Best Case Scenario
By Miles Johnson
In November in the year of our Lord 2016, students, alums and fresh-faced future Lions will pack into Levien Gymnasium. As fans of all ages watch Kendall Jackson rack up triple-doubles, or Jeff Coby slam home put-back dunks, or even a transformed Chris McComber knock down 30-foot threes—as a wistful Cory Osetkowski watches from afar—one can notice Kyle Smith pace nervously on the sidelines. Then, a strange calm takes hold, and he tilts his head up toward the rafters and smiles.
“2015-16 NCAA National Champions – Columbia Lions.”
This, friends, is Columbia’s brightest timeline. Sure, I could sit here and thoughtfully and sincerely analyze a true best-case scenario for the Light Blue. I could talk about how the addition of senior forward Alex Rosenberg will make contests against Yale and Harvard more manageable, but that matchups against Bruce Weber’s Kansas State Wildcats, or Chris Collins’ Northwestern squad would still be tough to pull off. I could rattle off stats about how there’s only so much improvement that can be done to an otherwise beleaguered defense, or point out how a team with banged up key pieces like Rosenberg who is returning to game action for the first time in over a season due to a Jones fracture, or Grant Mullins who, despite appearing healthy, sat on the bench all of last season.
But what’s the point of that? Since when are sports about modest, rational expectations, and not about placing the fate of our happiness in the hands of the more athletic of our population? No, if you want a level-headed preseason prediction, one that will almost certainly be right by next February, free from any type of human error and able to be held to the strictest of accountability standards, go watch ESPN or something.
Things are about to get really optimistic, really fast.
Monday, November 16—Mark your calendars, because it’s the day that Maodo Lo goes into the Manhattan that time forgot and puts up 40 on Kansas State en route to an eight-point win. After a near win at Michigan State two years ago and leading Kentucky at the half last year, this upset is not up for debate—it’s happening. You think Bruce Weber gets pissed off now? Oh you have no idea.
Wednesday, December 2—The Light Blue find themselves at 6-1 after a drubbing at Northwestern, but nevertheless on one of their best starts in team history. Lo and Rosenberg pick-and-rolls look more like they belong to the 2006 Phoenix Suns, Conor Voss, with a little hard work and a lot of divine intervention, leads a defense that controls tempo and crashes the boards, and freshman Lukas Meisner has reportedly formerly requested to only be referred to as “Dirk Sr,” with the support of a certain NBA owner and Shark Tank celebrity judge—who asked to remain unnamed.
Saturday, January 16—Oh those poor fools at Cornell. Those poor, blindsided fools. The in-state rivalry is anything but competitive this year. In-air acrobatic layups from Kyle Castlin? Check. Hard screens from Conor Voss that would make Nick Collison look like a pasty body pillow? Yep. Are Alex Rosenberg’s pick and pop jumpers especially wet? You bet your ass they are—you have to wear snorkels in Levien now. Lions race out of the gate to a quick 2-0 start in Ivy play. Bwog reports that students saw Kyle Smith exiting the Columbia book store with armfuls of sweater vests and boxed cigars.
Friday, February 5—Justin Sears is not impressed with Columbia, or its fancy Bob Cousy Award finalists, or its unruly fanbase on Twitter. The Yale Daily News reported that before Friday night’s matchup, Sears wrote “who is simmonsclass” on the heels of his sneakers. But without right-hand man Javier Duren to run the offense, Sears looks a lot less invincible—less like Anthony Davis, and more like Ed Davis. Rosenberg is ejected for a hard screen on Sears in the closing minutes of the final half, which seemingly only fires up the Yale crowd even more, willing the Elis (what a stupid name, by the way) to a close win.
Friday, February 19—Remember that Yale loss? Yeah, apparently so do the Lions, who are showing flashes of brilliance compared by some to that of John Wooden’s fabled UCLA teams. They haven’t lost since the loss in New Haven two weeks prior, and looked determined to never lose again. They roll over a Harvard team struggling to find its way after losing a core part of its identity in Wesley Saunders and Steve Moundou-Missi. Grant Mullins embarrasses Corbin Miller on a devastating crossover and step-back jumper to put the Lions up eight and out of reach in the game’s final minutes. After the game, several people tweet screen grabs of a Mullins tweet of a hospital emoji to the official Harvard men’s basketball account, tagging Miller and head coach Tommy Amaker in the process.
Saturday, March 5—Yale and Columbia, the Ancient Eight’s top two teams, square off in front of a Levien crowd that looks more prepared for a gladiator battle than a basketball team. Bulldog effigies were found swinging from trees on the Morningside Heights campus, Justin Sears was conspicuously absent from the game notes, only referred to as “the referee’s favorite,” Kyle Smith hadn’t been seen out of his office in days, and surprised most when he appeared on the sideline with a Mel-Gibson-from-Castaway-esque beard. From the opening tip, this was the most physical, antagonistic game of basketball played in recent memory. Rosenberg gets away with an elbow to Sears’s rib cage on the opening possession on his way to a fadeaway jumper, and the crowd just about has to be strapped down to the bleachers. Columbia wins a close one, and clinches the Ivy title and a March Madness dance ticket.
Selection Sunday, March 13—If you don’t think Columbia has already raised two banners, one that reads “Ivy League Champs” and the other “Seth Davis is going to pick us to beat an ACC powerhouse on Sunday,” you don’t know this team very well. The Lions are bestowed a generous No. 10 seed, and open up in the Midwest division against a No. 7-seeded Wichita State team.
Saturday, April 2—There’s more light blue in Houston than when the Oklahoma City Thunder come to town, as a fan base starved for anything more than Onion-worthy headlines sees its dream season reach another echelon with a Final Four Berth. Columbia, matched up against a Kentucky team with length, relies on the continued hot streak of Maodo Lo, who has surpassed even the greatest of expectations. With the Lions up three with 40 seconds left, Lo drains a pull-up three and reaches out to dap up Kentucky coach John Calipari in front of the Kentucky bench. A team once giddy by an appearance in the CIT now has the chance at college basketball’s ultimate prize.
Monday, April 4—“Duke who?” is now the official motto of the Columbia men’s basketball team. Light Blue vs. Blue Devils; Kyle Smith vs. the “other Coach K.”; Alex Rosenberg vs. Grayson Allen. This matchup had the intrigue of a Stieg Larsson novel, the intensity of a Pete Mangurian press conference, and the narrative of a Pixar film. It had everything—and it was everything. The Lions won the game, sure, but the rest of us were the true victors, as we were able to witness the coronation of a new king of the college hardwood. Time will now be measured as BH or AH—before or after “holy shit the Lions won the whole thing.” Bill de Blasio offers Lo a key to New York City, which Lo turns down in a tweet that read “You ain’t low Bill #notmymayor,” complete with a dab emoji. Kyle Smith leaves for a coaching job at Illinois, but not before Columbia’s home floor is named after his favorite sandwich at JJ’s Place.
This is the storybook season for the Columbia Lions that is already fated to happen. All that’s left to do now is start shredding paper for the ticker tape parade.
Worst Case Scenario
By Sam Tydings
This is not your typical worst case scenario post, one where injuries debilitate a team, they lose heartbreaking games to their rivals and teams they should not struggle with alike, and the program will “have to answer many hard questions” in the offseason or something like that. No, this is Columbia athletics, and so the worst case scenario is something far more absurd. Let us peer into the crystal ball of despair:
Columbia begins the season November 16 against Kansas State, where they lose by 15. They follow that up four days later with a loss to Northwestern by 12. At one point after a Columbia turnover, the color commentator will make a joke about how the players should have a higher basketball IQ since Columbia is an Ivy League school. The play by play man will laugh like it is literally the funniest thing he has ever heard. The Lions are 0-2. They win their next four games and are in decent shape going into the game against Bucknell until Maodo Lo is suspended for this viral tweet:
The Lions lose by 23. Against St. Joe’s, they let a 12-point lead with eight minutes to go slip away, as the Hawks are inhibited by the spirits of Delonte West and Jameer Nelson and go on a 33-9 run down the stretch. The Lions are upended by Delaware as Dirk Junior skips the game, instead taking the Amtrak to DC to see Dirk Nowitzki (no relation) play the Wizards. The Lions get pounded in the paint as Kyle Smith wonders why Meisner couldn’t have waited until the Mavs played at MSG against the Knicks the next day. The Lions are 4-5.
But all is well for the Lions! They go on a nine-game winning streak because even in a dystopian worst case scenario, they still beat Cornell twice. They’re 13-5 and 2-0 in Ivy play! I’ve probably made a dumb tweet about booking my tickets to the NCAA Tournament already. Then, disaster strikes. The Lions team bus swerves off the road on the way to Hanover to play Dartmouth. They have to forfeit the game as they cannot get to the arena on time. More importantly than that, they are stranded in the woods. It’s snowing and night is already upon them. Days pass as the players are unable to locate civilization while trapped in the New Hampshire wilderness. They’ve run out of food. A once promising basketball campaign is now a fight for survival. The team separates into guards, forwards and coaching staff. The guards, led by Kendall Jackson, adopt the rallying cry Largar Morghulis (all bigs must die) and attack the forwards’ base camp. They are forced, tearfully, to use their former teammates for warmth and sustenance. Three days pass and the coaching staff encounters the 10 surviving guards. The guards don’t know how the coaches survived the desolate New Hampshire winter and quite frankly they don’t want to know. The Lions are 2-2 in Ivy play after the forfeits and have the rest of the season ahead of them, unfortunately without anyone taller than 6-5.
Whether it was insanity caused by consuming human flesh, a stroke of genius, or out of sheer necessity, the coaches and guards devise a plan to get back in the Ivy race: extreme smallball. Playing with only guards, the Lions push the tempo for the first time in the Smith era and race toward the top of the Ivy standings. Going into the final two weekends, the team is 8-2 in Ivy play. Unfortunately, they run out of gas. The Lions once again fall in Princeton’s Jadwin Gym, and after eating cheesesteaks that taste a little too much like their former teammates, they’re upended at Penn as well. They defeat Brown, needing a win against Yale to spoil the Eli’s chance at a tournament bid. The game is tied with just under a minute left. Like he’s done all game, Justin Sears backs down a smaller, helpless Lion defender for a turnaround bucket in the paint. On the other end of the floor the Lions are unable to free Lo around multiple double screens, forcing Kyle Castlin to hoist up a shot as time expires that hits the side of the rim. The season is over and in the worst-case scenario, the Lions finish 9-5 in Ivy play.
EPILOGUE: While the Bulldogs celebrate an Ivy title on the Levien Gym floor, the students and fans give the Lions guards and coaches a standing ovation. Kyle Smith takes the mic and addressed the crowd, expressing regret that the team did not win but joy that they survived, which is what truly matters. WKCR misses this touching moment because Saturday Night at the Opera started their broadcast too early. Maodo Lo announces he is emotionally drained and is ending his basketball career to pursue a job in the field of amphibian cardiology. A despondent Peter Andrews drops out of law school and becomes a nomad. Smith leaves in the offseason to take the Illinois head coaching job. The Lions do not win the Ivy title for another 42 years, but that’s a story for another day.