Agho’s injury an opportunity for Lions to go big

Columbia’s entire season changed on Monday night when Noruwa Agho went down for the season with a left knee injury. Agho was highly integrated into Kyle Smith’s offensive attack, and without him there will definitely need to be adjustments.

In the first two games of the season Agho attempted 41 field goals, 32.3% of the team’s total. He’s attempted more shots than the second and third players on the team combined (Brian Barbour has 25 and Blaise Staab 15).

This trend isn’t new. Last season no player in the Ivy League had a higher usage rate than Agho at 28.4%. That trumped other key guys like Princeton’s Ian Hummer (25.6%), Harvard’s Keith Wright (24.6%), Penn’s Tyler Bernadini (24.0%) and Yale’s Greg Magano (26.1%).

Thus far this season Smith’s offense has revolved around Agho driving to the basket and making something happen for the Lions. That’s not going to be the case anymore. When Brian Barbour tried to play that role at the end of Columbia’s game against Furman, it didn’t work out so well.

There is a silver lining in all of this: Columbia’s offense wasn’t good last season. During Ivy League play the Lions scored 98.6 points per 100 possessions, seventh in the league. Most of that was because Columbia just couldn’t hit a shot. Now Smith is going to be forced to change the offense.

The offense was structured with Agho as the centerpiece before for two reasons. Smith wanted to concentrate on improving the team’s defense and because Agho is the only player on Columbia’s roster that has the ability to create his own shot. When the clock was running down to seven seconds or less against the Paladins everyone watched as Agho tried to make something happen.

Well this is no more standing around and watching. And there shouldn’t be any more running the clock down under 10 seconds either. Columbia is going to have to use a combination of strong interior play, bolstered by freshmen Alex Rosenberg and Cory Osetkowski, and better ball movement to get shots now. The situation demands it.

Personally, I’d like to see the Lions become a power post team. At one point on Monday Smith played Osetowski and Mark Cisco on the court together. It was Columbia’s version of the Twin Towers that has been seen in the NBA with the Houston Rockets (Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon), San Antonio (David Robinson and Tim Duncan) and others. The lineup won’t be fast, but Osetowski seems to have good court awareness for a freshman, which could help with ball movement. It’s definitely worth exploring more now this season.

Beyond the centers, Columbia has a few other options up front. Blaise Staab was effective against Connecticut, scoring 11 points and grabbing 12 rebounds, and Rosenberg played well against Furman with seven points and seven boards. Making the offense revolve around the front court might not work against Harvard or Yale, two teams with talented bigs, but it’s not a strategy you see often in the Ivy League.

At St. Mary’s Smith was responsible for running the offense as the associate head coach. While he was there 6’11” Omar Samhan ran roughshod over the West Coast Conference for four seasons. Smith can coach big men. It’s time for him to put those skills to use again.

Smith and the Lions need to look at this as an opportunity. It’s a chance to reinvent the team’s identity and in the process possibly come up with something that will be even better for the future.

We’ll see how it all plays out starting Saturday night against American.

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