Forget trap game. Think trap weekend.
With two Ivy League undefeateds, Penn and Princeton, looming next weekend, Light Blue faithful could be forgiven if it looks past the Lions’ trips to Brown and Yale tonight and tomorrow.
Head coach Kyle Smith and his 12-6 (3-1 Ivy) team know better, though.
Despite the fact that Brown has yet to win a game in the Ancient Eight and Yale is coming off a two-game losing streak, Columbia could be vulnerable to stumbling on the road either night as it closes out a five-game road trip.
“You have two new opponents,” junior Noruwa Agho said. “They have another week to scout us, so [the Dartmouth game] was a great win, but it doesn’t add any points to the next game. We just have to make sure we stay the course.”
Up first will be a 7 p.m. tip-off at Brown’s Pizzitola Sports Center in Providence, R.I.
“We’re on the road again,” Agho said. “We have got to get ready to go.”
A key for the Light Blue will be to use its size to overwhelm the Bears on the glass. Brown, which does not feature a player over 6-foot-8, will have to contend with the Lions’ slightly bigger frontcourt. Sophomores John Daniels and Mark Cisco have gotten the start for the Light Blue recently, with senior Asenso Ampim coming in off the bench for significant minutes in the last game against Dartmouth.
Smith compared Brown’s team to Dartmouth, indicating a similar rotation can be expected.
“Brown is a little more similar to Dartmouth in that sense,” Smith said. “They play a little smaller, a little quicker. They shoot the ball from three and spread you out. I think our advantage will be inside with our bigs.”
Another concern for the Lions will be Brown’s freshman point guard, Sean McGonagill. The 6-foot-1 Brookfield, Ill. native has started every game for the Bears this season, averaging 32 minutes per game. Columbia may look to pressure the first-year player into some extra turnovers, but Smith does not anticipate McGonagill will rattle easily after all the minutes he has played this year.
“He’s going to be a really good player in this league,” Smith said. “He’s got pretty good size, really heady, really good passer. He’s going to be a key to defending them … you can’t leave him open. If you’ve got a point guard that can hit a three, it’s pretty valuable.”
McGonagill leads the team with 4.9 assists per game. Sophomore forward Tucker Halpern contributes 11.2 points and senior shooting guard Garrett Leffelman averages 9.9. Senior guard Adrian Williams stretches defenses with a 40.9 three-point shooting percentage. But luckily for the Lions, Brown’s leading scorer, senior forward Peter Sullivan is injured and likely won’t play.
While Friday’s game will offer the Lions a smaller, scrappier opponent, on Saturday night, they will come face to face with the league’s leading rebounder and fourth-leading scorer, 6-foot-10 junior Greg Mangano. The Orange, Conn. native averages a double-double with 14.8 points per game and 10.1 boards.
“He’s athletic and he’s bouncy,” Smith said. “He can make a three, too.
To deal with Mangano, Smith will likely turn to 7-foot senior center Max Craig. Craig began the season as the starting center, but has seen reduced playing time after ceding the spot to Cisco and dislocating his thumb a month ago. This weekend, though, he and fellow 7-footer Zack Crimmins will get their chance against Mangano.
“We’ll probably go with our aircraft carriers on that one,” Smith said, referring to Craig and Crimmins. “[Craig’s] been practicing well. They’re both seniors, and Max has had a great attitude. You can tell, he knows it—there’s five weeks left in his career. Both of them do.”
Smith acknowledged the Bulldogs’ defense, pointing to the size of Yale’s big men, from Mangano to 6-foot-9 freshman Jeremiah Kreisberg.
“They’re really hard to score around on in the basket because they’re so big,” Smith said. “They’re strong and they’re physical. They’re really sound defensively.”
Beyond the battle in the post, Columbia will have to keep an eye on both sophomore point guard Austin Morgan, who averages 12.7 points per game, and senior guard Porter Braswell, who adds 10.6 per game. To help the Light Blue’s two leading scorers, Agho and starting point guard Brian Barbour, with defensive duties, Smith will turn to freshman shooting guard Steve Frankoski as well as defensive specialist Meiko Lyles.
Smith calls Lyles his best on-ball defender, a role the Lions have struggled to fill thus far this season.
“Meiko is long and big, so he’s hard to get around,” Smith said. “Against Harvard, he did a pretty good job. [Point guard Brandyn] Curry’s a good player and he had something like five turnovers.”
For fans, this weekend may not seem like much more than a stepping stone for the Light Blue. Indeed, Columbia supporters would relish the chance to see their team prove itself against two of the league’s best teams, Penn and Princeton, next weekend in Levien Gymnasium.
For the Lions to stay league contenders, though, they will have to take care of business this weekend.