Manhattan College is a small, private, Catholic University located in the Bronx, New York. It is home to between 3,000 and 4,000 students each semester. The University of South Florida (USF) is a public university with around 10 times the enrollment, and an endowment about six times as large. Following a very successful year, in which he took his team to within 6 points of upending Rick Pitino and his defending champion Louisville Cardinals, Manhattan coach Steve Masiello is taking his system to South Florida. Masiello will agree to a five year deal worth over $1 million annually, quite a jump from his Manhattan salary, which was in the range of $200,000 per year.
At only 37 years old, Masiello has already completed his third year as an NCAA Division I head coach. After walking on the the Kentucky basketball team and playing for Rick Pitino and Tubby Smith, Masiello immediately jumped into coaching where he had stints as an assistant for Tulane and Manhattan. Already familiar with Pitino’s system and style of play, Masiello became an assistant for Louisville before returning to Manhattan as the new head coach in 2011. There, he instituted the same aggressive style used on all of Pitino’s squads: aggressive man defense, double teams, and persistent pressure end to end on the ball-handler. Manhattan, who only had eight 20-win seasons in the past 60 years, went a combined 60-39 during Masiello’s three-year tenure.
While Masiello has all the makings of a fantastic coach, there is only so much success that can be had in a a small, private institution as opposed to an enormous, public one like USF. The South Florida Bulls just completed their first season in the American Athletic Conference (AAC), an absolute power conference that is further expanding next season with three additional teams. Of all of the teams currently in the conference, USF has the worst basketball history, with a .464 winning percentage. In spite of that, the Bulls are in a good position to succeed going forward, between their location, conference, and school resources. Masiello’s recent success should help him with recruiting and his style may be appealing to players who want to be a part of an up-tempo system with a lot of room to run and improvise.
While it likely was not a factor in his decision, the AAC is also home to a familiar opponent. Masiello and Pitino will now square off several times a season, and potentially in post-season tournaments, as both will be a part of the same conference. Before their NCAA Tournament match-up, Pitino was upset about having to play against his former student, assistant, and even ball boy while he coached the Knicks in the 1980’s. The two will have to learn to enjoy their rivalry for as long as they are at their current schools, because the story of teacher vs. protege is going to come up during every game.
Masiello, with his new found resources, should be able to turn USF into a competitor. Even though the Bulls finished last in their conference in 2013-2014, they have some talent returning, such as 6’10” freshman John Egbunu. Masiello has a long way to go before he is anywhere near his two-time national champion head coach Rick Pitino, but he now has the tools and system to make it happen in South Florida.
Commentary by Brian Moore