some trouble taking care of the ball last year and had four players averaging more than two turnovers per game. Masiello is implementing a new defensive system at Manhattan that looks to force a lot of turnovers.
The Highlanders cannot afford to lose possessions to the Jasper defense.
Keys for Manhattan
Guard the Perimeter
NJIT shot 36.4 percent as a team last year. Although the Highlanders lost Jheryl Wilson (38.6 percent), they return with Arjun Ohri (45.9), Lamar Kearse (40.4), Wilkerson (35.5) and Flores (34.1).
Manhattan allowed nine three-pointers in its exhibition game against Adelphi last weekend. Perimeter defense has been a problem for Manhattan in past years—giving up open three-point looks will hurt them tremendously on Saturday.
No matter how much talk there is about the Manhattan basketball program being on the rise, the fact is that this is a young team with a bunch of new players and a new coaching staff.
This will be the 2011-12 Jaspers' first time on the basketball court against a D-1 team, and it could take a while for them to jell.
Masiello has brought Rick Pitino's defensive style to the Manhattan Jaspers. In the Jaspers' exhibition game against Adelphi, they forced 19 turnovers. Although this was against a lower-level team, the pressure defense seemed to be working.
However, the Jaspers had trouble taking advantage, scoring only eight points off of the 19 turnovers. If they can implement their defense against NJIT and capitalize on turnovers, they can start the season 1-0 fairly easily.
My pick: Manhattan will defeat NJIT for the fifth straight season. The Jaspers have a new fire with Masiello and they will not lose their home opener to an inferior team.
My line: Manhattan by eight
Follow Jesse Kramer on Twitter @Jesse_Kramer for more college basketball news and information.