Updated Feb. 8 at 2:50 p.m.—Due to snowstorm Nemo, the game against Harvard will be played Feb. 10 at 2 p.m.
The men’s basketball team entered this season with high expectations, and the next two games will likely determine whether or not those expectations will be met.
The Lions’ hopes for an Ivy League title took a severe hit after last weekend’s back-to-back losses to Penn and Princeton, and after losing three straight, Columbia will need to perform well against both Dartmouth (4-10, 1-3 Ivy) and Harvard (12-6, 4-0 Ivy) at home this weekend in order to have a realistic shot at the championship.
“We’re mad,” Columbia head coach Kyle Smith said. “We’re mad. No time to be sad—we gotta be mad and play mad.”
With Dartmouth much improved and Harvard once again at the top of the league, the path will not be easy.
The Big Green squad that the Light Blue will face on Friday is not the same one that went 1-13 in Ivy play a year ago. With a young core led by sophomore forward Gabas Maldunas, Dartmouth is in a position to be very competitive this time around. Freshmen guards Alex Mitola and Malik Gill have also helped lead the team. Gill has averaged 8.5 points per game in conference play to contribute to the youth movement in the Big Green backcourt.
“You win with guards,” Smith said. “I think they’re young, getting better. I think that’s the biggest thing—they’re improving.”
But the Lions have their fair share of talented young guards as well. Freshmen Grant Mullins, Isaac Cohen, and Maodo Lo have all shown enormous potential thus far this season. Mullins has been named Ivy Freshman of the Week twice already, and Cohen and Lo both showed their ability to get to the basket at Princeton last weekend.
Columbia will need strong performances from all of its young players when it faces Harvard on Saturday.
The Lions played close games against the defending champion Crimson in both of their meetings last year, and Harvard has lost two key players in Keith Wright and Kyle Casey since then.
But Harvard guard/forward Wesley Saunders, who is averaging 16.3 points per game this season, has blossomed into one of the league’s premier players, and guard Siyani Chambers has quickly developed into a threat in the backcourt. Both Saunders and Chambers also make just under half of their threes.
Accuracy from three-point territory has been one of the Crimson’s biggest strengths as a team thus far. Led by sharpshooting guard Laurent Rivard, who averages 2.9 treys per game, Harvard has shot 41.5 percent from long range this season.
Given Harvard’s potent shooting attack, the Light Blue will need big games from its own shooters in order to keep up. Mullins and sophomore guard Steve Frankoski have both been brilliant at times this season, and the duo’s performance in a November win at Villanova—in which they went a combined nine-of-16 from three-point territory—shows that Columbia has the weapons to compete in a shootout with the Crimson.
“I think we’re comfortable playing that way,” Smith said. “I think we’ll be okay that way, playing that style of ball.”
Tipoff against Dartmouth is set for 7 p.m. on Friday. Due to winter storm Nemo, the Lions will now take on Harvard at 2 p.m. on Sunday, instead of the originally-scheduled 7 p.m. Saturday. Both games will be in Levien Gymnasium.