Columbia vs. Cornell: The pain of press row

Levien

NEW YORK – There was a moment, in the second half of Columbia’s massively disappointing loss to Cornell, where all felt hopeless. The Big Red had stretched their lead to some new high — was it 11 points? 13? — and their bench roared with jubilation after each bucket. The Columbia faithful, a sellout 2,715 people packed so tightly into Levien that the gym was approaching “call the fire marshal” status, began to grow quiet, one or two or 20 beginning to slink meekly down the bleachers and then back up onto campus, covered in a coat of gloppy wet snow.

Harvard had lost earlier in the day, as I found to my shock and glee on a random scroll through Twitter during the women’s game. (That, too, a disappointing loss for the Light Blue.) Yale had been scared senseless by Brown at home. The mantle of the Ivy League was right there for Columbia to grab, just two games into the season, in front of the largest crowd seen in Levien since before the 2010-11 season. And the Lions let it slip away.

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The good, the bad & the ugly: Columbia 48, Cornell 45

THE GOOD: Null.

By any objective standards, this was a horrific basketball game. Columbia averaged a whopping 0.76 points per possession and Cornell kept pace at 0.71. Despite never leading in the game, Cornell had a great shot to win given a flurry of Columbia miscues down the stretch (see below). Columbia turned the ball over 23 times, Cornell shot 25.9 percent from the field as a team, and everyone on both sides likely wants to focus all of their attention towards Saturday’s rematch in Morningside Heights rather than the game tape of yesterday’s “masterpiece.”

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Lions must be able to win without Maodo

“We had a saying: everybody has to guard Lo.”

That’s how Carson Puriefoy described Stony Brook’s game plan against Columbia Tuesday night, when the two sides met in a Morningside Heights rematch.

It is fair to say the Seawolves executed that plan to near perfection, holding Lo to a season-low seven points on just 2-for-9 shooting; his first bucket didn’t fall until less than four minutes remained in the game. Puriefoy shouldered most of the load in stopping the Lions’ star guard, though he was consistently helped with double-teams and other defensive tactics which prohibited Lo from driving or getting clean looks from three.

The Lions fell, 70-61, and dropped to 7-6 on the season, with just a matchup against D-II Central Pennsylvania before Ivy play kicks off with a home-and-home against travel partner Cornell.

The game offered a blueprint to anyone trying to shut down Columbia this year.

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Quick Hits: Columbia falls to UConn

The Chairman takes over America. (Getty)
The Chairman takes over America. (Getty/sport1.de)

BRIDGEPORT, CT. — Three thoughts and some awards from last night’s game between Columbia and Connecticut, won by the Huskies, 80-65.

1. The Defense Rests: Columbia was carried through the first chunk of the season by its stingy defense, which held several opponents under 40 points per game and kept Kentucky to a season-low total. The last two games, though, have seen the Light Blue surrender over 70 points twice. And the defense completely collapsed down the stretch against UConn, allowing plenty of too-open looks for three and far too many alley-oops. Every time it looked like the Lions could get back in it with a stop, the Huskies would strike again.

Is this a long-term worry? Firstly, this is the second game in three nights for Columbia, and they were both against top opposition. Fatigue seemed to be affecting the Lions down the stretch. Secondly, UConn’s offensive talent should not be ignored — it’s unlikely Columbia will face a better point guard this year than Ryan Boatright, Connecticut’s star senior. But the defensive struggles are absolutely worrisome, and will be something to keep an eye on as the Lions wrap up nonconference play.

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Quaker eye for the Columbia guy

Maodo Lo - totally worth a Quaker crush. (zimbio.com)
Maodo Lo – totally worth a Quaker crush. (zimbio.com)

Because Columbia happens to be my hometown Ivy, I attended the Hofstra game tonight.  First, a confession:  Many years ago, I applied to Columbia, which rejected me. In doing so, the CU admissions office simultaneously displayed amazing good taste while causing permanent and irreparable damage to its institution’s future endowment.  Thus, I maintain a certain level of enmity toward this particular school.

In any event, I thought the Lions played a pretty good all-around game—that is if “all-around” refers to Maodo Lo.  I was extremely impressed by his ability to control the game. He looked absolutely fearless in handling the point. (I suppose if you’ve stared down No. 1 Kentucky on their home floor and almost won, the Hofstra Pride will not significantly loosen your sphincter tone.)  No more Barbour, no more Rosenberg, no more Lyles, the Lions are clearly his team now.

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Columbia beats Kentucky, 46-56

Kyle Smith's squad was on top of its slow-paced game at No. 1 Kentucky last week. (gocolumbialions.com)
Kyle Smith’s squad was on top of its slow-paced game at No. 1 Kentucky last week. (gocolumbialions.com)

When you’re an Ivy League team and you play the No. 1-ranked team in the country, your goal is respectability. To show your fans that you can hang tough with blue-chip NBA prospects, to make your alumni proud on the biggest possible stage, and to demonstrate to basketball observers anywhere that the Ivy League is not to be taken lightly.

The Columbia Lions checked all three of those boxes on Wednesday — and many more. They scored eleven points before Kentucky — a team with NINE All-Americans coming out of high school, playing at home in one of the toughest gyms in the country — scored even one. They led at halftime, 25-23, ensuring an ESPN2 halftime show that focused on how good Columbia was playing.* It was 27 minutes into the game before Kentucky seized the lead, as the Lions forced the Wildcats to activate their considerable potential in a game they would have expected to be a walk in the cake. It was a game that will linger long in the memory of the long-suffering Light Blue boosters.

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Columbia is playing Uglyball – and it’s working

Kyle Smith's Uglyball approach is paying dividends for the Light Blue. (Columbia Athletics)
Kyle Smith’s Uglyball approach is paying dividends for the Light Blue. (Columbia Athletics)

What is the most memorable basketball offense of all time? Chances are your mind just jumped to memories of the Showtime Lakers, the Seven Seconds or Less Suns, the Stockton and Malone pick and roll, or the present-day Spurs. Visions of great ball movement, transition dunks and helpless defenders are probably dancing through your head like sugarplums at this very second.

The offense Kyle Smith and the 2014-15 Columbia Lions are running more resembles the Four Corners offense which, while ultimately leading to many victories, sucked the life out of the game and ultimately led to the implementation of the shot clock. Despite playing at this snail’s pace, only four teams in the NCAA have attempted a higher percentage of three-pointers than the Lions. This combination of a slow tempo and an absurdly high percentage of threes taken has created a painful-to-watch offense that is the key to Columbia’s season.

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Columbia’s “Chairman Maodo” lays down the law in win over Bucknell

Maodo Lo posted 20 points in a win over Bucknell Saturday. (gocolumbialions.com)
Maodo Lo posted 20 points in a win over Bucknell Saturday. (gocolumbialions.com)

NEW YORK – “Maodo Lo” is a combination of syllables that practically begs for a nickname. After a brief flirtation with “Lo Library” — a clever reference to the central building on Columbia’s campus, but not the most intimidating name for a slashing shooting guard — the Levien denizens (led by the raucous Columbia University Marching Band) seem to have settled on “Chairman Maodo.” The reference to the founder of the People’s Republic of China seems appropriate for the politically engaged student body in Morningside Heights.

On Saturday night, “the Chairman” gaveled the meeting between Columbia (4-2) and Bucknell (3-6) to order with a trio of three-pointers in the first six minutes, pacing the Lions to a 62-39 rout of the visiting Bison.

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Columbia basketball needs better frontcourt play to defend ‘the bunker’

Kyle Castlin's scoring and rebounding impact has been felt immediately, but the Lions still have major depth issues. (onebidwonders.com)
Kyle Castlin’s scoring and rebounding impact has been felt immediately, but the Lions still have major depth issues. (onebidwonders.com)

The saying is that your home gym is a fortress; for Columbia, Levien Gymnasium — literally and figuratively — is better called a bunker. The Lions lost just four games there last year: a defeat at the death to Manhattan in the home opener, a double-overtime loss to Harvard assisted by the officials, a 10-point loss to Princeton and the CIT quarterfinal against Yale. Total margin of defeat: 18 points.

It comes as a shock now when the Lions lose in their bunker, as they did last night. It was another close game, as Loyola (Md.) scored a buzzer-beater to finish off the Light Blue after the home side’s furious fightback. Final two minutes aside, the result exposed some fairly major issues with a still congealing squad.

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Columbia Roster Preview – 2014-15 Edition

With Alex Rosenberg out indefinitely with a foot fracture, Columbia’s Ivy outlook is very much in question.On the bright side, what isn’t in question is that Columbia boasts one of the most explosive and deepest backcourts in the league. Everything about Maodo Lo is bona fide, and there’s no reason he can’t build on his breakout performance last season, when he did a little bit of everything for the Lions. Coach Kyle Smith would be wise to stop trying to go big, though. Last season, he tried pairing Luke Petrasek and Cory Osetkowski together in the frontcourt to little avail before going back to a smaller lineup embracing the guard-friendly makeup of this roster. Rosenberg or no Rosenberg, guard play will determine Columbia’s fate in 2014-15.

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