What happened last year (25-10, 10-4): Columbia was expected to vie for last year’s Ivy title with Yale and Princeton, but an overtime loss at home to Princeton midseason relegated Columbia to a lower tier within the conference and a CIT appearance. Columbia made the most of the CIT, though, winning the tournament and sending off the four that roared – Isaac Cohen, Maodo Lo, Grant Mullins and Alex Rosenberg as champions. Then Kyle Smith subsequently left to coach at San Francisco, and Jim Engles from NJIT was tapped to succeed him.
What’s new: With the four that roared gone, senior forward Luke Petrasek will likely be asked to shoulder much more of the offensive burden than he did a year ago, but more on that later.
Essentially, what’s new about the Lions is everything, because so much about what defined this program is gone now. Smith’s emphasis on slow pace, Lo’s three-point shooting and on-the-ball defense, Cohen’s defensive prowess and intangibles, Rosenberg’s ability to draw fouls and take over games on the offensive end, Mullins’ stat sheet-stuffing – it’s all gone.
Offense: Senior forward Jeff Coby will also have to step up and did just that in the CIT title game against UC-Irvine, posting 14 points and eight rebounds in that matchup. Freshmen guards Michael Smith and Jake Killingsworth, and frosh forwards Andrew Panayiotou and Patrick Tape also join the program.
But all of this will happen within the framework of a new offensive philosophy set forth by Engles. Last season, Columbia ranked 310th in the nation in adjusted tempo, succeeding at being slow as molasses. That was Smith’s modus operandi, but not Engles’.
In April, Engles told Ivy Hoops Online, “We’re going to take a lot of threes. We will play pretty fast … It’s a perimeter-oriented type team, where rather than being a power-type it’s more of a perimeter-type offense, where everybody needs to be able to pass, dribble, shoot, and be guardable in different positions.”
Engles recently doubled down last week in another interview with IHO, “I’d like to play faster but from an execution standpoint it would be crazy for me to get away from (what worked for Smith) as well. I’m trying to find that middle ground that they’re comfortable with but also what I’m comfortable with. I’d like to play faster because that’s something I’ve done as a head coach for eight years.”
One unfortunate caveat is the credible rumor that junior guard Kyle Castlin will miss the 2016-17 season due to injury, and if indeed that is true, it’s a significant loss. Castlin receded into the background during the Ivy stretch run but his athleticism will be greatly missed.
So Engles is looking to implement a more uptempo approach with more interchangeable personnel, and the major roster turnover he inherits should allow him to get to do what he wants quickly. Much of Columbia’s success this season depends on Petrasek’s continued development and how he fares now that he’ll be more of a focal point for opposing defenses. Petrasek came through in Columbia’s CIT championship win over UC-Irvine with 16 points in 28 minutes and at Manhattan, sinking a game-winning three with eight seconds left to give the Lions a memorable 72-71 win over the Jaspers. He was not only clutch last season but substantially improved, jumping from 47.6 to 58.7 percent in effective field goal percentage and from 31.1 to 44.1 percent in three-point percentage. Petrasek must continue his upward trajectory in offensive production, and he’ll need several teammates to the same kind of improvement he did a year ago for Columbia to slide into the first inaugural Ivy tournament.
Defense: This end of the floor was usually a bugaboo in the Smith era, and it’s up to Engles to up Columbia’s game on defense through recruiting. Engles’ NJIT teams were generally stout defensively, which bodes well. Losing Lo and Cohen in the backcourt will hurt significantly though, as will losing Mullins. The Lions’ much maligned interior defense did improve as last season continued, and look for Columbia’s man-to-man defense to emphasize defending the paint, with Coby, Petrasek, sophomore forward Lukas Meisner and senior forward Chris McComber all expected to help in that regard.
Intangibles: The high watermark set by the team’s CIT championship represented the culmination of years spent building up a program to Ivy upper-echelon status. Now, as IHO noted upon Smith’s departure, Columbia is at a crossroads, and the Ivy League will be better overall if the Light Blue can navigate it successfully. A successful season for Columbia in Engles’ first year in Morningside Heights will be one in which Levien Gym continues to rock and roll and the Lions fight hard for a slot in the Ivy tourney.