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Columbia Men’s Basketball Season Preview

Six members of the Columbia basketball team cheering from the sidelines

If Connor Voss isn’t your spirit animal we don’t know who is

As Columbia Men’s Basketball prepares for their next season, loyal supporters are getting ready to spend the next few months rooting for the Lions. Sports editor Ross Chapman previews what fans can expect in the upcoming season.

Last basketball season was one for the record books – or, one for the trophy cases. Thanks to an inspired performance by their four seniors, the Columbia Lions captured the Tournament championship. While it wasn’t the NCAA, Columbia finally had a trophy to put in the case on the 4th floor of the Dodge Fitness Center. To follow up on such a strong season with a dominant senior class would be as hard a task as getting past UC Irvine’s 7’6″ center in the CIT finals.

But sometimes, the only way to follow up on your high expectations is to jump.

Admittedly, Columbia probably won’t do as well as they did last year. The four members of the Class of ’16 accounted for 51% of the Lions’ minutes, a product of former Head Coach Kyle Smith’s “win now” philosophy. They also accounted for 60% of the team’s 3-point attempts, meaning that this year’s team will depend less on the long ball. Without the former seniors, the Lions were picked fifth out of eight in the Ivy preseason coach’s poll. They’ll have to slightly overperform this semester to reach fourth, which will grant them access to the inaugural Ivy postseason tournament in Philadelphia in March.

What the Lions lack in lost seniors, they make up for in a huge upperclassman frontcourt. Senior Forwards Luke Petrasek, Jeff Coby, and Chris McComber lead the team along with Center Connor Voss (the tallest member of the team) and defensive specialist Guard Kendall Jackson (the shortest one).

While no one player marshals the court nearly every minute the way Maodo Lo did in 2016, the team’s de facto leader is Luke Petrasek. The native New Yorker leads the team in field goals and 3-point percentage. More impressively, he ranks fifth nationally in free throw percentage at 93%, which will help him determine games in the late minutes as he fights for rebounds and lay-ups. His 15.8 points per game are good for third in the Ancient Eight. Defensively, he leads the team in rebounds (97 total) and blocks (12).

But Petrasek won’t do it alone. Also clocking in at 28+ minutes per game are junior Guard Nate Hickman and freshman Guard Mike Smith. Hickman, one of two juniors, has eclipsed an injured Kyle Castlin as the most important member of the Class of ’18, drawing the most free throws on the team while scoring 14.1 points per game. Freshman Mike Smith has emerged not only as a force driving towards the basket, but also as a ball handler, leading the team in assists and steals. The trio of Petrasek, Hickman, and Smith have started in all 14 of the Lions’ games. Jake Killingsworth, Lukas Meisner, and Jeff Coby have also started multiple games.

This Lions team is not exceptional at any one area of the game like last year’s team was. They shoot efficiently, ranking in the top 100 nationally in field goal percentage, and this is what they will have to rely on. To succeed in the Ivy postseason tournament, Luke Petrasek will have to have a career year, Mike Smith will have to emerge as the Ivy League’s premier rookie, and Quinton Adlesh will have to turn into Grant Mullins. But despite last year’s lofty goals, this team has a serious shot at getting into the first ever Ivy tournament.

The Hype Train via Columbia University Athletics/Mike McLaughlin

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