Old friends meet when No. 23 Seton Hall hosts Manhattan

NEWARK, N.J. — They met as assistant coaches at Louisville and on Saturday Kevin Willard and Steve Masiello will oppose each other for the first time when No. 23 Seton Hall hosts Manhattan on Saturday at the Prudential Center.

Willard has guided the Pirates to a 10-2 mark, while Masiello’s Jaspers are 5-6. The two were on Rick Pitino’s staff from 2005 to 2007.

Manhattan leads the series, 27-20, but the two schools haven’t faced each other since 2005.

“He (Masiello) needed a game, we really didn’t need a game,” said Willard. “I was stuck — this was going to be our last non-conference game, I was going to stay at 12. But I also thought we were going to see some zone, and he presses and goes to a zone, he plays hard-nosed defense.

“I thought going into the Christmas break, it would actually be a good game for us. His teams play hard, they’re physical, they rebound, and they defend, so I thought it’s going to be a good test for us going into Christmas, especially since we’re going to take a couple of days off after Christmas.”

Willard will be without the Pirates’ best defensive player, forward Ismael Sanogo, who was suspended on Friday for a violation of team and university rules. Sanogo is averaging 4.3 points and 4.6 rebounds. His minutes will go to Michael Nzei and freshman Sandro Mamukelashvili.

“Ish (Sanogo) has a responsibility to himself and his teammates to abide by all the rules of this university and team,” Willard said in a statement issued by the university’s athletic communications department. “Hopefully, he will understand the opportunity he has attending Seton Hall University, and he will make the changes he needs to be allowed back on this team.”

Led by point guard Khadeen Carrington, Seton Hall has finished with an even or positive assist-to-turnover ratio in nine of 12 games. Four different Pirates have recorded five assists or more in a single game this season (Carrington, Angel Delgado, Myles Powell and Desi Rodriguez.

Masiello credits Willard as a mentor.

“He (Willard) taught me how to scout,” said Masiello. “He’s the best basketball mind I’ve ever seen in my life. He’s a big part of what I know today.

“The thing that’s fun about these games is at least one of my friends got the win if we should lose.”

A win would give Manhattan its first victory over a ranked team since knocking off No. 17 Oklahoma 77-67 in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament on March 16, 1995.

Manhattan lost seven straight games to Big East opponents. Pauly Paulicap leads the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and ranks 14th nationally with 3.0 blocks per game while notching at least five on three occasions.

The Jaspers rank among the top three in seven different MAAC defensive categories, including pacing the league in blocks (4.4) and forced turnovers (15.4).

Over the last five games, the Jaspers limited teams to 66 points or fewer four times with the opposition averaging just 63.4 points, on 40.7 percent shooting (38.3 percent — 2nd half), including 32.8 percent from long range.

“Minus two games, we’ve been playing really good basketball,” Masiello said. “I would just like to see us rebound better. “I like our blueprint of where we are, taking teams out of their A and B options. We’ll just get better as the year goes on.”

Seton Hall opens conference play against Creighton on Thursday. Manhattan begins league play on Dec. 30 at home against Fairfield.

The Pirates have won 22 consecutive non-conference games at Prudential Center and 27 overall.