After completing a five-game road stretch last weekend, the men’s basketball team (14-9, 3-3 Ivy) returns home to face Harvard (18-4, 5-1 Ivy) and Dartmouth (9-11, 2-4 Ivy).
The road stretch opened with a win at Cornell, but the Lions dropped three of their next four games, struggling with interior defense and allowing opponents—in particular, Penn on Saturday—to hit outside shots.
“You have to play well,” Smith said of what it takes to win at Penn's Palestra. “We played okay. They played well.”
Columbia won’t get a break from seeing strong frontcourts this weekend. Harvard’s frontcourt features swingman Wesley Saunders as well as forwards Steve Moundou-Missi, Kyle Casey, and Jonah Travis.
Moundou-Missi, Smith said, has especially improved this season, while Casey has returned after taking a year off. The frontcourt additions put less pressure on Saunders and point guard Siyani Chambers, the Crimson’s two first-team All-Ivy standouts from last season.
“Now they’re more of a physical fight inside offensively,” Smith said. “Their length and quickness around the rim is a concern. It shows up on both ends.”
Smith noted at the start of Ivy play that he was looking for another forward to play regularly.
“Luke’s a freshman and is getting knocked around a little bit,” Smith said of first-year forward Luke Petrasek, a staple in Columbia’s starting lineup. “He’s got to grow up in a big way.”
Joining Petrasek has been junior center Cory Osetkowski, who Smith said understands defense better than some of his younger teammates, sophomore forward Zach En’Wezoh, first-year center Conor Voss, and first-year forward Jeff Coby. Coby played well in Columbia’s win over Princeton, but was not as effective the following night against Penn.
While Dartmouth does not boast as much raw talent as Harvard, it does have its fair share of strong big men, even with forward Gabas Maldunas—the Ancient Eight’s top rebounder—out for the season. At the top of the list are forward John Golden, who has put together his top three scoring performances of the season in his last four games, and forward Connor Boehm.
“He’s another one of those rugged forwards that can score inside and out,” Smith said of Boehm. “Physical—on the post, can push you around.”
Big Green guard Alex Mitola is another potential threat. The sophomore scored 17 points in a 60-57 win at Columbia last year and 21 in a 64-58 win over the Light Blue in Hanover, N.H.
Scoring aside, Smith noted that Dartmouth may not have the depth to pressure Columbia as much as Harvard can on the defensive end.
The Crimson comes into the weekend after splitting last week’s games aganst Brown and Yale, while Dartmouth is coming off losses against Brown and Yale at home.
Tipoff against Harvard is Friday at 7 p.m. in Levien Gymnasium. The Light Blue faces Dartmouth at the same time on Saturday.