Men’s basketball will host Yale and Brown this weekend in the team’s second back-to-back conference of the year.
The Light Blue (9-8, 3-1 Ivy) is coming off a pair of hard-fought victories against Dartmouth and Harvard last weekend and has now won five of its last six contests.
Columbia head coach Jim Engles has relied on the effectiveness of a stingy 2-3 zone of late, which has given opposing offenses immense difficulty, both in scoring efficiency and in ball control. The Lions’ foes have combined for a total of 59 turnovers in the past three games.
“I think we’re becoming more comfortable [with the defense],” Engles said. “I think it’s something that’s taken a while for us to become accustomed to, but we’re starting to play off each other more.”
Despite garnering two much-needed victories after a bad loss to Cornell, the Light Blue’s offense has remained less than stellar. To address this, Engles and his staff have placed a particular emphasis on fundamentals in practice this week, looking to end the three-game streak of sub-40 shooting percentages.
“I want everyone facilitating the offense,” Engles said. “We’re really focused on the timing, the passing, and the cutting. For us to win, I think we have to have a lot of guys score. When everybody has to be defended on the court, it makes for a more efficient offense.”
Yale (11-6, 3-1 Ivy), the reigning Ancient Eight champion, prides itself on its aggressive man-to-man defense and its three-point shooting. Both of these tendencies will pose direct challenges to Columbia’s vulnerabilities. A 2-3 zone typically encourages the outside shot by clogging the interior, which could give the Bulldogs’ shooters plenty of opportunity to find a rhythm.
On the flipside, the Light Blue did an excellent job of using the backdoor cut against Harvard to exploit the Crimson’s pressure, which will again be a point of attack for Columbia on Friday.
The Bulldogs possess a balanced and efficient offensive attack, with five players scoring in double digits and an impressive team field goal percentage of 47 percent. Like Columbia, Yale has reaped the rewards of first-years who have stepped up quickly. The Bulldogs’ Miye Oni has started all but one game and is second on the team in scoring, while Jordan Bruner has taken on the role of sixth man, contributing 10 points and six rebounds per game.
“They have two really good first-years who are contributing at a really high rate,” Engles said. “They traditionally are a very good defensive team, and they are a very good passing team. It’s something we’ve got to make sure we can match.”
After the game against Yale, Columbia will have less than a day to ready for a gritty Brown squad, anchored by senior forward Steven Spieth. The Bears (10-10, 1-3 Ivy) have struggled in conference play thus far, but in the race to the Palestra, anything can happen on any given night.
Navigating the Ivy schedule and style of play is still a work in progress, particularly for Engles, who’s been out of the Ancient Eight since taking the head coaching job at NJIT in 2008.
“Before this last weekend, I sat down with [my staff] and got their opinions for what we should do in practice and how to prepare for these teams,” Engles said. “I haven’t been involved with it for the past eight years.”
Men’s basketball will face off with the Bulldogs at home on Friday, with tipoff set for 7 p.m., and will return to Levien the next evening to battle the Bears, also at 7 p.m.