When: Friday, January 25, 7 p.m. EST
Where: Draddy Gymnasium, Bronx, New York
Life has not been easy for the Manhattan Jaspers through eight conference games. The Jaspers hold a subpar, 3-5 record after being picked to finish No. 2 in the league, but they did show signs of life by taking Canisius and Niagara down to the wire in their recent western New York road trip.
On Friday night, Manhattan will have a chance to get their season on the right track against Loyola (Md.), picked No. 1 in the MAAC preseason.
The Greyhounds are winners of five of their last six, and their 6-2 MAAC record puts them in second place at this point in the season.
Erik Etherly, the preseason MAAC Player of the Year, has been playing well ever since returning from an injury that sidelined him for five games.
Manhattan needs to protect its home floor if it wants any chance at a late run toward the conference title, and Loyola cannot afford to lose to a sixth-place team with tough games against Iona, Canisius and Niagara coming up.
Here is what each team will have to do to get the win on Friday night:
Keys for Loyola
Stick to Shane Richards
Richards has emerged as one of the top freshmen in the conference because of his three-point shooting.
Now averaging 7.1 points per game, he appears to be a top candidate for MAAC Freshman of the Year, along with Niagara's T.J. Cline. In his last four games, Richards is posting 14.3 points per game on 47.2 percent three-point shooting.
Statistically, Loyola is the No. 7 three-point defense in the country, holding opponents to just 27.8 percent shooting from deep.
Still, Richards has shown the ability to consistently find openings and knock down jump shots, so the Greyhound defenders must limit his shot opportunities.
Scoring two-point field goals on Manhattan is tough because the reigning MAAC Defensive Player of the Year roams the paint.
But even if you penetrate and miss a layup, there is a good chance Manhattan will foul you.
In their last four games, the Jaspers are averaging 27.3 fouls per game, and opponents are shooting 35.3 free throws.
The free-throw disparity was the main reason why Niagara avoided an upset against the Jaspers, and considering the Greyhounds shoot better than 70 percent from the charity stripe, it could be the difference for them as well.
Keys for Manhattan
Feed Rhamel Brown
Everyone knew about Brown's defensive prowess during his freshman and sophomore seasons, but this year he has emerged as one of the top offensive big men in the MAAC as well. He is averaging 11.7 points and 6.9 rebounds while shooting 56 percent from the field.
In the 10 games prior to the Niagara loss, he was posting 14.6 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.5 blocks.
The Jaspers play their best offensively when they feed Brown the ball in the post.
Crash the defensive glass
Loyola is No. 14 in the nation with a 38.8 offensive rebounding percentage. The Jaspers have struggled on the defensive glass at various points this season, and it has cost them a few games.
Loyola is already a much better offensive team, and giving the Greyhounds extra possessions could turn this game into a potential blowout.
My pick: Loyola 60, Manhattan 55
Manhattan is coming off a pair of close losses on the road, and this one will likely sting as well. The Jaspers are playing well enough to compete with any team in the conference; time and time again they have been unable to get over the hump and record a key victory.
Meanwhile, Loyola is putting the pieces together and has been playing great. The Greyhounds' only MAAC loss of the month is at Rider in a close game.
Jesse Kramer is a college basketball featured columnist on Bleacher Report and the founder of The Catch and Shoot Basketball Blog.