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Stop Saying That Men’s Basketball Is Just Unlucky

With just two games left in the non-conference schedule, men’s basketball has been disappointing fans left and right. Staff writer Abby Rubel analyzes what they can do to improve over winter break. 

We miss you, Conor!

There are few things more frustrating for a Columbia men’s basketball fan than watching Quinton Adlesh steal the ball, make a fast break down the court, and flub the layup. When the Lions lose the game by a narrow margin, you find yourself wondering if that layup could have made the difference or if it was just bad luck.

The Lions have certainly been experiencing their share of bad luck this season. As they wind up their non-conference schedule, the Lions stand at 1-9. Two of this season’s losses, against Stony Brook and Quinnipiac, were victories by more than 10 points last year.

Their dismal record is partly a result of a tougher schedule. Matches against undefeated Villanova and 8-3 Penn State came early as part of a seven-game stretch on the road. Despite that, the Lions are performing at basically the same offensive level as last season. Last year, they produced an average of 71.9 points per game; so far this season they’ve scored an average of 73.7. Field goal completion varies by a tenth of a percentage point.

Most of the Light Blue’s losses have been so close that it is tempting to write them off as being due to either clearly superior opponents (putting the Lions up against Villanova is rather like putting my grandmother up against the Lions) or simply bad luck that’s bound to turn around at some point.

But after seven losses by 10 or fewer points, it’s time to stop blaming chance. There are areas not measured by statistics–stupid mistakes or missed easy layups, for example–which are contributing to the Light Blue’s struggle to win close games. But the Lions are measurably worse in some key areas–turnovers and steals–that can make the difference in close games. Last season, they averaged 12.9 turnovers per game, while their opponents averaged 14.3. Thus far this season, the Lions have averaged 14.4, slightly over one more than their 13.2 opponent average. And they’ve stolen the ball three fewer times per game on average than last season.

These numbers are indeed small. But given that most of the Lions’ games have come down to a layup in the final minutes of the game, one or two baskets earlier in the game off a turnover or steal could mean the difference between victory and defeat.

The general consistency between last season and this season is encouraging, even if the Lions have been frustrating to watch thus far. If they can make some small improvements, they might have a shot at the Ivy tournament.

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1 Comment

  • Justin says:

    @Justin They are also routinely being out-rebounded.

    It’s tough to win close games when the opponent has 10+ more rebounds.

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