Chris Manhertz doesn’t recall many plays being run for him during his first two seasons at Canisius College.
“Maybe one or two, but nothing great,” he said. “I was in there to do the dirty work. That was my job.”
Canisius has assembled a deep backcourt with Billy Baron, Harold Washington and Isaac Sosa so while Manhertz still does the bulk of his work on the glass, he’s steadily transitioning himself from an undersized rebounder to a reliable offensive threat in the low post.
The improvement of his shooting touch and virtually every other phase of his game has enabled Canisius to run more plays for the 6-foot-6 junior, who is shooting a team-best 53.1 percent, nearly 10 points higher than a year ago.
“It’s about playing with more consistency,” said Manhertz as Canisius (15-9, 8-5 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) prepared for another clash Sunday at rival Niagara (14-10, 10-3). “Last year I would put a couple of good games together then I wouldn’t play well for a few games. I had to learn to play well game after game.”
Over the last six games, Manhertz is averaging 11.3 points and 9.1 rebounds. The team’s first game against Niagara, when he finished with 17 points and 15 rebounds, was arguably his finest as a collegian.
For the season, he’s been generating 7.8 points and 8.9 rebounds, second in the MAAC. While working on expanding his post game, Manhertz moves through opponents like a linebacker, impossible to block. He is explosive on the blocks and has soft hands.
He is terrific at the role, not simply converting the easy shots that come his way, but creating shots for teammates on the perimeter because opponents can no longer ignore Manhertz on the blocks.
“Obviously you want to get better every year, but at the same time having players like Billy, Harold, Jordan and Isaac around you kind of takes away from that a little bit and you don’t know what type of role you’re going to have,” Manhertz said. “I would say I’m a bit surprised by the season, but it’s a mind-set and Coach has given me confidence to not be afraid to do what I do best.”
The Big East is writing quite the storybook ending: Nine of the conference’s 15 teams are within two games of first place. Syracuse (7-2), Marquette (7-2), Louisville (7-3) and Notre Dame (6-4) were supposed to contend for first place and are following the script perfectly, while St. John’s (7-4) and Connecticut (5-4) have surprised.
Marquette could be the team that wins it all. The Golden Eagles play only four of their remaining nine games at home beginning today against DePaul (1-8) but the road games – at Georgetown (6-3) on Monday, Villanova (5-5) on Feb. 23 and St. John’s on March 9 – are winnable. Marquette hosts Pitt, Syracuse and Notre Dame.
Eleven teams remain unbeaten in conference play with half the season remaining. They are Akron (Mid-American), Belmont (Ohio Valley), Gonzaga (West Coast), Harvard and Princeton (Ivy), Louisiana Tech (WAC), Miami (ACC), Memphis (Conference USA), Montana (Big Sky), and Norfolk State and North Carolina Central (MEAC).
No. 5 Kansas (19-3, 7-2) may have dropped back-to-back games against Oklahoma State and TCU, but rarely are the Jayhawks vulnerable at Allen Fieldhouse. Bill Self is 157-8 at Allen coming into Monday’s game against Kansas State (18-4, 7-2), and the Jayhawks had won 33 consecutive at home and 101 of 102. If things hold true to form this weekend — KU is at Oklahoma, while K-State hosts Iowa State — Monday’s game will be for first place in the Big 12.
No one should be surprised at Pittsburgh’s victory over Syracuse last weekend. Pitt is 13-1 against Top 10 teams at home in the Petersen Events Center and Jamie Dixon is 10-3 against the Orange.
Miami may be down in football but things are looking up for Jim Larranaga and the Hurricanes’ basketball program, which is in line for a top seed. Miami (18-3, 9-0 ACC) hosts North Carolina today and sweeping the Tar Heels (16-6, 6-3) will look good on the resume. So would a season sweep over Duke (19-2, 6-2), which Miami can do when the teams meet again March 2. Then again, winning the ACC regular season title should be enough for a place on the top line. The ACC regular season champ has failed to earn a No. 1 seed only twice in the last 10 years and both times (North Carolina, in 2011 and Wake Forest in 2003) was awarded a No. 2 seed.
Victor Oladipo’s candidacy for Player of the Year is gathering momentum. The Indiana junior is listed fourth according to a straw poll this week by ESPN.com’s Michael Rothstein, who conducts the poll every two weeks. This is Oladipo’s first week on the list and he is one spot ahead of teammate Cody Zeller. Michigan’s Trey Burke leads the poll with 30 first place votes followed by Creighton’s Doug McDermott (21), Duke’s Mason Plumlee (four) and Oladipo (two). Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams, a Bob Cousy Award finalist, has one second-place vote.
It seems Providence guard Ricky Ledo is thinking about turning pro without ever playing for the Friars. Due to academic problems in high school, Ledo is a partial qualifier and is restricted to only practicing this season, where NBA scouts have been able to evaluate the 6-foot-6 shooting guard.
Ledo can score easily and knows the game well, but Providence could be special in 2013-14 with Ledo in the lineup, which would also enhance his draft status.