Sports | Sports Columns

SIMMONS: Cautious optimism warranted as men's basketball begins Ivy slate

  • Kiera Wood / Senior Staff Photographer
    Top tier? | Men's basketball has given cause for optimism this season.

As one of the nation’s top universities, Columbia gets a lot of positive press at the national level. But I have to admit seeing the headline, “Columbia seeking to challenge Harvard, Princeton in the Ivy League” on NBC Sports’ college basketball website Tuesday evening kind of threw me. 

It’s not that I think the men’s basketball team doesn’t have the ability to play with some of the top teams in the nation—let alone the Ancient Eight. Please, this is a team that nearly gave Michigan State the shock of its life. It’s just that, well, the last few times I perused the world wide web and saw something about Columbia sports, the stories definitely weren’t so positive.

I suppose that’s why it was so refreshing to see Kevin Doyle write that it was clear that the Lions had been underrated, predicted to finish last in the Ivy preseason media poll. And though not a complete shock based on the rest of the article, it was still pretty invigorating to read, “Assuming they continue trending upward, this is a team that has the looks of a top tier Ivy League squad who may challenge Harvard for an Ivy League crown.”

With the Crimson showing a few dents in its armor after losing to Florida Atlantic on Tuesday—FAU was ranked over 100 spots lower than Harvard on Ken Pomeroy’s website at the beginning of the week—perhaps Doyle was really on to something.

Yet, there’s a part of me that wants to nip this optimism in the bud, so I can take the “wait and see” approach.

As for the source of said sentiment, I’m not sure. Maybe it’s because I watched the team win its first Ivy game in 2013 over Cornell and then win just three more the rest of the way. Maybe it’s because in spite of its on-court experience, I’m not quite convinced a team this young is going to be able to hang with the likes of Harvard and Princeton over the course of the next seven weeks. Or it could be just that with Cleveland and Columbia firmly in my blood, I’ve become an eternal sports pessimist.

Yeah, it’s probably the latter.

Then, I look at the Lions’ Ivy schedule. I just hate its setup. Fourteen contests over eight weekends—in which the team plays five games on the road in three weeks—is absolutely brutal. Also, I think not having a tournament at the end of the season—unlike every other automatic-bid conference in the country—seems to cheat everyone in the league that much more.

But right now, the Lions are about to begin what Doyle called the most challenging aspect of their Ivy slate—a five-game road trip. It begins, of course, this Saturday in Ithaca, but then next week, there’s a road trip to Yale and Brown, followed by another trip to Princeton and Penn the weekend after. And with only 14 games, each contest is vital to the team’s championship chances.

You see? I think there are legitimate reasons here for pessimism.

But when a national writer puts together such a positive article about this team, that’s something I have to take to heart. As much as I want to see Columbia string some Ivy wins together before diving into the optimism pool, I can recognize the reasons to at least dip my toe in.

In the Ancient Eight, the Lions are second to only Harvard in scoring defense, allowing just 61.9 points per game. They lead the league in free throw shooting at 76 percent—a skill that will help in tight games. They’re also first from behind the arc—and 18th in the nation—shooting at a 40.5 percent clip. Junior forward Alex Rosenberg has been playing the best basketball of his collegiate career lately, earning two of the last three Ivy League Player of the Week honors. First-year forward Luke Petrasek received Ivy Rookie of the Week honors twice last month. And that’s saying nothing of how good sophomore guards Grant Mullins and Maodo Lo have been this season.

So yes, while that pessimistic Cleveland side of me needs to see the Lions have more success on the court, Kevin Doyle’s article fired up the optimistic side that eternally hopes, wishes, and prays to see a winner.

And with any luck, the Light Blue will be back in Morningside on Sunday sitting pretty with a 2-0 Ivy record after another Big Red takedown in upstate New York.

Myles Simmons is a Columbia College senior majoring in American studies. He is a former sports editor for Spectator. A Second Opinion runs biweekly. 

myles.simmons@columbiaspectator.com | @MSmmns210

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