Can the Lions become Kings of the Ivy League Jungle?

Below, Wolfgang breaks down the Ivy
Below, Wolfgang breaks down the Ivy”s hottest team. But will it translate to conference success?

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!

10 thoughts on “Can the Lions become Kings of the Ivy League Jungle?

  1. The Lions seem to have more pieces than in past years. A legitimate four man rotation (Weezie, Rosey, and the Twin Towers) in the frontcourt and a five man rotation (including a healthy Frankoski!) in the backcourt. That’s enough to cope with individual off-nights and foul trouble. It also should allow Columbia to wear down short-benched opponents.

    But, they have to do it on the court, and they have to do it now. It all begins with a convincing win over a credible Stony Brook group Wednesday night.

    Then, it is time for this group of Lions to erase the lingering doubts about their ability to carry solid pre-season performances over to league play.

    I’d check back after a month of Ivy play and a couple back-to-backs, particularly that Southern New England swing. It doesn’t look as if Columbia is going to get any “help” at all from their traveling partner this year. If the Lions are 5-1 when they welcome Harvard to Levien Gym in mid-Feb, they’ll have that chance to rule the jungle. That will provide enough evidence for me that things are different.

  2. Great article, Wolfgang! Thanks for explaining the Lions’ offense. Tonight, Columbia was a Two Lion Show with Maodo Lo getting 29 points and Alex Rosenberg 24. Stony Brook is a very good team, but Lo and Rosenberg were just outstanding tonight. They are two of the best players in the Ivy League. However, if the Lions are going to become the King of the Jungle, they will need some more scoring from their teammates.

    • Thanks, Buckeye – much appreciated. The Lions didn’t spread the wealth around too much, but they didn’t really need to tonight. They took care of the glass, and silly Stony Brook decided to fall back into a zone. The Stony coach cited Columbia’s slow possessions for tiring out the Seawolf defenders. Petrasek got in foul trouble early, and was mentally checked out a bit. Osetkowski played much better than his stat line, and boxed his guys out really well. Overall, a great penultimate game to the non-conference season before the Lions step all over Central Pennsylvania. Bring on the Big Red.

  3. Wow! Fantastic game against SB, which is a quality team. Agreed that Lo and Rosenberg were awesome, especially Lo in the 2nd half. I thought the Lions had great ball movement and good outside looks, unfortunately the shots weren’t going down for the others. They also dominated on the boards against a solid front court, got to the line and hit most of their foul shots.

    As seen by their close games against Michigan State and St. John’s, these guys can play with anybody in the country. Two opening games against Cornell should put them at 2-0 before they head out to Yale and Brown. Tough, but certainly winnable games.

    It would be great if the Lions were 4-0 heading down to Jadwin the second weekend of February.

  4. If the Ivy League is to have a race this year, other than the one I predicted for second place, the Lions’ recent emergence as a well-balanced and versatile machine at both ends of the court could not have occurred at a better time. We’ve had some great story lines this year: Harvard’s quest for national ranking, Princeton’s surprising strength after losing super-star Ian Hummer, and Columbia’s nearly-unblemished record at home. Some downers, too: Cornell’s disastrous start and Penn’s shocking inability to get much from its unquestionably talented group.
    Take heart, Ivy fans. Harvard couldn’t get to 60 against a Connecticut team trying to find itself 15 games into its season. Harvard’s top 5 players can beat any Ivy team, as long as Saunders is one of them. Without him they are not the same, as we saw last night.
    Columbia has improved from last year in most every respect and could get even better with Frankoski. Amaker knows how hard it can be to beat the Lions in NYC. It should be even tougher this season. Brown, Dartmouth and Yale will be pesky on most nights. Maybe we’ll have a race for first place! And a whole bunch of post-season teams!!!

    • I doubt that we’ll have a race for first place. Maybe, just maybe, somebody springs an upset on Harvard somewhere down the line. The problem is that teams 2 through 4 are too evenly matched — they’ll give each other losses as well. A Crimson team with one loss might still finish three games ahead of the field.

      • The Crimson lost 3 road games last year. Can’t imagine that they won’t lose as many this season, even if Penn has no shot. Brown, Yale and/or Dartmouth can be very difficult. I assume the Lions and Tigers will hold serve.Three losses sets up a strong possibility of another 2 or 3 team playoff.
        I can dream, can’t I?

        • Review the reader comment thread in the last Ivy power poll. Harvard has on its current roster eleven of the fifteen highest rated recruits brought in by any Ivy, repeat — ANY Ivy — in the seven years since Amaker arrived. That is a talent advantage of historic proportions. If Amaker does not win the title this year, he should look for another line of work because nobody will ever have this kind of advantage in athleticism again. The academic withdrawal of Curry and Casey essentially gave this year’s roster five years of recruiting superstars — unprecedented.

          Harvard will win the title outright this year. You can bank on it. Even one league loss would be an upset, even though the conference is in fact stronger than usual down through the standings until you get to Penn and Cornell.

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