34 Teams in 34 Days: Columbia

Columbia

Outlook: Luke Petrasek is off to the NBA and replacing him is a huge question mark before Jim Engles’ second season.

Last year: 11-16 (5-9 Ivy League)

Who’s in: Luke Bolster (G); Randy Brumant (F); Gabe Stefanini (G); Jake Klores (G); Myles Hanson (G); Tai Bibbs (G); Jaron Faulds (F)

Who’s out: Luke Petrasek (F); Jeff Coby (F); Conor Voss (C); Chris McComber (F); John Sica (F); Kendall Jackson (G)

Key non-conference games: @Longwood (11-14-2017); @Albany (12-2-2017); Stony Brook (12-7-2017)

(Note: Since publication C.J. Davis has been ruled out for the year due to injury.)

Almost everything the Columbia Lions did last season revolved in some way around forward Luke Petrasek. The All-Ivy League second team player was Columbia’s leading scorer and shot blocker. He provided a focal point on both offense and defense. Now though the versatile forward is off to the NBA. After missing out on a couple of summer league opportunities, Petrasek signed with the Charlotte Hornets for their training camp roster.

“We’re really excited for him,” said Columbia head coach Jim Engles. “It’s a great accomplishment to have the opportunity to go down there. It’s definitely a challenge to try to replace someone with his talent.”

In addition to the departure of Petrasek, the Lions also lost Jeff Coby and Conor Voss to graduation. Those three players accounted for more than 50 minutes per game at the front court positions. That means there are a lot of opportunities for younger players.

Patrick Tape was foul prone during his freshman season, but he’ll probably get a shot at playing more minutes at the center position. He did some nice things offensively last season, including shooting 54% on two-point attempts. Tape also had a strong block percentage in limited minutes. If he could provide a defensive presence inside, it would definitely help the Lions’ backbone. Other options at the forward position include freshman Jaron Faulds and junior Lukas Meisner. Faulds was one of the top high school players in Michigan last season. Meisner only played in 17 games last season due to injury, but he was strong on the defensive glass when healthy. The 6-foot-8 forward played for Germany’s national team over the summer in the World University Games.

In addition, the return of Kyle Castlin—who missed all of last season due to a toe injury—could give Engles a different option if he wanted to go with a shorter lineup this season. The 6-foot-4 forward was a solid reserve for the Lions in 2015-16. Another swingman that Engles could turn to in smaller lineups is 6-foot-6 guard/forward Myles Hanson. The freshman from Minnesota averaged a double-double in his senior year in high school and could be another useful piece off the bench.

Then there is the backcourt. Mike Smith came from New York from Illinois and immediately went to work during the 2016-17 season. Smith, who is generously listed at 5-foot-11, had a 23.7% usage rate last season according to Bart Torvik. It was the fifth highest usage rate of any Ivy League player 6-foot or under since the 2007-08 season. (See chart below.)

With Petrasek gone Smith’s usage is unlikely to decrease. In fact, as he goes into his sophomore season the point guard has worked on strength and conditioning to make sure he can take a pounding on back-to-back Ivy League nights. What Engles might like to do is reduce Smith’s team-high 31.4 minutes per game. The hope is that Tai Bibbs, a freshman guard from Illinois, can take some of those minutes.

Voss became a fan favorite and a team-leader with his hustle on the court last season. While it might not have showed up always on the box score replacing him may also prove quite difficult. Engles believes that Nate Hickman, now in his senior season with the Lions, is ready to take over that mantle.

Columbia has a brutal non-conference schedule to start the season considering the team only has two seniors (Hickman and Castlin). The Lions will play their first seven games on the road, and none will be particularly easy. Columbia does play five of their next six at home before starting Ivy League play at Princeton, but November will be a long month on the road. It’ll be up to Engles to form a cohesive unit that can win in hostile environments early in his second season.