After a thrilling Senior Night victory over Penn to keep their Ivy Tournament hopes alive, we sat down with Columbia head coach Jim Engles during his weekly media availability to ask him what he knows about the Ivy’s tiebreakers, Columbia’s road difficulties and more.
That familiar feeling was back again.
Like when Yale came back from 21 down in the second half against the Lions in 2012, the “Cannady Collapse” against Princeton last year, the entire 2013 Ivy run, and in half of the Lions’ home Ivy games already this year, a great first half was being wasted by a second-half meltdown. But like last Saturday night’s win over Harvard, the Lions steadied their nerve down the stretch and move solidly into third as their schedule turns from friendly confines to other, above-ground Ivy gyms.
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.
Entering the season, the general consensus was that Columbia’s biggest flaw was its potential inability to keep its opponents’ scoring totals down.
A handful of performances aside, the Lions have done little so far to shake that criticism. They suffered what was easily their worst loss of the season on Saturday night, allowing Longwood to shoot 65.2 percent in the second half of a 70-69 gut-punch. Part of Columbia’s struggles can be chalked up to sheer fatigue (Saturday was its fourth game in one week), but it’s also obvious that there are serious structural flaws that coach Kyle Smith will need to compensate for going forward.
So, what are some realistic solutions?
Fairfield 82, Columbia 81 (OT)
Two threes from senior guard Grant Mullins in the final 2:19 allowed the Lions to force overtime, but to no avail. Threes ruled all night for the Lions, with 41 of their 69 field goal attempts coming from beyond the arc against Fairfield’s zone. They can shoot 1,000 threes and it won’t matter if their defense doesn’t improve. Columbia fouls resulted in 8-for-8 free throw shooting from the Stags in the second half, and former Princeton coach Sydney Johnson’s crew shot 46.7 percent for the game, 9.6 percent greater than the Lions. Now let’s just skip to the real defensive meltdown:
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:
Yale – With Princeton missing Hans Brase for the 2015-16 season due to injury and Columbia’s defense still struggling to make an impact, Yale has to be considered the favorite to win the Ivy League title at this early point. The comfort sophomore guard Makai Mason has displayed in running this offense is perhaps the biggest reason why. Mason posted 21 points and five assists in 36 minutes in Yale’s 99-77 home win over Sacred Heart Monday, a game in which pretty much everything came together for the Elis. Yale notched 16 offensive rebounds, scored 27 second-chance points to Sacred Heart’s 10 and took 17 more shots than SHU as a result. The Bulldogs also enjoyed 24 bench points and shot 52.9 percent (9-for-17) from three.
A lot of Ivies can shoot the ball from deep and have offensive depth. None can hit the boards like the Bulldogs can, especially on the offensive end, and that will pay dividends for them come conference play. Yale proved in its season opener that it can win without reigning Ivy Player of the Year Justin Sears.
Playing in its first game against a Division I opponent, Columbia (1-1) hung around for a while against Kansas State (2-0), but faded down the stretch and fell, 81-71.
On one hand, the Lions did a good job handling the environment inherent to playing a Power Five conference team on the road. Their half-court offense generated a solid number of in-close looks. On the other end of the floor, Kyle Smith switched things up a bit midway through the game, installing a 1-3-1 zone that the Wildcats really struggled to overcome.
Best Case Scenario
By Miles Johnson
In November in the year of our Lord 2016, students, alums and fresh-faced future Lions will pack into Levien Gymnasium. As fans of all ages watch Kendall Jackson rack up triple-doubles, or Jeff Coby slam home put-back dunks, or even a transformed Chris McComber knock down 30-foot threes—as a wistful Cory Osetkowski watches from afar—one can notice Kyle Smith pace nervously on the sidelines. Then, a strange calm takes hold, and he tilts his head up toward the rafters and smiles.
“2015-16 NCAA National Champions – Columbia Lions.”
By Peter Andrews
On paper, there isn’t much room for Columbia’s seven-man freshman class to make a difference. With a veteran rotation that goes 11-deep, it may be a “wait-and-see” year for the class of 2019. One name, though, stands out from the rest. And that name is Dirk Junior.Okay, that’s not his actual name. However, it is the official Ivy Hoops Online ™ (must credit @pfandrews and @simmonsclass) nickname for Lukas Meisner, Columbia’s newest German import.