The men’s basketball team is riding high going into its first Ivy contest of the season.
Picked to finish last in preseason polls, Columbia (11-6) finished nonconference play with the third-best record in the Ancient Eight. By nearly coming away with a win against star-studded Michigan State and giving St. John’s a run for its money at the Barclays Center, the Lions have also shown that they can compete with the nation’s best.
On Saturday, however, the Light Blue will be taking on a Cornell team that has followed a very different trajectory. The young and injury-plagued Big Red (1-13) has struggled mightily thus far, with its only win coming against Division III Oberlin.
But according to Columbia head coach Kyle Smith, the Lions are by no means looking past their upstate foes.
“Ivy wins are like gold, you don’t overlook any of them,” Smith said. “I think we have good motivation since they beat us here last year.”
This year’s squad, however, has been very tough to beat at Levien. The Lions are 8-1 this year at home, their only loss coming against Manhattan in a one-point game that was decided in the final second.
Columbia will also enter Saturday’s matchup riding a four-game winning streak, thanks in large part to junior forward Alex Rosenberg. After seeing a spike in playing time coming off the bench in late November and early December, Rosenberg worked his way into the starting lineup and has starred for the Light Blue as of late.
The 6-foot-7 Rosenberg has scored at least 19 points in each of Columbia’s last four games, and was named Ivy League Co-Player of the Week for the week of Jan. 6.
“He’s just been so consistent, both ends of the floor,” Smith said. “I always worried about him playing extended minutes against bigger forwards, that we get beat up a little bit and he gets tossed around, but now it’s not the case so much.”
While Rosenberg has given the Lions a boost down low, the return of junior guard Steve Frankoski from a wrist injury that sidelined him for the first 15 games of the season has given the Lions backcourt reinforcements as well.
“He’s our captain, and he gives us a lift,” Smith said of Frankoski. “And I know he makes the rest of the league a little nervous.”
With Frankoski now in the mix, the Lions have a glut of capable guards, headlined by sophomores Maodo Lo and Grant Mullins.
On the Cornell side, guard Nolan Cressler has proven himself to be a legitimate threat in his second season. He is the team’s leading scorer by a sizable margin, averaging 16.5 points per game.
“He’s gonna score, just make him do it on a lot of attempts,” Smith said of the 6-foot-4 sophomore. “Don’t put him at the foul line, don’t give him open threes. But he is gonna score. I doubt we’re gonna put a goose egg on him, he averages 17 a game.”
Smith also pointed to guard Robert Hatter—a first-year whom Columbia also recruited—as one of the Big Red’s most dangerous weapons.
Though the absence of All-Ivy forward Shonn Miller has hurt the Big Red in the post, Cornell has the backcourt talent to potentially challenge the Lions on the perimeter.
Hatter, Cressler, and Devin Cherry—all guards—are the only players on Cornell’s roster with double-digit scoring averages.
Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. at Levien Gymnasium, following the women’s basketball team’s first Ivy contest.