After a four-game road trip with stops at Syracuse and Colorado State as part of the NIT Season Tip-Off, the Manhattan Jaspers (3-2) return home to take on the Columbia Lions (0-4).
Although the Jaspers won a pair of games away from home, their trip ended on a disappointing note. After coming back from down 15 points in the second half against Colorado State and forcing overtime, they fell five points short of the Rams in the extra period.
On the other side, Columbia had a promising start to season, sticking closer than expected with defending NCAA champion Connecticut, and then appearing to be on its way to its first win with a 31-19 halftime lead over Furman.
However, star guard Noruwa Agho left the game in the second half with a knee injury that will most likely end his season.
The Lions went on to lose to Furman, 62-58. Since then, they have also lost to American and Stony Brook.
For a battle of two New York schools separated by only a couple of miles, here are the keys to the game for each team.
Keys for Columbia
Find a Replacement for Agho
Agho's replacement does not have to be a single player, although it could be. The only player who can come close to carrying the team like Agho did is junior Brian Barbour. He has done a good job filling in, averaging 20.5 points per game since Agho was injured.
However, Barbour needs help in order for Columbia to be successful.
Use Size to Their Advantage
Columbia is not a particularly big team, but Manhattan is slightly smaller. Manhattan's tallest everyday player is Roberto Colonette at 6-foot-7. Watching the 6-foot-4 George Beamon guard the 7-foot Fab Melo of Syracuse last week was actually quite humorous.
Although the Lions don't have anyone quite like Melo, they do have a pair of 6-foot-10 centers in Mark Cisco and Cory Osetowksi. They are not the type of players that one would expect a big game from, but maybe they can put something together against the smaller opponent.
What was the main reason that Manhattan beat NJIT and Brown?
The Jaspers tired them out with their fast-paced game and pressure defense.
Despite both Jasper opponents sticking close deep into the game, there just did not seem to be enough left in the tank for them to win by the time the last few minutes of regulation rolled around.
Who will win Saturday's game?
Keys for Manhattan
Be Physical, but Don't be Too Physical
One of Manhattan's biggest issues against Colorado State was foul trouble. The Jaspers were whistled for 35 fouls on Tuesday, leading to the Rams shooting 18 more free throws than the Jaspers shot.
Not only did Colorado State get a bonus at the charity stripe, but plenty of Jaspers were in foul trouble throughout the game.
Brutus and Beamon fouled out in regulation, and the Jaspers would have had a better chance of winning in overtime if they had the co-captains on the hardwood.
Take Care of the Ball
Possibly the Jaspers' weakest point in the young season has been turnovers, as they have averaged 17 per game. When the Jaspers turn over the basketball, they go through long stretches when they do not score. But when Manhattan is taking care of the ball, it scores at a fairly efficient rate.
Possibly the most pleasing part of the style of play that Steve Masiello instituted at Manhattan is that it is no longer a one-man show.
Although Beamon leads the Jaspers in scoring, Manhattan has several players who can step up and score. The Jaspers have seven players averaging five or more points per game, five of whom have posted as many as 15 points in a single game this season.
My pick: Without Agho, Columbia will struggle against every team it plays. If Agho ends up not playing again this season, there is an outside chance the Lions will not win a game without finding a way to replace his production.
On the other side, the rapidly improving Jaspers need a bounce-back win after the loss to Colorado State. Columbia might stay close for a large chunk of this game, but Manhattan will eventually tire out the Lions and improve to 4-2.
My line: Manhattan by 12