It’s time for me to find a new sport on which to focus these biweekly ramblings, as football season is, sadly, over. So let’s talk about the men’s basketball team, which has the advantages of (a) playing on campus and not sucking up entire days of my life to go watch them, and (b) being really good at the sport it plays.
There’s a lot of excitement around this year’s team, predicted to finish third in the Ivy League in preseason polls for the first time in a bazillion years. The big question surrounding the team right now is simple: Will it be able to meet (or even exceed) these lofty expectations?
I’ve seen some of my fellow columnists argue in the past few weeks that we need to focus more on using New York to our advantage as a basketball destination. Which, I mean, sure. I am in favor of almost any idea that will make more people pay attention to and root for the Lions basketball team. (Exceptions would include the hiring of ex-Lakers coach Mike Brown, noted incompetent AND user of the “Princeton offense.” This, I assume, involves stubbornly refusing to pass the ball to anyone not in the right eating club.)
But I think they’re sort of missing the point. We don’t need to think outside the box, because we’ve already got a pretty great box—Columbia University and New York City. (I love you, Levien!) And we’ve got the right guy in charge in Kyle Smith.
The problem is simple. The Lions haven’t won the league since the 1967-8 season, and basically no one thinks of Columbia as a basketball threat. The current challenge to building a dominant program is convincing recruits, media, and the campus community that an Ivy championship is a possibility.
The shocking win over Villanova on Tuesday night is important for two reasons. Smith’s squad made a big statement to the basketball world about how far our program has come. But the win was also a quieter showcase of where we’re going in the next three years. Because make no mistake—though seniors Brian Barbour and Mark Cisco are invaluable parts of this team, it’s the deep crew of freshmen and sophomores that has shined early in the season.
This year’s class of new players has been impressive. Grant Mullins seems to be the most complete and potent player, a point guard who’s deadly from beyond the arc and who creates plays for himself. The biggest question for 2013 is how the Lions will replace Barbour in the backcourt, and Mullins looks ready to answer the call. The energy of Zach En’Wezoh down low on defense has been impressive in the early parts of the season. And we’ve seen flashes of skill from Maodo Lo and Isaac Cohen in limited minutes. They certainly look like they will be key contributors next year, if not in time for the Ivy season in January.
Columbia’s sophomores have also taken big strides forward this year. Alex Rosenberg, impressive as a rookie last year, continues to develop as a scoring threat from the forward positions, dumping 21 points on Villanova to lead the Lions. Big man Cory Osetkowski has the distinct advantage of always being the biggest man on the court at 6-foot-11. His game last year was often awkward and ineffective, but offseason training has produced a more confident player with a greater array of finishing moves.
The final piece of the team’s youth movement is sophomore Steve Frankoski, who missed last year with an injury. It’s his third year around the program, so he’s the most experienced member of these young guns. Not only is he the team’s best pure shooter, always confident from deep, but he also brings infectious energy and confident leadership, an element that I think was missing from last year’s squad.
After three weeks of the season, the most exciting development is that it looks like we’re going to be really good for a few years, not just this one. But it’s through statement wins, not incremental improvement, that perceptions change. Beating a team just three years removed from the Final Four by 18 points—the first win over a Big East opponent since the Reagan administration—certainly qualifies as a statement win.
To have Jay Wright, a nationally respected coach of many elite Villanova teams, heap praise on the Lions following Tuesday’s game was a signal to the rest of the Ivy League. With two all-Ivy-caliber seniors, a gaggle of young and talented underclassmen, and the Madman of Morningside Heights pulling the strings, this Lions team is ready to take on all comers and—perhaps—pull off a season to remember.
Peter Andrews is a junior in Columbia College majoring in history. He is an associate copy editor for Spectator. For Pete’s Sake runs biweekly.