Following an early conference win against Harvard and a late February victory over Penn, the Columbia men’s basketball team was poised to secure the last spot in the inaugural Ivy Tournament. After two road losses to Brown and Yale on the season’s final weekend, the Lions missed the tournament, ending up in fifth place with a 5-9 conference record (11-16 overall). In Jim Engles’ second season in charge, he will focus on the positives from last season and his first recruiting class to reach this year’s postseason tournament.
The Lions will be led by Mike Smith, a dynamic point guard from Chicago, who averaged 14.7 points (sixth in the league) and 3.5 assists (sixth) in 34.1 minutes (fourth) per game in conference play. Joining Smith in the backcourt will be seniors Nate Hickman and Kyle Castlin. Hickman started all 27 games last year, averaged 11.8 points a game, beat Colgate with a buzzer-beater in November and unleashed a SportsCenter highlight reel dunk against Albany in December. Castlin, who missed all of 2016-17 recovering from foot surgery, has averaged 7.4 points and 3.3 rebounds in his first two seasons at Morningside Heights. Lukas Meisner, a 6’8” junior forward, started eight games last year, averaging 21.2 minutes, 6.3 points and a team-high 6.1 rebounds per contest.
The Lions will bring in a six-member recruiting class this fall, including Tai Bibbs, Gabe Stefanini and Jason Faulds. Bibbs, a 6’3” guard from Chicago, averaged 26.0 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.6 steals as a senior to earn second team All-State and conference MVP. Stefanini, a 6’3” shooting guard who was born in Italy and played two seasons at nearby Bergen Catholic (NJ) High School, averaged 18.0 points a game and second-team All-State. Faulds is a 6’10” power forward from Michigan, who averaged 17.0 points, 11.5 rebounds and 4.0 blocks a game. In his senior season, he earned a first-team All-State selection and was rated the No. 6 player in Michigan.
Looking at the recently released 2017-18 schedule, the Lions will be on the road for eight of their 13 nonconference games, including their first seven contests. With a 4-10 overall and 1-6 Ivy road record last year, Columbia will look to use the early part of the season to gain experience for road games in league play. The Lions will start the season on November 10 with a matchup at the Wells Fargo Center against 2016 National Champion Villanova. After a trip to Virginia to face Longwood of the Big South, Columbia will head to Penn State to face the Nittany Lions for the first time since 1993. Through the rest of November and beginning of December, the team will travel to Army, Colgate, UConn and Albany.
Following its month-plus opening road trip, Columbia will play five of its last six non-conference games at Levien Gymnasium. The Lions will host Quinnipiac, Stony Brook, Navy, Maine and Sarah Lawrence between December 4 and January 6. Their last nonconference road game will be a December 12 road trip to Chestnut Hill, as Columbia faces Boston College.
The Lions will open conference play at defending champion Princeton on January 12, followed by a visit to the Palestra to take on Penn. After a home-and-home series the next two weekends against Cornell, Columbia will host Harvard on February 2 and Dartmouth on the 3rd. Following a trip up I-95 to visit Yale and Brown, the Lions will stay at home for four games over the next two weekends with return matches against the Quakers, Tigers, Bears and Bulldogs. Columbia will then close out the regular season on the road at Dartmouth and Harvard on March 2 and 3. If all goes well for the Lions and its fans, March 10 will bring a third visit to Philadelphia and a first trip to the Ivy League Tournament.