The saying is that your home gym is a fortress; for Columbia, Levien Gymnasium — literally and figuratively — is better called a bunker. The Lions lost just four games there last year: a defeat at the death to Manhattan in the home opener, a double-overtime loss to Harvard assisted by the officials, a 10-point loss to Princeton and the CIT quarterfinal against Yale. Total margin of defeat: 18 points.
It comes as a shock now when the Lions lose in their bunker, as they did last night. It was another close game, as Loyola (Md.) scored a buzzer-beater to finish off the Light Blue after the home side’s furious fightback. Final two minutes aside, the result exposed some fairly major issues with a still congealing squad.
FRONTCOURT FOLLIES: The Lions are hurting in the frontcourt. Jeff Coby has shown flashes of talent, including a huge double-double against Lehigh, but he has also shown a consistent knack for thwacking opposing players and getting fouls called on himself, limiting his minutes. Chris McComber is more of a perimeter threat, and his shooting has gone ice cold in recent games — 0-for-4 from the field against Loyola. Conor Voss is a mountain of a man who is sadly not very good at basketball.
All of this would be fine, except that Cory Osetkowski — senior captain and starting center — isn’t playing well. Osetkowski does a fine job when posting up, but his pass-first nature leads him to neglect many easy opportunities. Four-of-nine isn’t going to cut it for the big guy. He’s struggled defensively, too, with Loyola forwards Franz Rassman and Nick Gorski slashing the Lions to the tune of 27 combined points. Osetkowski needs to be a greater threat for Columbia at both ends of the court.
DEPTH CHARGES: He’ll be helped by the return of sophomore forward Luke Petrasek, whenever that may be. The 6-foot-10 big man hasn’t played yet this season, though he’s gone through full warmups each of the last three days. I expect him to start getting worked into the rotation soon.
Petrasek, of course, isn’t the only hole for the Light Blue. Grant Mullins has missed the entire season and is now out indefinitely — the silky smooth passer and shooter would do a world of good in this offense. Meiko Lyles and Zach En’Wezoh, who both left the program, are missed in the lineup as well. The big one, of course, is all-Ivy forward Alex Rosenberg, who willed the Lions to victory at times last year. In his absence, the offense has looked herky-jerky, with little decisiveness and silly turnovers much more common.
ON THE BRIGHT SIDE: Things, though, aren’t all bad for the Lions. Maodo Lo has played some of the best ball of his career so far this season, and his crossover dribble will have the rest of the Ivies locating specialists in treating broken ankles come league play. Kyle Castlin has been a godsend, a whirl of aggression and natural ability trying to fill some of the holse Rosenberg left crashing the boards and driving to the cup. Fouls aside, Coby has looked very good this year, and the aforementioned return of Petrasek should be a big help.
More than anything, though, it’s important to remember how destabilized this team was last month. Injuries to your best player and two other big pieces are hard to simply absorb, and a bad loss like this shouldn’t cover up the impressiveness of their overall results so far. The bunker may have been breached, but it’s not collapsing six games into the season.
Bucknell this Saturday will be a huge measuring stick — before, of course, Columbia shocks the world down in Lexington, Ky., on December 10. (Hey, a team can dream.)