An Ivy League title for the men’s basketball team has been a pipe dream for the last few weeks, as the Lions (12-14, 4-8 Ivy) have struggled with illness and a lack of offensive production from star guard, senior Brian Barbour, among other lapses on the court.
But headed into the final weekend of the season, during which the team will face Harvard (17-9, 9-3 Ivy) and Dartmouth (7-19, 3-9 Ivy) on the road, seventh-place Columbia still holds sway over who will be crowned champion of the Ancient Eight.
The Crimson, who sat atop the standings for almost the entire season, dropped to second place last weekend after a pair of losses to Princeton and Penn, allowing the Tigers to claim the top spot with a 9-2 Ivy record.
When Columbia travels to Cambridge, Mass., on Friday, the Crimson will be in dire need of a win to help its chances of going to the national tournament. If the Lions come out on top and Princeton manages a win over Yale, then the Tigers will be assured at least a share of the title.
“Dartmouth’s playing a little bit better than Harvard if you’re going off what they did last weekend, but the Harvard game—obviously they have a lot at stake,” Lions head coach Kyle Smith said. “I think it’s great for our program and guys to play in that environment.”
The position in which the Lions find themselves is not too different from a year ago, when the Crimson was vying with Penn for the title, and the Lions had an opportunity to dash Harvard’s dreams.
Though the Lions came up short last year in a 77-70 overtime loss, they have a real chance of defeating the Crimson this time around. It was Columbia that handed Harvard its first conference loss this season in a convincing 78-63 victory on Feb. 10.
In that game, sophomore guard Steve Frankoski led all Light Blue scorers with 27 points, and defensively, the Lions managed to force 13 turnovers.
Smith said that one of the most important parts of the Light Blue’s victory over Harvard was the defensive effort against Crimson guard Siyani Chambers, who the Lions limited to only 12 points and three assists.
“It’s a team effort to guard him, and that’ll be key,” Smith said. “If Chambers is having his way out there and doing what he wants, they’re going to be good, simple as that, because he gets everyone involved.”
The Lions did not do as well defensively against forward Wesley Saunders, the Crimson’s leading scorer, who tallied 27 points the last time he was in Levien.
The Light Blue forwards, including sophomore Alex Rosenberg and senior John Daniels, will need to come up with stops against Saunders, and Smith said the Lions will be counting on their big men to be strong on the boards and on offense.
Sophomore center Skylar Scrivano has had strong showings in recent games, especially against Brown. Smith called Scrivano’s defensive performance the silver lining of the disappointing last-second loss to Brown.
“Defense is actually his biggest weakness, and he’s really improved there,” Smith said. “He is physical, he is tough, and he can finish around the basket.”
That strength in the post will play a key role on Saturday night in Hanover, N.H., when the Lions take on Dartmouth in their season-ending matchup.
While the Big Green is sitting squarely in last place in the league, it proved itself against Columbia earlier this season when it managed a 60-57 upset of the Light Blue.
Dartmouth made a big run in the final minutes of that game, led by guard Alex Mitola. Though freshman guard Maodo Lo played strong defense against the Big Green’s top scorer, Smith said Mitola took the Lions by surprise because they had never seen him on the court before.
“Mitola definitely got the best of us. Not necessarily Maodo—he had four threes in our place, and three of them were against zone,” Smith said.
The Big Green’s Connor Boehm—who scored a game-high 20 points against the Lions earlier this year—will also present a challenge for the Lions’ forwards, Smith said.
While this weekend will mark the end of the collegiate careers of the Lions’ four seniors—Barbour, Daniels, Mark Cisco, and Dean Kowalski—Smith stressed that the games against the Crimson and the Big Green will be important opportunities for young players, especially Scrivano, to start stepping into the roles they will need to fill next year.
Tip-off in Cambridge and Hanover begins at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, respectively.