How to fix Columbia’s defense

Entering the season, the general consensus was that Columbia’s biggest flaw was its potential inability to keep its opponents’ scoring totals down.

A handful of performances aside, the Lions have done little so far to shake that criticism. They suffered what was easily their worst loss of the season on Saturday night, allowing Longwood to shoot 65.2 percent in the second half of a 70-69 gut-punch. Part of Columbia’s struggles can be chalked up to sheer fatigue (Saturday was its fourth game in one week), but it’s also obvious that there are serious structural flaws that coach Kyle Smith will need to compensate for going forward.

So, what are some realistic solutions?

1. Shuffle up the frontcourt

Luke Petrasek has excelled on the offensive end of the floor for Columbia this year, averaging 12 points per game with solid passing to boot. He hasn’t been a bad defender this year, but Smith may be best served sliding Petrasek to power forward or limiting his minutes a bit.

Who would step up? Conor Voss is one potential option. As a sheer space-filler, Voss can slot in at center for stretches — he did so against Longwood and played fine — which gives Smith the flexibility to move Petrasek around on the floor. Voss would also be a natural fit at the back end when Columbia occasionally switches things up and falls into a 1-3-1 zone.

Smith said he expects Voss to receive more minutes going forward.

“It’s funny, he’s been good offensively, but we need him to be a defensive rebounder,” Smith added of Voss.

2. Trust Jeff Coby

Coby, a junior forward, has played well enough to capitalize on the aforementioned frontcourt shakeup. Though he’s only played 55 minutes all season, Coby ranks fifth on the team in total rebounds with 23.

If Coby can keep attacking the glass at both ends on the floor in extended minutes, the Lions will look appreciably better at the defensive end.

3. Manage Alex Rosenberg’s limitations

When Petrasek has played at the five, Rosenberg has handled most of the power forward work. At this point in his career, though, he’s a known quantity on the defensive end of the floor. Statistically, he has actually regressed throughout his career.

In Rosenberg’s sophomore year, the Lions surrendered 100.9 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor. The following year, it was 104.1. This year, the number has ballooned to 111.5.

Rosenberg is too good offensively to have his role in the rotation significantly cut, but something has to change.

“We don’t want to play Alex at the four 30 minutes a game because rebounding’s not his strength,” Smith said.

By playing Rosenberg every now and then at small forward, Smith could expose Rosenberg to some smaller opponents, which may give him a better matchup on box-out opportunities.

4. Add some pressure 

No one’s asking Smith to transform into Shaka Smart and install a HAVOC-style system of constant full court press. But a bit of additional pressure may give the Lions some more opportunities to force some turnovers.

A half-court trap every now and then would shake up opponents and possibly keep them from getting into offensive sets.

4 thoughts on “How to fix Columbia’s defense

  1. Could not agree more with Ian. Three straight loses by one point. They all chould have been wins. He does not mention Lo. He can forget the NBA the way he is playing. Seems to have a lack of energy. Tired from all his playing this summer?

  2. I was so pumped for this season. But, it
    looks really bad now.

    What happened to Lo? What happened
    to Castlin.

    I thought Rosenberg and Lo playing together would be so exciting. But, there
    is no energy. No brilliant synergism.

    I am confused. Why isn’t this team doing incredible things on the court? They have the talent and the coaching. What’s going on?

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