Sports | Sports Columns

FINKELSTEIN: Despite recent losses, don’t give up on men’s basketball just yet

It’s odd to think that men’s basketball could be staring down a 3-6 record by this week’s end, especially for a squad expected to contend for the Ivy title.

With losses to Fairfield and Longwood this past weekend, it’s clear that the Lions (3-4) are suffering through a rough patch after just seven games. And two more difficult matchups loom this week, beginning with a road contest against Bucknell (3-3) on Wednesday.

The Lions will then face St. Joseph’s on Friday. And yes, it’s the same Hawks program that plays in the Atlantic 10 and has appeared in five NCAA tournaments since 2000.

But let’s not fall into the usual trap this early and write off the Lions before Ivy season gets under way.

Three of the four losses have been by three points or fewer—all in cases when a bad bounce or unlucky call could’ve been the difference.

Beyond the box score, the rise of forward Luke Petrasek should be cause for celebration. Seven games into his junior season, Petrasek is showing signs of being the piece Columbia needs to make a dent in the Ivy title race.

Petrasek has shown a strong presence around the rim on both ends of the court: He’s effective offensively in the low post with the ability to finish around the rim. He averages 12 points per game on a 62.5 percent shooting, and he is also hitting his free throws at a 75 percent clip, which precludes defense from treating him like Shaquille O’Neal. (Translation: Defenses cannot foul Petrasek to keep him from scoring.)

On defense, Petrasek is also a solid rim protector, with 5.3 rebounds and about one block per game. And most crucially, he’s careful enough to keep his fouls at fewer than three per game and big enough to disrupt opponents’ shots in the paint.

Opponents have slowly begun to take notice of Petrasek’s hot start.The junior from East Northport, New York, earned a share of Ivy League Player of the Week for his performances against Kansas State, Northwestern, and Lehigh.

Petrasek’s development comes at a crucial time for the Lions. Ivy rival Yale boasts reigning conference Player of the Year Justin Sears. The senior forward finished with 19 points, six rebounds, and three blocks in 34 minutes on the road against No. 5/7 Duke, garnering national attention for another impressive performance.

Petrasek may not guard Sears one-on-one when the two squads face off, but it’s undeniable that the Lions need an interior presence to dissuade the Bulldogs’ forward from cutting to the basket at will.

He’ll have some help from a pair of star seniors whose returns have been worth the wait. Guard Grant Mullins has shone in the first seven games, leading the team in points (15.1) and assists (3.6) per game after an injury prevented him from playing last season. Senior forward Alex Rosenberg is also back in seemingly full form and showed flashes of his all-Ivy self in the early going.

The team’s record has yet to reflect expectations, but what we’ve seen in these seven games is largely a result of growing pains. Keep in mind that even senior guard Maodo Lo is still adapting to a new role with so many weapons at his disposal. While he looked to score more often a year ago, the Berlin native must now balance being both a facilitator and a scorer this season.

In truth, there should still be high expectations surrounding this squad. With a busy December ahead for the Lions, there is plenty of time to gel before  the Ivy season tips off. | @CUSpecSports


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