Columbia Earns Home Sweep, Now The Hard Work Begins

The games broke about as well as could be expected for Columbia this past weekend. The Lions held serve at home, soundly defeating both Harvard and Dartmouth, and Princeton beat Yale at Jadwin Gymnasium.

That combination of results technically keeps the Lions hopes of winning an Ivy League title alive. Now though the hard work begins.

The Lions are still one game behind both Yale and Princeton in the loss column with four (or five) games to play. The good news of course is that Columbia gets to play both the Bulldogs and Tigers down the stretch. The bad news is that the first of those games is at Jadwin Gymnasium on Friday night (at 6 p.m.).

KenPom gives Columbia just a 19% chance of winning at Princeton.

That’s part of the reason that my current Ivy League simulations give the Lions just a 6% chance of winning a share of the Ivy League title.

The other big part of it? Princeton and Yale are both really good. My simulations now suggest that it’s more likely than not that the winner of the Ivy League title will have 13 wins (64% of the time). That’s absurd, but speaks to the confidence KenPom has in the two co-leaders down the stretch. KenPom gives Yale an 85%+ chance of beating Harvard, Dartmouth and Cornell. Similarly, Princeton has an 80%+ chance of beating Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth and Penn.

Both teams have one “toss up” game left according to KenPom. For Yale it’s at Columbia on the final day of the regular season (59%). For Princeton it’s at Harvard on Friday, March 4 (74%).

Thus, while the team pages on KenPom project that both Princeton and Yale will finish 12-2 in the Ivy League, there’s a two-in-three chance that one of them runs the table from here on out.

Unfortunately for Columbia, if that happens the Lions are out of luck.

Kyle Smith then has to make his own luck. First by winning at Princeton. One strategy that might help? The double big man lineup.

Jeff Coby entered the starting lineup this weekend in place of Isaac Cohen and responded with two decent showings. Friday against Harvard Coby was extremely active on both ends of the court and finished with 12 points, four rebounds, two blocks and two steals in 21 minutes. He also scored eight points and grabbed seven rebounds against Dartmouth. Coby’s athleticism on the block seemed to work well against both the Crimson and Big Green. Now he needs to use it to help contain Princeton’s Pete Miller, who absolutely torched the Lions in their first meeting.

The again, sometimes it just comes down to hitting shots. Columbia scored 1.43 points per possession on Friday night against Harvard. All those layups the Lions missed last Saturday dropped against the Crimson, as they shot 71% on two-point attempts (and 42% from three). The offense wasn’t quite as good against Dartmouth, but Columbia still hit 60% of its twos and 31% of its threes and scored 1.12 points per possession. Scoring around the rim is critical and Columbia just couldn’t do it against Princeton (43% on twos). That’s been a Princeton strength during the Ivy League campaign—they’re No. 1 in two-point field goal defense during conference play at 44%—but Columbia will need easy points to stay in it on Friday night.

Another thing that might help the Lions down the stretch? The excellent play of Grant Mullins. Mullins has quietly been a star during Ivy League play. He’s second in the conference in offensive efficiency thanks to 46% shooting from three and 49% from two, but he’s also in the top 20 in both block percentage and steal percentage (at 6’3!). The senior from Burlington, Ontario has also been crashing the defensive glass. His nine defensive rebounds against Princeton were a bit of an aberration, but he’s consistently been getting three or four a game. Mullins playing this well gives the Lions a true third option and could be what the Lions need heading down the stretch.

First up? Friday at 6 p.m. at Jadwin Gymnasium.

6 thoughts on “Columbia Earns Home Sweep, Now The Hard Work Begins

  1. Have you taken into account that Columbia actually outplayed Princeton in game one, despite playing 5 versus 8 and then falling victim to a fluke shot? Columbia just happens to be better than Princeton. Not by a lot, but by enough. Caruso, Weisz and Bell do not match up well against Columbia, and Lo just plays lights out at Jadwin.

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    1. Well, from an objective perspective I don’t know if I’d say that Columbia played 5 on 8 in that game.

      Also, there’s no objective metric this season that suggests Columbia is better than Princeton and I’m not convinced yet that they matchup well. Maybe the starting lineups are a good fit for each other, but Columbia certainly got outplayed down the stretch at Levien.

      I have seen the Lions play particularly well at Jadwin (lost by 2 there last season, won by 1 the year before), but a 20% chance certainly feels about right when you consider the Lions are walking into the home gym of a Top 50ish team nationally.

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  2. Given the gut-wrenching loss to Princeton, the Lions played a lot better than could be expected. And, Mullins had some sort of illness, wasn’t sure how much he could play at all.

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  3. Columbia played a great game and could/should have won, if anyone had had the presence of mind to foul Princeton after Lo’s basket near the end of regulation. But, as for the 5 versus 8 nonsense, we hear that from a few select Columbia and Penn fans every time we play them. Sour grapes. I am looking forward to the whine exchange next Saturday when Columbia and Penn meet at the Palestra.

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    1. Columbia fans complain about the home officiating at Levien as well as the road officiating at Jadwin and other Ivy venues.

      So there are three possible explanations here. The first is that Columbia fans are correct and, for some reason, all referees — home and away — are biased against Lions basketball. The second possible answer is that Columbia fans are simply whiners. The third is that Columbia plays a brand of basketball which naturally generates lopsided foul numbers: reaching in and not moving their feet well on defense, taking perimeter shots instead of driving on offense.

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  4. Columbia lost in regulation time last week on a fluke. Pure and simple. And the disparity in calls was an outrage. Since when does the visiting team go to the line 18 more times than the home team? And remember the phantom call on Cohen, and the phantom palming call on Lo?

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