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.

Syracuse upsets No. 18 UConn as Tyler Lydon stars again

St Bonaventure Syracuse Basketball
AP Photo/Heather Ainsworth
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Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney combined for 34 points as Syracuse overcame an early 10-point deficit to knock off No. 18 UConn in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis, 79-76.

The talking point at the end of this game is probably going to end up being UConn’s decision not to foul Syracuse with 36 seconds left on the clock. Trevor Cooney dribbled out the clock and, with six seconds left, missed a 35-foot prayer, the offensive rebound getting corralled by Tyler Roberson, sealing the win.

But that’s not the real story here.

That would be Tyler Lydon, who suddenly looks like he may end up being the difference maker for this Syracuse team.

If you don’t know the name, I don’t blame you. Lydon was a low-end top 100 recruit that had been committed to the Orange for a long time. He’s not exactly a game-changing prospect, but he’s a perfect fit for Syracuse. At 6-foot-9, Lydon has the length to be a shot-blocker in the middle of the 2-3 zone — he entered Thursday averaging 3.3 blocks — but his biggest skill is his ability to shoot the ball from beyond the arc. When he plays the middle of that zone, when he is essentially the five for the Orange, they become incredibly difficult to matchup with defensively.

The question is whether or not he can consistently be that guy on the defensive end of the floor. Against UConn, Lydon had 16 points and 12 boards. Against Charlotte, he finished with 18 points, eight boards and six blocks. But neither the Huskies nor the 49ers have a big front line that crashes the offensive glass.

Lydon is great at using his length to make shots in the lane difficult, but at (a generous) 205 pounds, he may run into trouble against bigger, stronger front court players.

The perfect test?

Texas A&M, who the Orange will play in the title game on Friday.

USC holds on to beat No. 20 Wichita State

Andy Enfield
Associated Press
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With guards Fred VanVleet and Landry Shamet both sidelined due to injury, No. 20 Wichita State arrived at the Advocare Invitational shorthanded. But even with that being the case the highly successful Shockers represented quite the opportunity for USC, and Thursday afternoon the Trojans took advantage.

Despite turning the ball over 23 times Andy Enfield’s team found a way to win, hanging on to beat the Shockers by the final score of 72-69. Freshman forward Bennie Boatwright, a tough matchup for most teams as a 6-foot-10 stretch forward who can score from the perimeter, shot 5-for-9 from three and scored a team-high (and career-high) 22 points.

The tandem of he and junior Nikola Jovanovic, who added 14 points and 11 rebounds, outplayed the Wichita State front court on a day in which the Shockers needed greater contributions from those players. Add in 15 points and four assists from Jordan McLaughlin, ten points off the bench from Katin Reinhardt and a 12-for-23 afternoon from three, and the Trojans were able to do enough to make up for their high turnover count and Wichita State’s 24 points off of turnovers.

Given the absence of VanVleet and Shamet there’s no reason to panic regarding Wichita State. Ron Baker, who was exhausted by the end of the game due to the heavy load he was asked to shoulder, scored a game-high 25 points and the play of freshman Markis McDuffie was a positive to build on.

McDuffie, who entered Thursday’s game without a made field goal in his first two appearances as a Shocker, shot 5-for-9 from the field and contributed 14 points and three rebounds off the bench. With their current perimeter rotation being what it is McDuffie will have opportunities to contribute, and the Shockers will need him to take advantage as they await the returns of VanVleet and Shamet (and the addition of Conner Frankamp).

Doing so will not only help Wichita State in the short term but in the long-term as well, thus giving Gregg Marshall another option to call upon on his bench.

Thursday’s outcome, even with the desire to see more from Anton Grady (eight points, seven rebounds), says more about USC at this point in time than Wichita State. Enfield’s first two seasons at the helm were about amassing the talent needed to compete in the Pac-12 while also gaining valuable (and at times painful) experience. In year three the Trojans hope to take a step forward within the conference, and wins like this one provide evidence of the program’s growth.