Q&A with Columbia coach Jim Engles

Columbia coach Jim Engles is looking to lead the Lions to a berth in the  Ivy League Tournament, but the Lions’ making or missing the tourney won’t define how Engles assesses the team’s performance in his first season at the helm in Morningside Heights. (USA Today Sports)

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.

Ivy Hoops Online: After you beat Penn on Saturday, did you know what the tiebreakers were to get into the Ivy League Tournament? Do you know now? Do you care?

Jim Engles: I don’t care, I don’t know, I’ve heard they’re all screwed up. Tiebreakers to me really don’t matter so much, if we win our next two games then I’m fine. If for some reason we don’t get in it will be unfortunate, but I have not talked about the tournament – you guys might not believe me, but I haven’t talked about the tournament.

IHO: You said before the season you didn’t care about the tournament, you were going to judge the team on how much they improved. Has (the team) improved to the point where if you win two and don’t get in, that’s all right?

Engles: I think we’ve shown dramatic progress through the season, from where we started to where we’ve gotten now, I’ve seen a lot of progress from a lot of different guys. Someone like Conor Voss, you look at the fact that Mike Smith as a freshman has been one of our best steady players all season. Just examples of all of those different guys who have stepped up and improved and shown that we have the capability of finishing on a good note. When I sit back and look at the end of the season, I’ll be able to judge all of that stuff. We’ve been in a lot of close games, we’ve had to change the identity of the team from being an offensive team to a defensive team midway through the season and we’re still changing it a little bit now. It’s been an interesting year, I’ve learned a lot and I think the guys have, too.

IHO: With how much Brown shoots threes, has there been any thought on your end to playing less 2-3 against them?

Engles: Everything right now, this time of year you can use anything. It’s basically, it becomes like a conference playoff tournament game now because we do need to win. So these next two games are an extension of the conference playoff. When you get to this point in the season you just have to manage 40 minutes. Hopefully there will be some things we can look at but it’s all going to come down to us rebounding the ball, guarding the ball, just the basic fundamental stuff we’ve talked about no matter what defense we’re playing.

IHO: Is there any sort of reasoning behind the fact that you have struggled so much on the road in conference play, and does that worry you going into this weekend?

Engles: I think the schedule certainly hasn’t helped us. I’m not going to lie. When you play five of your first six at home, you’re home for almost a month, and then you go on the road for three of the next four weeks. You get used to your routine, then you’re out of it and you have to figure out a new routine. It’s definitely a concern, I’d want to be playing at home right now but it’s just the nature of where we’re at and hopefully we’ve learned from those four games we played on the road and we’re able to just tough it out.

IHO: No one on this team has been in a conference tournament setting before. You said this season and next were like mini-conference tournaments, is there anything you can tell them about being in a situation like that (with NJIT)?

Engles: It’s funny, my experience as a head coach we were independent. When I was in the Great West we had a conference tournament but it was just a different feel to it then when I was an assistant in the MAAC conference and the Northeast Conference. We finally got into the Atlantic Sun last year and were able to play and it was a dramatic difference for our guys from what they’ve experience. It’s just a different feel, a different game.

With these guys though, with the way the Ivy League is set up because you play Friday/Saturday anyway it’s a challenge so you have to prepare like it’s a tournament. I think even though it’s technically not a conference tournament label, when you play Friday/Saturday, it has a tournament-type feel. I don’t think it will be that big of an adjustment for our guys, I think they understand the importance of everything.

I know Brown’s playing at home, it’s their senior weekend, so they’re going to be motivated to play, it’s going to be a big challenge for us. It’s really hard to tell them until they actually experience it, but I thought Saturday’s game (against Penn) was a good experience for us.

2 thoughts on “Q&A with Columbia coach Jim Engles”

  1. Pleeeeeease, Coach Engles. Enough with the whining about finishing the regular season with several road games. Guess what? At least fifty percent of all teams in any basketball game are playing on the road. If that’s what you’re thinking about, then your head’s not in the right place.

    Just beat Brown tonight and you’ll force Penn to upset Harvard. If Harvard is still playing to win tomorrow night (as opposed to phoning it in), I don’t think Penn will defeat the Crimson. Worst case for Columbia is that Harvard loses to Princeton tonight and, with nothing to play for tomorrow night, sleepwalks through the game against Penn.

  2. Great interview! The struggling on the road thing – the second or third best game they played all year was probably at Princeton. If CU pulled out that disaster in Hanover, the road thing wouldn’t be as much an anomaly.

    He’s right about this weekend: F the tiebreaker drama. Just win the games.

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