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.

N’dIaye finished ninth in the country with 87 blocks (2.4 per game) and turned in career highs in scoring (12.1 points per game), rebounding (7.2 rebounds per game), and, most importantly, minutes played — he’s logging 23.1 minutes per game this year, which is especially impressive in light of the fact that players at the extreme end of the height spectrum like N’Diaye often struggle with their conditioning over the course of a game.

His presence is unlike anything the Lions have ever seen — or will see, for that matter. They tried to replicate his presence during today’s practice by having coach Kyle Smith sit on the shoulders of an assistant.

In order to neutralize N’Diaye’s presence, the Lions will have to get their three-point stroke going early — something they struggled with in the semifinals against NJIT on Sunday. Columbia started out 0-for-11 from beyond the arc before heating up in the second half.

“We took some bad [shots] in the first 10 minutes, that’s the reason we didn’t shoot it well,” said senior guard Maodo Lo, who sits just 25 points away from the Lions’ all-time scoring record. “We drove it to the basket more [later on], Alex [Rosenberg] drew some fouls, and we started taking open shots and started making them.”

That adjustment worked against an NJIT team that the the Lions could easily outmuscle, but it won’t fly against UC Irvine. With N’Diaye clogging the lane (he’s collecting 23.6 percent of all possible defensive rebounds while on the floor this year), Columbia is best off avoiding him entirely and shooting over the Anteaters’ guards.

Considering how well Lo is playing right now — five straight games with at least three treys — a hot start could bury UC Irvine early.

An alternate pathway to victory would involve the Lions breaking their usual character and playing at a bit of a faster pace than they usually do. Though they may not be able to run N’Diaye ragged, he still takes a while to get up and down the floor. If Columbia can attack the paint before UC Irvine and N’Diaye can fully get into their defensive sets, it could get some easy looks at the basket.

Enough, perhaps, to give the Lions a postseason tournament title on their own floor and send their seniors out in style.

6 thoughts on “Columbia readies for UC Irvine in CIT final”

  1. I would try both of the excellent approaches you suggest–shot plenty of threes and play quicker in transition. Assuming N’Diaye stays underneath on defense, the Lions will have a 5-4 advantage on the perimeter so the goal should be to put your best five shooters on the floor and one of them should always be open. If N’Diaye doesn’t come out to guard Luke Petrasek, the Lions’ big sharpshooter could have a very good evening. Finally, there is a third alternative, namely have Alex Rosenberg drive early and often to the basket and see whether he can draw some quick fouls from N’Diaye

  2. Rosenberg is playing as well or better now then he did at his best in 2014. He has made 19 of his last 20 foul shots. He may not get his shots in ,against Ndaiye, but as Scolari suggested, he draws fouls better than anyone I’ve seen and its worth a try at the beginning of the game. However, Irvine also has a 7’2 player and two players who are 6’10, so getting Ndaiye in foul trouble may not be sufficient.
    Regarding Ndaiye, a friend of mine who saw the Kansas- Irvine game this year, said that Kansas ran him ragged in the first half- so that after a tied first half, Kansas won the second half by I believe over 20 points.
    Anyway, Columbia has not played a top 100 team since Yale and it would nice if Columbia could conclude the year by beating a top 100 team. Regardless, though, of the result, it has been so rewarding to see how well Columbia plays when they are on a run, like they have been in the CIT.
    All the opposing coaches who play against them say how good a team they are.- and in the CIT they have been maximizing their talent and playing to their strengths, which are many. There were many years before Brett Loscalzo came on the team, when Columbia’s guards could not keep control of the ball and especially since Mullins, Lo and Cohen it is terrific what confidence the guards play with at the end of the game.

  3. This is a very tough Anteaters team. They are the Road Warriors… and the Lions are up next. Don’t get too cocky.

  4. When the 7’6″ guy is on the court we will need to have five shooters on the floor; Cohen’s minutes will be dictated by that factor, I imagine. PS, Meisner is also playing very well.

  5. Dennis O’Donnel of KPIX Sports has tweeted that Kyle Smith is expected to be named the new Head Coach of the University of San Francisco. The official announcement will come as soon as Thursday.

    The report has been followed by posts at Mid Major Madness and Hoop Dirt.

    If true, Smith will the third new WCC coach, joining Herb Sendek at Santa Clara and Damon Stoudamire at Pacific. Also, this would leave a third vacancy at an Ivy school. With James Jones in the mix at Vanderbilt, might the Ivies be looking at four coaching changes this off-season.

    While it may be premature to look at replacements at Columbia, Ray Curren at Big Apple Buckets mentioned present NJIT coach Jim Engles, who as an assistant with the Lions from 2003-2008, when writing about Sunday night’s game.

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