With finals season over, men’s basketball will travel to the Sunshine State to take on Miami (FL) this Wednesday.
The contest ends a 14-day hiatus for the Light Blue (4-5), which handily won its last game, an 84-42 romp over Division III opponent Manhattanville. Nine games into the season, junior guard Nate Hickman and senior forward Luke Petrasek have led the team in scoring and rebounding, posting 15.7 points per game and seven rebounds per game, respectively. Against Manhattanville, however, 7-foot-2 big man Conor Voss carded the most points of all scorers with 14.
But the Golden Hurricanes (9-2) should prove a much greater challenge than Manhattanville. They are the highest-ranked team Columbia will face this season, according to kenpom.com, and they have largely prevailed against a tough schedule, dropping games only against No. 25-ranked Florida and highly ranked Iowa State.
Despite the tough schedule, the Hurricanes—coached by Jim Larrañaga, who led George Mason University to an NCAA Tournament Final Four appearance in 2006—tout one of the nation’s top defenses. The largely man-to-man defense has relented just 57.8 points per game—good for fifth-lowest in the nation—and four different players have generated at least 1.4 steals per game.
The Light Blue might also be stifled by Miami’s impressive three-point defense, as Miami allows opponents to shoot just .287 percent from beyond the arc—a possible deterrent for the Light Blue, which has shot threes on over 40 percent of its attempts. Miami has also won the rebounding battle by 90 boards this season.
On the offensive side, the Golden Hurricanes have put up a balanced effort, with point guard Ja’Quan Newton leading the team in both points and assists. While not lights out on the whole, the guard combo of Davon Reed and Dejan Vasiljevic is shooting over 40 percent from three and could threaten the Lions’ defense that has allowed teams to shoot over 35 percent from deep.
And it seems that the defensive unit will be the focus for head coach Jim Engles, as his team has struggled to consistently defend against high-quality opponents, ranking 243rd of 347 Division I teams in opponent field goal percentage. To remedy that weakness, Engles has experimented with different defenses—man-to-man, 2-3 zone, and 3-2 zone—throughout the season. And the team, which primarily played man-to-man in its first games, has had mixed success of late, as they shut down Manhattanville and held Navy to 69 points in a loss but relented 95 points on the road to Seton Hall.
Regardless of what defense they play, the Lions should have their hands full when they travel to Miami’s Watsco Center on Wednesday. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.