Friday, January 27, 2012

Columbia Spectator Previews Trip to Cornell

One week after knocking off Cornell 61-56 last Saturday in Levien Gymnasium, Columbia will make the return trip to Ithaca in an attempt to sweep the Big Red for the second year in a row.

In a league where the schedule most often features back-to-back Friday and Saturday games, the format of these two games—the only contests for both teams in a two-week stretch—is a little bit of an oddity.

What does the extended rest mean for this Saturday? According to head coach Kyle Smith, a lot of defense and not a lot of points.

“It’s tough because both teams will be scouted so well,” Smith said. “A lot of thought goes into every possession.”

When the Light Blue does score, expect that production to come in large part from junior point guard Brian Barbour and his classmate, center Mark Cisco. Barbour has averaged 21.3 points per game, and Cisco is the reigning Ivy League Player of the Week after contributing 18 points and 20 rebounds in Saturday’s win. Cisco’s 20 rebounds set a single-game record for Levien.

On the other end of the court, Columbia has reason to feel confident. Defense will likely be the story this weekend, as it has been all year for Columbia. The Lions are ranked 18th nationally in scoring defense this season (out of 345 Division I schools), allowing 59 points per game on 39.3 percent shooting from the field. Last Saturday they held the Big Red to just 33.9 percent shooting.

For Cornell, its threats from beyond the arc will likely lead the charge. Seniors Drew Ferry and Chris Wroblewski lead the Big Red with 12.6 and 9.4 points per game, respectively, while four-time Ivy Rookie of the Week honoree Shonn Miller averages 9.1 points and a team-high 6.3 rebounds. How Columbia matches up with the speed of players like Ferry and Wroblewski, though, may be the key to Saturday’s game.

“I think they’re going to try to spread the ball and go after us a little bit,” Smith said.

Cornell will try to use the speed of its backcourt on defense, too.

“They’re so small and quick and want to press,” Smith said. Breaking that press late in the first matchup when Columbia was fighting to keep the lead proved to be a tall order for the Lions. The Light Blue had 18 turnovers on the night.

“It’s been an Achilles heel for us,” Smith said. “It’s a good thing to have a lead, but we get a little tentative. We have to be more aggressive. I expect them to be more aggressive. At home they’re good, so we’re expecting to see a lot of that. They get you playing a little faster than you want.”

Saturday, Cornell primarily employed the press in the second half, but Smith doesn’t expect the Big Red to wait that long at home, where it’s 6-2 this year, compared to 0-9 on the road.

“I was a little surprised they didn’t come in here and press us at home,” Smith said. “But they played us pretty straight. At home they’re usually a team that gets pretty aggressive on defense. They like to get the pace of the game in their favor and control the tempo by making it chaotic.”

That means that the Lions will have to rely on a fleet of ball handlers to break that press and maintain a slower tempo more suited to Columbia’s low-scoring style. Cornell will likely make it difficult for Barbour to get the ball, meaning guards like junior Meiko Lyles, freshman Noah Springwater, senior Steve Egee, and junior Dean Kowalski will all be called upon to bring the ball up the court.
Freshman Alex Rosenberg, a 6-feet-9-inch forward who can put the ball on the floor, may also need to help break Cornell’s press.

If this cadre of ball handlers succeeds in getting the ball upcourt, Columbia’s size may prove decisive. Cisco’s 20 boards last Saturday highlighted a dominant team effort in which the Lions outrebounded Cornell 45-29.

Tipoff against the Big Red is scheduled for 7 p.m. in Ithaca.

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