By any conventional metric, Columbia’s chance to compete in the Ivy League this year should have come to a quick and inglorious end on Nov. 14, when senior star Noruwa Agho tore the patellar tendon in his knee in the second half of a loss to Furman. Agho was the Lions’ squad, the All-Ivy player whose transcendent play kept the middling Columbia squad from being embarrassed too badly by the Ivy League opposition. Without him, they’d be nothing…right?
Well, after opening the season with four consecutive losses, the Lions have roared back to relevance with an 11-1 run in their last twelve games, vaulting them to a very respectable (and hugely surprising) 11-5 record at the start of Ivy League play. Point guard Brian Barbour, thrust into a more prominent role after playing a (very competent) second banana to Agho last year, has taken the reins of the team. Joining Barbour on this improbable Cinderella ride are sharpshooter Meiko Lyles (.466 from beyond the arc) and bruising center Mark Cisco, who’s averaging 6.6 rebounds per contest. On top of that, the whole team is playing shut down defense. Columbia allows only 95.3 points for every hundred defensive possessions, good enough for 83rd in the country.
Meanwhile, a few stops southbound on New Jersey Transit, the Princeton Tigers are finding their groove after an embarrassing 1-5 start. Princeton’s defense is just a half step behind the Lions’ (95.9 to 95.3), still good enough to rank among the top hundred defensive teams in the country.
Sophomore point guard T.J. Bray has stepped up this season to become one of the Tigers’ go-to players, dishing out dimes to slashing star forward Ian Hummer and sweet shooting Doug Davis, who’s shooting the deep ball well (.417) and online slots often (115 3-point attempts on the season).
Last year Princeton took both games of the series en route to an Ivy League championship: a 30-point blowout on Columbia’s home court and a 5-point squeaker in Jadwin Gymnasium. But even without Agho, Columbia is a more dangerous team this season – hungrier, gutsier, and playing with a bit of a chip on its shoulder.
Columbia seems intent on seeing just how far it can stretch the limits of the Ewing Theory (the concept, created by Bill Simmons, that a team, upon losing its signature star player, will somehow find a way to perform above and beyond its abilities to the point where the team is better than it was before). Princeton needs to win early and decisively in Ivy League play to prove they’ve got what Du kannst beispielsweise gemeinsam mit zahlreichen anderen Spielern hoffen und bangen, wahrend du im nur mit dir selbst beschaftigt sein wirst. it takes to hang with the big boys at the top of the league. So what do the two teams need to watch for in this early Ivy League play test and who will emerge victorious?
Keys to the Game
The current Princeton squad has two glaring weaknesses – a propensity to turn the ball over, especially against heightened defensive pressure, and a tendency to settle for outside jumpers and three pointers when the offense stagnates. That means if Columbia wants to compete in this game, they’re going to have to win the battle on the defensive end of the court. Steals and long rebounds off missed threes will let the Lions steal a couple easy transition baskets before Princeton can get back and set its defense. Barbour should have no problem penetrating against Princeton, as driving point guards have been a trouble spot for the Tiger defense all season. If he can get to the basket or set up Lyles for open looks before the defense can rotate, Columbia might be able to hang with the Tigers.
For the Tigers, the game against Columbia essentially boils down to a battle for the paint. If Mark Cisco can push around Mack Darrow and Pat Saunders down low, get offensive rebounds, and score at will, it’s going to be a very long day for Princeton. Fortunately for the Tigers, true center Brendan Connolly is coming off his best game of the season, scoring 16 points in 17 minutes (take that stat line with an entire shaker of salt, however: Princeton was playing D-III TCNJ, and the tallest player in their starting lineup was 6-5). If some combination of Connolly and the other Tiger big men can effectively contain Cisco, Princeton has an excellent chance to win.
Princeton will jump out to an early lead behind a flurry of Doug Davis corner threes and Denton Koon tip-ins. But Columbia, as they’ve done so often this year, comes from behind in the second half as Connolly sits with foul trouble and Mark Cisco camps out in the paint. Columbia asserts itself in the Ivy League and continues to write its surprising success story while Princeton is left wondering where it all went wrong.