For a third straight weekend, the Lions face the prospect of being without sophomore forward John Daniels, and while his absence would seem to be of only moderate impact—he scores just four points a game—it has left a gaping hole in the rotation.
Daniels is a superb defender who brings a defensive intensity that the team has been missing since he left the Brown game due to injury. In that very game, his departure coincided with Brown’s 55-point second half outburst.
Since his injury, the Lions are 1-3 (counting the Brown game), and they have been torched by big men such as Yale’s Greg Mangano and Princeton’s Ian Hummer. Even in the win against Penn, Daniels’ absence was glaring. Asenso Ampim adeptly defended Quaker’s star Jack Eggleston, but when Ampim left the court, Eggleston went on a scoring tear against reserve Danny Feldmann.
“I wanted to play Danny Feldmann, and he just couldn’t guard,” head coach Kyle Smith said after the game.
When Columbia welcomes Dartmouth and Harvard to Levien this weekend, Daniels’ absence will be conspicuous again, especially against Dartmouth. It was in Hanover that Daniels set a career-high with 12 rebounds. He also locked up the Big Green’s undersized power forward, David Rufful, for whom Daniels is an ideal match.
“We’re a different team without him,” Smith said.
“Without John we’re not going to be as quick,” Smith said. “We could switch things and it’d almost be like we had five perimeter defenders.”
One reason Smith mentioned the teaming of Ampim and Daniels is that the numbers back him up. Not conventional numbers, but a different statistic Smith likes—plus/minus.
Although that statistic originated with hockey, it is being applied to basketball more and more. It tracks the difference in points scored by the two teams when a certain player, or a certain lineup is on the floor.
Against Dartmouth, the lineup of Brian Barbour, Noruwa Agho, Steve Frankoski, Ampim and Daniels was far and away the best, with those five on the floor, the Lions outscored the Big Green by 16 points.
This stat also holds the secret to why Daniels has been a coach favorite since he first set foot on campus. Former coach Joe Jones played him in all but two games last year—though he was just a freshman, Daniels started in 17 games.
This instant affinity for Daniels continued with Smith. Prior to his injury, Daniels was earning more and more minutes, and had even worked his way into the starting lineup by the Harvard game.
By typical basketball statistics, this would be puzzling, but Daniels boasts the Light Blue’s best plus/minus among players averaging at least 15 minutes a game. Even if one reduces it to 10 minutes per game, only Max Craig’s +9.99 bests Daniels’ +3.78.
In Ivy play, Daniels’ impact is even clearer. He has only been in the negative once—the Brown game—and that includes an 11-point loss to Harvard. When it comes to best lineups, Daniels again receives high marks. He was part of the most successful lineup in each of the first four league games.
“It’ll be harder to defend for sure,” Smith said.
an official backup point guard
Though Smith has struggled to compensate for Daniels’ absence in the frontcourt, he has found a player to match his defensive intensity—sophomore guard Dean Kowalski. Kowalski has been what one would call a “benchwarmer” for most of his Light Blue career, but in the past three games he has assumed a major role.
Smith has been searching for a backup point guard all season. Without one he was playing Barbour too much, taxing his second leading scorer and floor general. No more. When Smith was asked after the Penn win whether he had found Barbour’s backup, he responded instantly: “We’ve got a backup point guard. A good one.”
Like Daniels, Kowalski’s contributions are not apparent in a stat sheet. In fact, Kowalski has yet to score a single point this season. Nonetheless, after his defense jump-started the team at Yale, he received significant minutes against both Princeton and Penn.
Why? Once again one must turn to plus/minus. Though the sample size is very small, Kowalski has an average plus/minus of +6.6 this season. Not only did he lead the team in that category at Yale, but he was also tied with Craig for the least bad rating against Princeton (-2.0).
“He’s our best perimeter defender,” Smith said. “I know he’s five-foot-ten, but he bothers you.”