6. Columbia (2006-07 Record: 16-12, 7-7 Ivy)
Head coach: Joe Jones
Returning Starters: 5- G Brett Loscalzo (senior): 6-0, 180; G Niko Scott (sophomore): 6-3, 200; F Mack Montgomery (senior): 6-5, 195; F John Baumann (senior): 6-8, 220; F/C Ben Nwachukwu (senior): 6-9, 235.
With Penn recovering from heavy losses due to graduation, and Princeton once again welcoming in a new head coach, the race for the Ivy League crown is wide open. And who’s to say that the Columbia Lions, with all five senior starters returning, can’t be the team that snatches up the automatic bid? It all starts with first team All-Ivy selection John Baumann (13.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg) up front, who also pulled off the rare double of leading the conference in both field goal percentage (57.8%) and three-point percentage (50.9%). Baumann is joined up front by classmates Mack Montgomery (5.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg) and Ben Nwachukwu (8.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg).
While Montgomery is a heady player who finished second on the team in minutes played last season, Nwachukwu could best be described as the enforcer who does all the dirty work in the paint. Also looking to contribute in the frontcourt are junior Jason Miller (2.2 ppg, 1.7 rpg), sophomore Joe Bova (4.2 ppg, 2.7 rpg), and freshmen Zack Crimmins (Arlington, VA) and Asenso Ampim (Accra, Ghana). Crimmins, who was also recruited by Virginia and Notre Dame, is seven feet tall but is a candidate to redshirt this season thanks to the returning experience.
The backcourt also welcomes back a wealth of experience, beginning with Loscalzo (4.9 ppg, 2.5 apg). The senior also shot 44.8% from behind the arc last season, which helps takes some attention away from Baumann on the block. While Niko Scott started eleven of the Lions’ fourteen conference games last season, the man to watch could be sophomore Patrick Foley (8.9 ppg, 2.5 apg). Despite only starting one game last season, Foley was the team’s second leading scorer and assist man. Another contributor who can add something to the lineup when healthy is senior Justin Armstrong (3.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg), who dealt with health issues all last season.
While Anderson would best be described as a “wild card”, sophomore Kevin Bulger and junior K.J. Matsui are also back for the Lions. While neither put up big numbers last season, they are both capable of contributing. Bulger had a 2.0 assist to turnover ratio in 06-07, and Matsui averaged five points per game last season. Neither Daniel Trepanier nor Kashif Sweet saw much playing time last season, and that stands to be the case yet again this year.
In regards to the schedule, the Lions kicked off 2007-08 with a loss at Fordham, who should contend in the Atlantic 10. Other games of note include taking part in the Columbus regional of the NIT Season Tip-off (November 12th-13th), and non-conference games on the road against Albany (November 17th), Sacred Heart (November 30th) and Villanova (December 22nd). Ivy League play opens with back-to-back games against the preseason favorite to win the conference, Cornell (January 19th, 26th). While the conference schedule’s Friday/ Saturday format emphasizes academics, a small skid can turn into something big if you’re not careful thanks to the quick turnaround.
Plain and simple, the Lions should contend in the Ivy League this season. And with two games against Cornell to open conference play, the answer as to whether or not they can actually win the league should become apparent quite early. Just how good this team is will depend on how much each player has improved in the off-season, as the amount of returnees made a large recruiting class impractical. The Lions turned the ball over 14.6 times per game last season, and getting that number down to twelve or so could mean an extra two or three wins. And given how competitive the top of the Ivy stands to be this season, which could be the difference between the NCAA Tournament and staying home in March.