Entering their final non-conference game against Stony Brook (KenPom #113) tonight, Kyle Smith’s Columbia Lions are generating some serious buzz. After a heartbreaking defeat against Manhattan and a hard fought loss to then-#2 Michigan State, the Lions are 8-4 over their last 12 games. Coach Smith is settling on his eight-man rotation, and these young Lions are looking like a team that can contend at the top of the league. The unanswered question remains; is this the same Columbia team from last season that looked strong entering conference play, but then limped to a 4-10 conference finish, or is this a different pride of lions?
The biggest question entering this season was how the Columbia guards would fill the void left by Brian Barbour and limit turnovers. Although the Lions turn the ball over on 19.4% of their possessions (226th in the country), the turnovers aren’t killing Columbia, and are simply a product of Smith’s unconventional, high-risk, high-reward offense.
Columbia’s man-to-man offense involves an array of odd-angled backdoor cuts from the free throw line extended, big men handling the ball at the top of the key, and ball screens that lead to many 30-second possessions that often end in layups, threes or turnovers.
In response to getting beaten backdoor a few times, defenders end up overplaying Columbia’s backdoor cuts. This leaves defenders sagging toward the hoop, going under screens, and creating wide open three-pointers that Columbia is knocking down at 41.1% – good for 18th best in the country. Ultimately, when they don’t turn the ball over in their man offense, the Lions are getting very high-percentage looks – they are ranked 59th in the country in Effective Field Goal Percentage at 53.0%.
While Columbia takes advantage of man defenses, the Lions are much more deadly against zone. Their three-point shooting shows no signs of slowing down. The most impressive story behind their success is that they are doing it all without their best shooter from last season, Steve Frankoski, who shot 45.5% last season from long distance, and has been out with a right hand/wrist injury. (Note: Frankoski has been in the layup lines, and his stroke looks like it”s in mid-season form – Ivy League Conference beware.)
Here are the three reasons why the Crimson and the Tigers shouldn”t feel too cozy at the top:
1. These Lions are BIG and play defense.
They’re 9th in the country in Defensive Rebounding Percentage, grabbing 74.9% of all missed shots on the defensive end, and also hold opponents to just a 45.1% eFG%, good for 53rd in the country.
Freshman Luke Petrasek is emerging as a serious lockdown defender thanks to his length and athleticism, and is now consistently guarding opponents” best wing or big man.
When they need to go big, the Lions can play a front line consisting of Petrasek (6″10″”), Osetkowski (6’11’’), and Rosenberg (6’7’’), as they did for several minutes against St. Francis (NY), allowing them to be flexible in their defensive strategy. They can then fall into their 2-3 matchup zone, and not worry about giving up many weak side rebounds.
Don”t forget about the guards – they’ve been just as important on the glass. Columbia’s Renaissance Man, starting guard, Isaac Cohen (6’4’’), leads the team in rebounding at 5.9 per game, and posted a 14-rebound performance in their recent 81-61 victory over St. Francis. Almost as impressive on the glass is starting shooting guard, Maodo Lo, who is second on the team in rebounding, with 4.4 per game.
Having two guards leading your team in rebounding may sound disconcerting, but it seems to be working out well for the Lions as they’re outrebounding their opponents consistently.
2. Columbia has three players shooting over 40% from three.
Alex Rosenberg (51.5%), Maodo Lo (49.1%) and Meiko Lyles (42.6%) are all shooting over 40% from three. Not far behind is Grant Mullins, who’s shooting 38.4% from three.
Though they’ve taken too few attempts to qualify, Cory Osetkowski is 50% on 6-12, and Isaac Cohen is 60% on 3-5. Conceivably, Entra nel online di 888. if Mullins can creep into the 40’s against Stony Brook, Columbia could have six players shooting over 40% from three going into conference play. When Frankoski returns, Columbia could have seven!
I think I’ve made my point; Columbia can shoot the rock from downtown.
3. The success of their offense no longer hinges on one or two players.
As a team, the Lions are shooting 44.7% from the field, and have an eFG of 53%, good for 58th best in the country. Mullins (12.8 ppg), Rosenberg (12.5 ppg) and Lo (12.3 ppg) are collectively leading the balanced offense – each has posted at least one game over 20 points – and Luke Petrasek is fourth on the team, scoring 8.7 points per game. When at least one of the four scores over 20 points, Columbia is 6-1 – the one loss, Manhattan.
Mullins is a threat to score 20 every night, but his team needs him to run the offense. He leads the team in minutes at over 31 per game, and is best when playing off the ball. That said, he’s creating for himself much more than he did last season and getting to the rim. The ability to work his way to the bucket could be one of Mullins” biggest weapons as he shoots around 90% from the stripe.
Rosenberg came off the bench for the first 13 games, but never got discouraged. He’s been arguably the Lions’ best and most efficient offensive player this season. He’s 70th in the country at drawing fouls, a bruise-inducing 7.0 per 40 minutes, and has converted at a great clip at the line, 79.1%. He’s shooting 51.5% from behind the arc, and isn’t forcing his offense or turning the ball over like he was prone to do last season – he has only 12 turnovers in 15 games. Rosenberg seemed to be embracing his role off the bench, but with all of his production, Coach Smith may slot him in as a starter more often as we head into the conference season.
From the eye test, Columbia is at its best when Lo leads the scoring charge, while Mullins and Cohen run the offense. Lo is shooting 48.9% from the field, and has been outstanding finishing in transition. At times, he shies away from his offensive game and has a tough time creating in the half court offense, but if a defender gets lazy and he gets an open look at a three, he has been lights out. If he can continue to contribute during conference season the way he has so far, he”s looking at an All-Ivy Second Team honor.
Can the Lions become Kings of the Ivy League? Tweet at us about it @ivyhoopsonline or join the discussion below!