Columbia’s 2016-17 best-case scenario

Columbia’s run to the CIT title, including a semifinal win over NJIT and Jim Engles, felt like catharsis for a class that had seen its fair share of ups and downs.

Now it’s November and the leaders behind that run are gone: Kyle Smith to San Francisco, Maodo Lo and Alex Rosenberg to overseas contracts, Grant Mullins to Cal, and Isaac Cohen to the working world. So if everyone hits their 99th percentile performance in Morningside Heights this season, what can we expect? A group whose most experienced players are bigs and a coach who promises to run at a breakneck pace (at least compared to Kyle Smith’s) is a recipe for either the greatest incarnation of Seven Seconds or Less ever, or at least the most hilarious one. We do not know what Columbia’s lineup will look like. We do not know which freshmen will be able to contribute starting Friday at Stony Brook. What we do know is if everything goes according to plan, Columbia is going to win the Ivy title in the most ridiculous way possible.

While it doesn’t seem to be clicking for the Orlando Magic yet, Engles is quickly forced to run a four-forward offense due to injury and inexperience among the guards. With Lukas “Dirk Jr.” Meisner at the two guard and Conor Voss locking down the interior, the Lions are able to run and gun while still intimidating smaller teams into constant turnovers and altered shots with Monstars-like ability. A raucous comeback against Princeton that silences the hollow and hideous Jadwin Gymnasium one night after stomping out my brother’s dreams of yet another Penn victory over Columbia at the Palestra moves the Lions to 7-1. A pair of lockdown performances holding Makai Mason scoreless in both games against Yale, knocking his draft stock out of the lottery. Columbia wraps up the No. 1 seed in the first ever Ivy tournament with an 88-54 drubbing of Brown. The team celebrates at Providence’s finest restaurant: Texas Roadhouse. Their only two losses? Two heartbreaking defeats against Harvard that were clearly rigged, many people were saying so.

Night one of the Ivy tournament goes according to plan, with the Lions’ “High and Fly” offense leading to quick and fruitful possessions on one end, and dominating defense on the other. They eliminate a disappointing Princeton squad and have to get by the Crooked Crimson with a tournament berth on the line. The game is a back-and-forth tussle, tied at 71 with Siyani Chambers in control and the shot clock turned off. Harvard runs motion above the arc, looking to create a mismatch between Chambers and one of the Lions giants. As Chambers drives toward the basket, he is picked by the smallest player on the floor, Kendall Jackson, who goes coast to coast for a buzzer-beating layup that sends Columbia to Milwaukee where they are due to take on No. 3 seed Wisconsin.

And that is where the best-case scenario must come to a close. Even in a world where everything goes right, I can’t pick Columbia to repeat their fake championship that Miles awarded them in last year’s preview. The true best-case scenario is actually about player development. If I can sit in front of my computer a year from now and read that player X, player Y and All-Ivy first-team forward Lukas Meisner can lead Columbia to an Ivy title written by someone who didn’t work for WKCR Sports then this season truly will be a success. Until then, we’ll have to dream of a wacky offense under a first-year coach with no expectations of winning two Ivy tournament games. Stranger things have certainly happened.

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