No. 16 Penn vs. No. 1 Kansas: Keys to making history

My range of emotions on Sunday swung from unadulterated joy as I rushed the Palestra floor to celebrate Penn’s 68-65 win over Harvard to mouth-agape shock as I stood in the back of Houston Hall at Penn’s selection show watch party and saw the Quakers on the 16 line against Kansas.

As fellow IHO contributor Steven Tydings and I rode the bus home to New York, I started to think of a plan for the Quakers to do the impossible and topple a No. 1 seed for the first time in men’s NCAA Tournament history.

The basic points of that plan, some of which you’ve probably already heard, are below:

Penn will win if …

Read moreNo. 16 Penn vs. No. 1 Kansas: Keys to making history

Princeton pulls away from Columbia, 64-45

NEW YORK — For about 20 minutes Friday night, Princeton and Columbia played hideous, inefficient basketball. The two teams combined to shoot 34.6 percent in the first half (18-for-52). It was the only way the Lions could pull off the upset win they needed to revive their flagging Ivy tournament hopes.

Needless to say, rock fights against Princeton don’t stay that way for very long. The Tigers (18-6, 11-0 Ivy) hit eight three-pointers in the second half after only making two in the first and ran the Lions (10-14, 4-7) out of their own gym, 64-45.

“Devin [Cannady] made some shots. I thought we found him in the corners,” Princeton coach Mitch Henderson said. “We did a good job screening against the zone. I just think the second half of a game, you get a little bit more comfortable with the gym.”

Princeton plays at a glacially slow place and averaged 18.7 seconds per possession heading into Friday, 44th longest out of the 351 Division I teams. Minimizing the total number of possessions in a game is the Tigers’ modus operandi and it did the Lions in once their offense got into a rhythm.

“If the game is that slow, it lends into the way they want to play,” Columbia coach Jim Engles said. “They came out, made a couple of threes and got some separation from us and then it was hard for us to get anything going offensively.”

Princeton shot 48 percent in the second half while holding Columbia to a 32.1 field goal percentage.

Read morePrinceton pulls away from Columbia, 64-45

Jim Engles stresses continuity in his introduction as Columbia’s new head coach


Photo from byianwenik
Columbia Athletic Director Peter Pilling (left) and Jim Engles share responsibility for the future of Columbia basketball now, in addition to an actual basketball. (Ian Wenik)

NEW YORK — Jim Engles is a unicorn amongst college coaches.

He’s not much of a screamer during games.

He’s never too up or too down in press conferences (just watch the presser after the biggest win of his career, NJIT’s 72-70 win over Michigan in 2014, for proof).

Rarest of all, Engles has never had to move out of the tri-state area during his career, enabling his children to grow up in one home.

That kind of stability is what the Columbia basketball program desperately needs as it enters a period of tremendous transition. Maodo Lo, Alex Rosenberg, Grant Mullins and Isaac Cohen will all be gone, which means that Engles will be forced to replace roughly half of the team’s regular rotation (and its best player) right out of the gate. Oh, and there’s that newfangled conference tournament thing starting next year, too.

Read moreJim Engles stresses continuity in his introduction as Columbia’s new head coach

Kyle Smith’s departure from Columbia puts Ivy League at a crossroads

The only thing surprising about the news was its timing: hours before Columbia was set to host UC Irvine in the Tournament final, a report that coach Kyle Smith would accept the same position at the University of San Francisco as soon as Thursday emerged from TV station KPIX.

Smith’s departure, confirmed with an announcement from USF Tuesday, has been a topic of discussion for years, more so now after he coached the Lions this year to what is one of their best seasons ever — a school-record 25 wins, plus the first postseason championship banner of any kind in Levien Gym. Add in the fact that three head coaching jobs opened up in the West Coast Conference this year — where Smith spent almost a decade as an assistant at Saint Mary’s — and the concept became more “probability” than “possibility.”

Read moreKyle Smith’s departure from Columbia puts Ivy League at a crossroads

Columbia readies for UC Irvine in CIT final

NEW YORK — For Columbia, getting past UC Irvine and winning the CIT title will be a tall order — in every sense of the word.

The Anteaters’ defense is ranked 36th in the country in KenPom in opponent-adjusted points per possession (96.7). They’re probably the toughest defensive puzzle the Lions will have to solve this season outside of Yale.

The big reason for UC Irvine’s defensive success is the presence of 7-foot-6 center Mamadou N’Diaye. After introducing himself to the country with a strong performance in a narrow loss to Louisville in the 2015 NCAA Tournament, the Senegal product has turned in his best statistical effort this year.

Read moreColumbia readies for UC Irvine in CIT final

How No. 12 Yale can defeat No. 4 Duke, part 2

With the exception of a few high-profile bloviators, most people around college basketball (and everyone that regularly reads this blog, for that matter) knew that Yale had a solid shot against Baylor on Thursday.

We all know that the Bulldogs delivered — and have about as favorable a matchup as they could possibly get in the round of 32, getting a Duke team they’ve already faced.

Having had the opportunity to watch both teams play in the round of 64 on Thursday in Providence, I’ve come up with a bit of a game plan for Yale to become the first Ivy team to reach the Sweet Sixteen since Cornell made its magical run in 2010.

Read moreHow No. 12 Yale can defeat No. 4 Duke, part 2

Columbia beats Brown, can still play spoiler against Yale

Saturday night could be Yale’s coronation, a moment of pure joy even while a big black cloud slowly forms above the program.

The team standing in its way still has plenty to play for.

For Columbia, Saturday night’s game at Levien Gym will be the end of an era. It’ll be the final regular season home game for Isaac Cohen, Grant Mullins, Maodo Lo and Alex Rosenberg, a senior class that revived a struggling program and brought it to contender status.

Read moreColumbia beats Brown, can still play spoiler against Yale

Columbia’s defense carries Lions past Penn

Tonight’s game between Columbia and Princeton is pretty much going to determine which one-loss team will be in the best position to challenge Yale the rest of the way. (Both teams have home games remaining against the Bulldogs.)

That the Lions are even in this position at all is due to the performance of their interior defense.

No, seriously.

Read moreColumbia’s defense carries Lions past Penn

Q&A with Westchester Knick and Harvard great Wesley Saunders

Wesley Saunders graduated from Harvard in 2015 as one of the best players in program history, collecting three consecutive first-team All-Ivy honors from 2013-15, winning a Player of the Year award in 2014 and making four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.

A successful stint with the Jazz in the NBA Summer League earned Saunders a shot with the Knicks. He has been assigned to their Developmental League team since Nov. 2, playing in all 30 games.

We caught up with the guard prior to his Westchester Knicks’ matchup with Sioux Falls on Friday night.

Read moreQ&A with Westchester Knick and Harvard great Wesley Saunders

Columbia gets back on track with treys, sweeps Cornell

This time around, the biggest source of drama in Columbia’s rematch with Cornell was the open question of how the Lions would be able to safely return to Manhattan following a 79-68 victory. The three-point shooting of Columbia (13-6, 2-0 Ivy) kept Cornell (7-9, 0-2) safely at arm’s length throughout the second half.

Turning point: This game was close at halftime, as Columbia only held a 36-33 lead heading into the break. In the second half, though, the Lions took advantage of their biggest strength to open up a big lead they wouldn’t give up.

Luke Petrasek, Maodo Lo and Alex Rosenberg all hit three-pointers in the first 3:27 of the second half, pushing the Lions’ lead to 11 points. Cornell never seriously threatened after that burst.

Read moreColumbia gets back on track with treys, sweeps Cornell