Alex Rosenberg

Columbia seeking to challenge Harvard, Princeton in the Ivy League

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In most years, the Ivy League is nothing more than a blip on the radar of the college basketball scene. This year, however, is unlike most years.

Harvard garnered national attention even prior to the season beginning after defeating New Mexico in last year’s NCAA Tournament and returning two of their top players in Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry.

After their 9-1 start to the season, Princeton made it known they were more than capable of challenging the Crimson in the Ivy League. In fact, the notion of #2BidIvy began appearing in the Twitter world – that’s all but a dream now after the Tigers lost to Portland and Pennsylvania.

One Ivy League team that is receiving very little press is Columbia.

Perhaps it is because they were picked to finish eighth in the Ivy League, or because they graduated Brian Barbour – their top player on last year’s team that finished 12-16 overall and 4-10 in the Ivy League.

Expectations were low, no doubt. Truth be told, however, preseason accolades are meaningless, and Columbia is proving that notion.

“There’s obvious motivation [being picked to finish eighth in the league],” Columbia head coach Kyle Smith told NBC Sports following their home win over Stony Brook. “Even with our team last year, they did a good job staying together and I think that carries over to this year…It’s a helpful motivation.”

It was clear early in the season that Columbia was much better than many projected. After nearly beating MAAC-favorite Manhattan in their second game of the season, Columbia went to Michigan State and trailed the Spartans 54-53 at the final media timeout. They wound up losing 62-53, but these two games were a harbinger of things to come. 

Stony Brook head coach Steve Pikiell echoed how tough Columbia will be come Ivy League play, “Columbia is tough. You know, when someone told me Columbia was picked eighth in this league, I said, ‘Are you kidding me. If they’re not in the top two, I’m going to be stunned.’”

After beginning the season 5-5, Columbia has won seven of eight games, with their best win during this stretch coming against Stony Brook. Against the Seawolves, Alex Rosenberg and Maodo Lo combined for 53 of Columbia’s 68 points. Now a junior who leads the team in scoring at 13.9 ppg, Rosenberg has been leaned on heavily by Smith.

“Alex has been a sending. I tell everyone, no one cares more about being a good player than him. He’s one of the first guys we brought in, and he had the luxury of getting some early minutes in his career. There were some pits and valleys, but that’s to be expected as a young player. That experience has paid off.”

Columbia is off to a 1-0 start in the Ivy League after beating Cornell this past weekend. The Lions will embark on their most challenging stretch of the season over their next five games as all of them are on the road; the back-to-back swing against Princeton and Pennsylvania is always a daunting one.

“It’s really challenging playing back to back games. That second game, it’s really about getting yourself mentally ready to play. You still scout and everything, but it’s a little different. It’s about staying fresh.”

Smith has been around the coaching block having been an assistant at San Diego, Air Force, and St. Mary’s for nearly 20 years prior to coming to Columbia, and the challenge of playing Ivy League-coached teams is unparalleled.

“I’ve coached in three leagues as a college coach, and by far the best prepared teams I’ve ever encountered are in the Ivy League. The program I coached in before Columbia – St. Mary’s with Randy Bennett, a Rick Majerus disciple – our edge was in preparedness and having our opponent so well scouted. In this league, everyone knows each other so well – other coaches are barking out plays before we do.”

An area of concern is how Columbia faded down the stretch in the past three seasons. Last year, for instance, the Lions began 9-6, only to finish 12-16. But, 2014 isn’t last season, nor is it three seasons ago. Assuming they continue trending upward, this is a team that has the looks of a top tier Ivy League squad who may challenge Harvard for an Ivy League crown.

Akron reveals special bobble heads for LeBron, high school teammates

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When it comes to discussing some of the game of basketball’s best players, specifically those who went directly from high school to the NBA, a question that’s often asked is where said player would have attended college if forced (by rule) to do so. Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are among those who have been discussed in this manner, and in the case of LeBron he’s got connections to two programs within his home state of Ohio.

LeBron’s connected with the Ohio State program, which is outfitted by the Nike’s LeBron signature line, but there’s another program with an even closer connection. That would be Akron, which is led by head coach Keith Dambrot, and all he did was serve as LeBron’s high school coach at St. Vincent/St. Mary’s HS in Akron during the player’s freshman and sophomore years at the school. Also on those teams were two future Akron Zips in guard Dru Joyce and forward Romeo Travis.

Thursday the school announced that it would be honoring James, Joyce and Travis with bobble head dolls to be given out before Akron’s home games against Buffalo (February 16; Joyce’s bobble head), Bowling Green (February 26; Travis) and Ohio (March 1; James).

All three bobble head dolls are wearing Akron uniforms, which in the case of LeBron allows fans to think back and imagine what could have been. Season ticket holders guaranteed one bobble head per account (on each of the three giveaway days), with the first 750 fans in attendance to receive one as well.

NEW PODCAST: Indiana, Cal, troublesome trends and a weekend preview

California's Jabari Bird celebrates a score against Oregon in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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The gang is back together again for another episode of the NBCSports.com College Basketball Talk Podcast, with Rob Dauster hosting and Raphielle Johnson and Scott Phillips joining him. Today’s episode touched on big wins picked up Thursday night by California and Indiana, discussing the performances of those teams and also touching on their prospects down the line.

Also discussed were the recent performances of Iowa State, Providence and Texas A&M (which are you more worried about?), and some of the top games on this weekend’s schedule headlined by Kansas visiting Oklahoma. And if you’re a fan of seafood, you may take umbrage with some of Rob’s comments at the beginning of the podcast.

As always, you can subscribe to the podcast on either iTunes or Stitcher, and there’s also a link to listen to this podcast below. Thanks for listening.