Manhattan-Columbia Preview: Jaspers Search for 2nd Road Win in NYC Battle

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Manhattan-Columbia Preview: Jaspers Search for 2nd Road Win in NYC Battle
USA TODAY Sports

In an intra-New York City matchup, the Columbia Lions will host the Manhattan Jaspers on Saturday afternoon.

The Lions and the Jaspers have both been in funks recently, each losing four of its last five games.

However, this game could still be interesting, as both teams were expected to contend for their respective conference titles in the preseason.

Manhattan (3-7, 1-1 MAAC) was picked No. 2 in the MAAC back in November and even garnered two first-place votes. But the Jaspers have regressed with George Beamon, who led the MAAC in scoring last year, missing all but four games this season due to an ankle injury.

Columbia (5-5) was voted the third-best team in the Ivy League this season, behind Princeton and Harvard. The Lions flashed their potential in an 18-point win at Villanova, but losses at home to Marist and Elon show that there is still work to do.

With conference play nearing for both teams, this game serves as an opportunity for each to turn its season around before heading into the most crucial games of the season.

 

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Manhattan's Rhamel Brown, who won MAAC Defensive Player of the Year last season, currently leads the conference in blocks, with 1.9 per game.

Keys for Manhattan

Limiting Turnovers on Offense

Manhattan's biggest problem this season has been giving away possessions by turning the ball over. The Jaspers turn the ball over in 27.2 percent of their possessions, which is 341st in the nation.

Fortunately for the Jaspers, Columbia opponents have turned the ball over in only 19.4 percent of their possessions this year. 

Manhattan cannot afford to give the Lions extra possessions by giving away the ball.

 

Creating Turnovers on Defense

Manhattan has thrived by forcing turnovers and getting out in transition. Currently, the Jaspers are No. 18 in the country in turnover-percentage defense, with opponents giving the ball away in more than a quarter of their possessions.

However, Columbia controls the ball extremely well, turning it over only 16.3 percent of the time.

Manhattan will not stand much of a chance in this game unless it forces Columbia out of its comfort zone with its full-court pressure.

 

Half-Court Scoring

With Beamon injured, Manhattan has struggled to score in its half-court offense.

Mike Alvarado is the only Jasper scoring in double figures this season, but he cannot be relied on for consistent scoring. Last week against South Carolina, he was held scoreless, and even in his good performances, his scoring has come in bunches rather than throughout entire games.

Against the Gamecocks, freshman Shane Richards kept the Jaspers in the game with 18 points on six three-pointers, but the rookie should not be relied on as Manhattan's main scoring option.

 

Keys for Columbia

Alex Rosenberg

Rosenberg has been a crucial piece in all of Columbia's games this year. The sophomore is averaging 10.3 points and 4.4 rebounds per game, but he is posting 12.4 points and five rebounds in wins and only 8.2 points and 3.8 rebounds in losses.

When Columbia beat Manhattan last season, Rosenberg was a key part, with 11 points, five rebounds and three steals.

A strong performance from him tends to create positive results for the Lions.

 

Home-Court Advantage

Columbia is only 1-3 at home this season, and its only win was against Division III Haverford. However, the Lions have lost close games with Bucknell, a top-two team in the Patriot League, and Elon, a contender for the SoCon North title.

Columbia needs to be able to take advantage of playing games on its home court.

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Columbia's Grant Mullins is currently No. 2 in the Ivy League in field-goal percentage and No. 3 in three-point shooting. He is also No. 2 among the conference's freshmen in scoring.

 

Matchup to Watch

Both teams have found promise in freshman guards this season.

Richards has emerged for Manhattan as a scoring threat from beyond the arc. In his last four games, he is averaging 8.8 points per contest while making nearly 40 percent of his three-point attempts.

For Columbia, Grant Mullins immediately burst onto the scene as a scoring threat. Right now, he is playing like a possible Ivy League freshman of the year.

Mullins is averaging 11.9 points per game and posted 20 points against American a couple of weeks ago. He has also been extremely efficient, making 52.8 percent of his field-goal attempts and 51.4 percent of his treys.

 

My Pick: Columbia 65, Manhattan 61

Although neither team has been playing particularly great basketball recently, Columbia has shown more promise during the early parts of the season. 

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Last season, the Lions played a Beamon-less Manhattan team at Draddy Gymnasium and dominated the Jaspers. Rosenberg and point guard Brian Barbour created a guard-forward duo that Manhattan had trouble stopping.

Manhattan now has more experience playing without Beamon, so it should fare better than last year's 16-point loss.

If this game were at home, the Jaspers would be my pick. But their struggles in road games this season make Columbia the favorite.

 

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