Men’s basketball opened its season against Kean on Friday with a routine 107-62 win. But everyone in Morningside Heights has an eye on Monday night, when the Lions play on the road against Kansas State.
The Wildcats won’t enter the matchup with the cache of Kentucky, the marquee nonconference opponent last year, but it’s another national stage for the Light Blue. Along with the airtime on national television, Monday's matchup presents Columbia with something that all students are far too familiar with: having to pad their résumés.
It’s a tragedy of college basketball that, in Columbia’s second game, the focus is already on March Madness. But then again, that’s the reality of the Ivy League. It remains the only conference in Division I without a postseason tournament. At the moment, Ivy fans can only dream about the possibility of a two-bid conference. They’re stuck with only the Ivy regular season champion making the field of 68, a mind-boggling anachronism in the world of college athletics.
In truth, there is no downside to adding a conference tournament. The Ivy League rebuffs the idea of a postseason tournament by saying it’s not part of the tradition. However, the conference should realize the additional revenue and positive publicity that a postseason tournament would bring.
Columbia could avoid these issues by simply winning the Ancient Eight, but that hasn’t happened in Morningside Heights since 1968. It should be noted that Harvard’s decline will ease the minds of Columbia fans. The five-time defending conference champions have lost guard Siyani Chambers to a torn ACL this season and have graduated stars Wesley Saunders and Steve Moundou-Missi.
But the preseason poll saw three teams—Yale, Columbia, and Princeton—in a practical dead heat for first place. A mere nine—out of 612—points separates the three teams, with the Bulldogs and star senior forward Justin Sears taking the top spot.
It’s likely that Columbia’s fate will fall into the hands of the NCAA Selection Committee. The Lions’ overall record is the most important piece of the puzzle, and while the Committee is notoriously tight-lipped about its selection process, there is little doubt that Columbia cannot afford to finish lower than second place. They’ll also need a few important nonconference wins beyond Kansas State. Matchups with Northwestern, Lehigh, and Bucknell await the Light Blue in the coming weeks, and they’re great opportunities for Columbia to continue building that résumé.
So on Monday night, root for a victory and Columbia’s best hope to hit the hardwood in March. Just don’t entirely blame Kyle Smith or his players.
In fact, Smith and the men’s basketball program should earn plenty of praise for the courage to play Kansas State on the road. Columbia is trying to fight the restrictive system, and bring added visibility to Ivy basketball. Let’s hope the conference will come around to the same line of thinking someday.