Penn visits Columbia on Friday night in the conference opener for both squads. Columbia enters the game having won 11 of their last 12, most recently traveling to Elon and knocking off the Phoenix 65-60. Penn comes in off of Tuesday’s 68-57 Big Five loss to La Salle. The Quakers are 4-5 in their last nine games.
Where they Stand
These two teams have just completed very different non-conference slates. Penn, at 7-9, has played a whopping eight teams in Pomeroy’s Top 100. The Quakers are 0-8 in those games, but five of the contests were decided by single-digits and Penn has largely taken care of business against opponents outside of the Top 100.
Meanwhile, Columbia has not played anyone in the Top 100 since its season opening loss at UConn. Since Thanksgiving, the Lions have been on an absolute tear, losing only once at Marist. Any time a team rips off 11 of 12, it raises eyebrows, but really, how good is this Columbia team? It’s hard to tell given the weakness of the schedule, but we should have a much better idea after this weekend.
For the visitors, it’s all about the backcourt. Zack Rosen is a frontrunner for Player of the Year, though his scoring has cooled off as of late. Columbia’s defense has been its strength all season, but the Lions have not had to handle a point guard of Rosen’s caliber since Shabazz Napier of UConn. Rosen’s ability to get into the lane and finish or dish should really test Columbia’s defensive rotations and ability to get out on shooters (particularly Tyler Bernardini). Speaking of Bernardini, the 5th year senior has been hot from deep (43%) and is contributing on the boards as well, pulling down 5.7 rebounds per game. Penn is very thin on the interior and the Quakers regularly play four guards, but sophomore big man Fran Dougherty was impressive against La Salle, dropping 14 points and grabbing 6 rebounds. He and freshman Henry Brooks have shared time down low recently. For Penn, keeping the rebounding margin close will be a necessity.
For Columbia, exploiting Penn’s interior weakness is vital. The Lions will try to attack the block, getting the ball down low to Mark Cisco who will rely on strength and footwork to get his close-range buckets. Meanwhile, Meiko Lyles will be looking to have another sniper’s performance shooting the rock (46.6% from three on the season) and freshman Alex Rosenberg is likely to fill the stat sheet with his hustle on both ends of the court. The Barbour-Rosen match-up will be a pleasure for any basketball fan to watch as two of the league’s best guards, both of whom play over 84% of their team’s minutes, will go at each other all night. For Columbia, closing out on the Penn shooters and working the ball inside will provide the keys to victory.
While Penn has the ability to storm into Levien and ride hot shooting to a 1-0 start, I think Columbia has the slight advantage here. Cisco is the best big man in this game and the Columbia defense has proved its worth in tight contests this year. Rosen and Bernardini get their points, but Columbia wins a squeaker 58-55.