Team preview: Columbia Lions
Blue Ribbon Yearbook previews the 2012-13 season, exclusively on Insider
Editor's Note: ESPN Insider has teamed with Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook to provide a comprehensive look at 335 Division I teams. To order the complete 2012-13 edition of Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, visit www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.
(Information in this team report is as of Oct. 1.)
COACH AND PROGRAM
Toward the end of last season, injuries took their toll on Columbia. Losing first-team All-Ivy guard Noruwa Agho two games into the season had been a blow, but the Lions had shown their resiliency by winning 11 of their next 14 games.
But as the injuries mounted, the lack of healthy bodies forced Coach Kyle Smith to significantly adjust his lineup. By the final weekend, Columbia was pretty much out of healthy power forwards, and so Smith decided to play big. He put 6-10, 265-pound Cory Osetkowski (2.7 ppg, 2.0 rpg) at power forward alongside 6-9, 245-pound senior center Mark Cisco (10.0 ppg, 7.2 rpg, .590 FG).
Osetkowski, a rising sophomore. playing the most minutes he had all season, scored 10 points and Cisco added 12 points as the Lions took league champion Harvard to overtime before falling, 77-70. The next night against Dartmouth, Osetkowski was limited by foul trouble but Cisco just missed a double-double with 15 points and nine rebounds. Their strong performances were enough to convince Smith that he needed to find a way to keep the pair on the court together going forward.
"To be able to play big, with two bigs offensively, which we did well, we had to tweak some things," Smith said. "The tricky thing is to find a way to defend, and [playing zone] gives us a chance."
|Last Season||15-15 (.500)|
|Conference Record||4-10 (6th)|
|Coach||Kyle Smith (Hamilton '92)|
|Record At School||30-28 (2 years)|
|Career Record||30-28 (2 years)|
|RPI Last 5 years||220-288-252-191-187|
Because Smith had almost no experience coaching zone defense, he was grateful that he had booked a trip to Europe for the team in the spring. Right after finals ended, the Lions practiced for five days before heading to Spain and Italy, where they went 5-0.
The winning was nice, but almost as important, the trip gave Columbia an opportunity to become familiar with its new lineup and defensive strategy.
"That's why these tours are great because it gives us a chance to teach," Smith said. "You're always trying to compete and sticking with what you do that you don't get to experiment much. The best thing about being over there was that it gave our team some confidence in [playing zone]. It gave me a belief in it. We'll see when the games count if I can stay committed to doing it."
Smith says he has every intention of going with a bigger lineup this season, but he also believes going from a bigger to a smaller one is an easier transition for a team than the other way around.
"It's always easier to go down size and play smaller than it is mid-season like we started doing [playing bigger]," he said. "It's too much work once you've started. So we put this work in the summer. We'll start off the year that way, and if we're not having success, or if we don't feel comfortable or we're not ready for it, it's easier to say, 'All right, we're going to play small.'
"I don't know how much [zone] we'll play, but we'll be more willing to do it. I think this league is really well coached, and guys make adjustments. You've got to have a few more tricks up your sleeve, make people prepare for other things." With Cisco and Osetkowski, the Lions should be formidable up front. Cisco has gotten better every year and has developed into a nice player around the basket. The junior center led the league in field goal percentage and needs just 10 offensive rebounds to become the program's career leader in that category. Although most of his points come close to the rim, he has cultivated a solid mid-range jump shot. His playing time has been limited by foul trouble in the past, and he needs to be better at not picking up unnecessary fouls.
"If he could play more minutes, he could be on the cusp of being an all-conference player," Smith said. "That's what we need. He needs to make that jump from being a good starter to an all-conference player."
Osetkowski, who also pitches for the Lions' baseball team, started his basketball career as a guard before his growth spurt. As a result, the sophomore center is a good dribbler, passer and decision-maker. Smith calls him "one of our smartest guys on the court." When paired with Cisco, he'll play the power forward spot. At other times, he'll be at center.
"He gives us really good size, which, I think the best teams in this league are big," Smith said. "He's a unique player, not a big-time scorer but an efficient player. He gets other guys baskets."
Senior John Daniels (3.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg), a 6-8 power forward, has been hampered by injuries most of his career, but when healthy he gives the Lions ruggedness. Smith likes bringing him off the bench to give the team a boost of energy.
Skylar Scrivano missed all of last season with a broken foot but performed well in Europe. The 6-9 sophomore forward could see a lot of minutes backing up Cisco this season.
"He's really determined to be good," Smith said. "He really surprised me [in Europe]. He was really tenacious, physical."
Brian Barbour (15.5 ppg, 4.4 apg, 35.6 mpg) went from barely seeing the court his freshman year to rarely coming off it the last two seasons. The first-team All-Ivy selection has transformed himself from an off-guard into one of the best point guards in the league. In Ivy games only, the 6-1 senior was first in assists (fifth in all games) and second in scoring (fourth in all games). Barbour led the league and ranked fourth nationally in free throw percentage (.901 FT). He had the fourth-best assist-to-turnover ratio (1.9) in the conference.
"The most important thing to him is that we have more success in the Ivy League," Smith said. "And he's doing everything he can to do that. I want him to go out right."
Meiko Lyles (10.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg) is one of the better 3-point shooters in the league. The 6-3 junior guard started to shoot the ball well near the end of the season and wound up the team's second-leading scorer. He is also a good rebounder for his position.
Take an Inside look at the Ivy League with Blue Ribbon's 2012-13 team reports:
Dean Kowalski (0.4 ppg), a 5-10 senior guard, is a solid ball-handler who fills in at the point guard position and is a good defender off the bench.
Steve Frankowski (6.5 ppg, 43 3PT in 2010-11) missed all of last season with an injury but played well in Europe, leading the team in scoring. The 6-2 sophomore guard gives the Lions another 3-point threat.
Alex Rosenberg (7.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg) got thrown into the starting lineup early last season and had an up and down year. But the 6-7 sophomore forward emerged as a more mature player in Europe. His above-average ball handling and passing skills allow Smith to use him at times as a point forward.
"He's a good dribbler, passer," Smith said. "He'll get you some baskets here and there and he shoots the ball well from three, but he's just kind of a facilitator."
Chris Fitzgerald (3.1 ppg in 2010-11), a 6-8 sophomore forward who sat out last season as a transfer from George Washington, is a solid perimeter shooter. Noah Springwater (2.6 ppg, 1.1 rpg), a 6-3 sophomore, and Van Green (3.3 ppg, 1.3 rpg), a 6-3 junior, provide depth at the guard position.
Because Smith likes to play with multiple point guards on the court at the same time, 6-3 Grant Mullins (Notre Dame/Burlington, Ontario), is the most likely among the freshmen to have an impact this season. Mullins, who averaged 32.5 points and eight assists his senior year in high school, comes from a basketball family. His sister plays at Harvard and his mom was on the Canadian national team and played professionally in Holland. Smith values skilled players who are equally adept at dribbling, passing and shooting, and the freshman class -- Mullins, 6-4 guard Isaac Cohen (Orlando Christian Prep/Orlando, Fla.), 6-8 forward Zach En'Wezoh (Kamiakin/Kennewick, Wash.), 6-3 guard Maodo Lo (Wilbraham & Monson/Berlin, Germany), 6-1 guard Paddy Quinn (Don Bosco Prep/Ramsey, N.J.) and 6-6 forward Brad Gilson (Woodgrove/Round Hill, Va.) -- seems to fit those criteria. How soon the newcomers make an impact probably depends on how quickly they adjust to this level.
BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS
Going into his third season, Smith is well on his way to building his roster with the type of players he covets. Now the next challenge will be more mental than physical: getting the players to believe in success.
Last season, Columbia was much more competitive than its 4-10 league record suggests. Eight of its 10 league losses were by eight or fewer points. Penn, the league runner-up, swept the Lions by a total of four points and one of those games went to overtime. They lost to Harvard by five points on the Crimson's home court and then took the league champion to overtime at Levien before losing by seven.
"If we're going to win in this league and be competitive, we've got to win those close games," Smith said. "Sometimes, you've got to go through it. Alex had to go through it. Meiko had to go through it, where they are counted on every night. ... The [European] tour helped. Year three, I'm hoping we make a step forward."
Having shown they could be competitive with every team, the Lions now must prove they can beat them. Too often last season, as the losses mounted, they allowed doubt to creep in. Their ability to play the top teams tough should give them confidence going into this season.
Columbia probably isn't quite ready to challenge the best in the league, but the Lions could surprise teams with their improvement this season.
For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2012-13 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.
MORE MEN'S COLLEGE BASKETBALL HEADLINES
- Ex-Rutgers coach Rice receiving counseling
- Florida Intl. guard Smith transfers to Minnesota
- Black transfers to Kansas, can play right away
- Report: Coach K considering Team USA return