Jaspers' start dulls hoped-for RPI pop
By Jim Masilak
December 2, 2006
John Calipari and Barry Rohrssen first met some 25 years ago as roommates and counselors at Howard Garfinkel's legendary Five-Star basketball camp.
"He's someone very special to me. I consider him even more family than friend. He's been a brother to me," said Rohrssen, the first-year coach at Manhattan, which faces the University of Memphis today at noon at FedExForum.
"He's been very generous with his time and guidance during my coaching career. That's something I'll always be appreciative of."
When Calipari scheduled Manhattan as one of the UofM's non-conference opponents, the Tigers' coach was doing more than a favor for an old friend.
With the Jaspers having played in either the NCAA tournament (2003-04) or the NIT ('02, '05) in four of the past five seasons, Calipari expected a solid mid-major opponent that would boost the Tigers' RPI.
What Calipari wasn't counting on was the Jaspers losing their season opener to a team, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, that was making its Division 1 debut.
Manhattan's 56-55 home loss to NJIT on Nov. 11 is one reason the Jaspers (2-4) enter today's game with a desultory RPI ranking of 317, according to Ken Pomeroy's Friday calculations. (Memphis is rated 20th.)
"New Jersey Tech? What is that, a prep school?" asked UofM guard Chris Douglas-Roberts. "In the past, Manhattan has been real good. That's surprising they lost to New Jersey Tech."
With so-called "buy" games still to come against Middle Tennessee (172nd in the RPI) Lamar (231) and Austin Peay (247), and an expanded slate of games against a seemingly weaker-than-ever Conference USA, the Tigers risk diminishing their own coefficient by playing a struggling team like Manhattan.
Calipari, however, isn't worried.
"At the end of the day, it will be (a good RPI game)," he said of today's clash with the Jaspers. "A good RPI game is a team that's gonna win 17, 18, 19 games. That's a good RPI game.
"All these teams will be good RPI teams."
Calipari cites the Jaspers' recent 79-77 win over Hofstra -- a trendy preseason selection as this year's George Mason but now scuffling at 3-3 -- as evidence of their potential for improvement.
With seven freshmen on their roster, including two in the starting lineup, Rohrssen says the Jaspers are full of players who were "big men on their high school campuses but are like deer in headlights right now."
"What was interesting when you look at the NJIT game," Rohrssen said, "was that team was playing in its first Division 1 basketball game ... but they had many guys who have played in several college basketball games, and we had way too many guys playing in their first game."
Led by junior forward Arturo Dubois and center Guy Ngarndi, Manhattan rebounded from the NJIT setback with wins over Wagner and Hofstra.
However, they flew to Memphis on Friday on the back of three straight defeats, to Princeton, Boston University and, on Thursday night, Fordham.
"For us, this is a high-level challenge," said Rohrssen, who was looking forward to taking his players to Gus's Fried Chicken for dinner Friday night. "It's an outstanding opportunity to play against a quality, top-notch opponent."
The 14th-ranked Tigers (4-1), for their part, expect to see a different Manhattan team than the one that capitulated to NJIT.
"New Jersey Tech? No, I've never heard of them. New Jersey Tech?" senior guard Jeremy Hunt said. "I'm sure they've recovered from it. Just by playing Memphis, they're gonna come in hyped up."
-- Jim Masilak: 529-2311
No. 14 Tigers vs. Manhattan
When, where: Today, noon, at FedExForum
TV, radio: WLMT (30), WREC-AM (600)