The biggest story of the off-season was Miye Oni being selected in June’s NBA Draft. The Yale junior and reigning Ivy Player of the Year decided to leave school early and leave his name in the draft. Despite falling to the late second round, a perilous spot to making an NBA roster, Oni impressed in the Summer League and earned a guaranteed contract with the Utah Jazz. He is playing just as well in the pre-season and looks to be a real steal for the Jazz.
Columbia men’s basketball head coach Jim Engles announced his team’s nonconference schedule on July 31, but it would be over a month before Columbia Athletics released the remaining 14 Ivy contests. With the schedule now complete, the Lions will look to use its 16 nonconference games as a springboard to the program’s first ever spot in the Ivy Tournament.
The highlight of the first half of the Lions schedule is an early season four-game tournament which includes a match against the defending national champions and a battle for New York supremacy.
Heading into the last weekend of conference play in each of the last two seasons, the Columbia men’s basketball team held the advantage for the final spot in the Ivy Tournament. Sweeps on the road by Brown and Yale in 2017, as well as losses to Dartmouth and Harvard this past March, kept the Lions away from the league’s postseason both years. Coach Jim Engles, heading into his third year as head coach in Morningside Heights, will look to change his team’s fortunes in 2018-2019 as Columbia seeks its first visit to Ivy Madness.
The Lions finished last season 8-19 with a 5-9 fifth place record in the Ivy League. In conference play, they were 5-2 at Levien Gymnasium, but winless away from home. The bright spots for Columbia were a 16 made three pointer performance against Cornell, a 83-76 win over eventual co-champion Harvard and a 25 point win over Princeton. The Lions averaged 76.4 points and 10 made threes a game overall, as well as 77.8 points and 9.4 made threes in the Ancient Eight. Their opponents, however, scored 77.2 points and 10 made threes overall, while conference foes put up 78.1 points and 10.9 made threes a game. Looking towards 2018-2019, Columbia will need to keep its offense intact, while improving its three point defense (38.4 percent in Division 1 games and 39.8 percent in Ivy League) if it wants to move into the league’s upper division.
With the first full Ivy weekend in the books, the conference standings are rounding into shape. The current standings offer a clear top four building momentum toward the first ever Ivy men’s basketball tournament and a clear bottom four looking for a second wind.
If you had told Kyle Smith over the summer that Columbia would set their high-water mark in Ivy wins during his tenure and the Ivy title would be clinched on Levien Gymnasium’s sub-sea level court, he would have been elated.
Even if you had told him that was a trick question, it was hard to imagine even nine months ago that this would be the Lions team that won 10 Ivy games for the second time since Ronald Reagan took office, title or no. At various points in the last year, there was a distinct possibility that none of Smith’s four seniors (Isaac Cohen, Maodo Lo, Grant Mullins and Alex Rosenberg) would take the floor for him ever again. Despite the hardships suffered as individuals and the fact that Yale and Princeton were on their schedule four times this season, Columbia is going back to the postseason for the second time in three years. Kyle Smith believes it was this mismashed class of 2016 that turned the tide of the program from mediocrity to one that is on the rise and can ascend to a title in the near future, even without these players being a part of it. This is the story of how it all came together despite nearly falling apart.
Columbia 79, Cornell 68
Cornell’s gameplan was sound: Don’t sag in too much responding to Columbia interior attacks and try to disrupt the Lions with physicality on the perimeter. Cornell’s gameplan didn’t matter.
Columbia shot 13-for-24 (54.2 percent) from beyond the arc to pull away in the second half. A trio of Lions – Luke Petrasek, Maodo Lo and C.J. Davis – hit at least three treys, enough to make up for several bunnies missed inside and playing at a faster pace than coach Kyle Smith probably wanted. Cornell missed Robert Hatter for the second game in this series but benefited from freshman guard Matt Morgan’s 26 points on 9-for-23 shooting. For more on the game, read our Ian Wenik’s instant analysis.
Facing a Lehigh team that was the preseason Patriot League favorite, Columbia (2-2) turned in what was by far its best performance of the season in an 88-61 win. The Lions imposed their will at their own end of the floor, so much so that C.J. Davis’ three-pointer just to the right of the key felt like a dagger, even though it only gave them a 22-12 lead.
Here’s what we learned from Columbia’s win: