MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Manhattan is still bristling over its underdog image after ousting Oklahoma from the NCAA's Southeast Regional.
"I think we earned a little respect, but not enough," Jaspers guard Ted Ellis of Lanham, Md., said yesterday. "Their coach [Oklahoma's Kelvin Sampson] said the best team didn't win. We thought it did."
The Jaspers will get another chance to silence their doubters today, when they clash with fifth-seeded Arizona State at the Pyramid.
Manhattan was selected for the 64-team field as an at-large entry after losing the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament final to St. Peter's in overtime. The pick was criticized because the league is not perceived as a strong one and because the Jaspers did not play a tough schedule.
"Our team unfairly took a lot of shots," said coach Fran Fraschilla. "We feel like we can be a Xavier type of program that can get in the tournament as an at-large entry on a yearly basis if we win enough.
"We're not trying to be anything we're not. We know our place."
Zel,3 Arizona State presents a different type of challenge with its 40 minutes of pressure defense and up-and-down-the-floor style, a contrast to Oklahoma's preference for a half-court game.
Sun Devils coach Bill Frieder is not underestimating Manhattan, unsung but certainly not untalented.
"Put other names on their jerseys -- Georgetown or Indiana or Kentucky -- and all of a sudden there's immediate national respect," said Frieder. "You don't win 26 games by accident. I have a lot of concern about this basketball team."
Asked what he knew about Manhattan, Arizona State center Mario Bennett replied: "We know they beat the heck out of Oklahoma. That's about all you need to know."