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Finally—it’s playoff time.
Okay, so the Ivy League doesn’t always do this whole “conference tournament” thing. But the final weekend of Ivy play sort of becomes a tournament when the races are close, which they are in tennis this year.
If tennis doesn’t float your boat, there’s always professional hockey and basketball.
Columbia men’s tennis
Columbia vs. Princeton. Sunday, 1 p.m., Dick Savitt Tennis Center
The picture is simple: If No. 19 Columbia beats either Penn on Friday or No. 61 Princeton on Sunday, it clinches a share of the Ivy League title and takes the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. That’s pretty cool. More »
Somewhere along the way, first base became the position for a team’s biggest slugger. It didn’t matter whether that player could run, field, or do anything else in relative baseball terms. He just needed to hit, and to hit with ludicrous power.
I’d argue the stereotype of first basemen built like the Incredible Hulk began with guys like Mark McGwire and Mo Vaughn in the early 1990s amid Major League Baseball’s “Steroid Era,” and it promptly trickled down into the perceptions of the prototypical first baseman across all levels of baseball. Juiced-up hitters were too strong to be left out of the lineup, even if they couldn’t defend all that well. The solution was to slot them in the field position that requires the least speed and range—first base.
So it’s curious to see that someone like sophomore Nick Maguire playing that position for Columbia. More »
We’re at the halfway point of the Ivy League season, and the Lions sit in the cellar of the Lou Gehrig Division. To make matters worse, the next eight games for the Light Blue should be more difficult than its first eight games. They will face their tough divisional rivals—Penn, Cornell, and Princeton.
Conversely, the head-to-head games present a terrific opportunity for the Lions to make up ground on the top three teams in the conference (going by Ivy record). With some inconsistent bats this season, pitching and defense will be the key. I want to focus on the Lions’ group of hurlers today.
We have a bit of a lull this weekend—relatively speaking, since this is the spring, the prime season for sports, after all—before the NBA and NHL start their playoff seasons. But a couple of top Columbia teams are playing at home to balance it out.
Here’s what we’ll be watching this weekend.
Vs. Princeton. Saturday and Sunday, Robertson Field at Satow Stadium
Ivy baseball begins divisional play, meaning Columbia will face Lou Gehrig Division rival Princeton four times. With division-leading Penn 8-0 and Princeton, Cornell, and Columbia boasting winning records as well, every series is incredibly important.
Columbia sports—women’s tennis
Vs. Yale. Saturday, 12 p.m., Dick Savitt Tennis Center
The No. 33 women’s tennis team is good. Really good. Last year, the Light Blue tied Yale for first in the conference, but the Bulldogs were the ones that took the NCAA Tournament bid because they beat Columbia in the head-to-head meeting. Yale is a dangerous team, and wins over Brown and Yale would put the Lions at 5-0 in conference play with only unranked Penn and No. 69 Princeton remaining.
Other college sports—men’s ice hockey
Minnesota vs. Union (National championship). Saturday, 7:30 p.m., ESPN
Drinking beer and watching hockey go hand-in-hand, and what better way to end your Baccha-tastic day by watching the national title game in ice hockey? Last year, Yale surprised everyone by winning it all, but this year, it’s more traditional powers Minnesota and Union facing off.
As a bonus, Gary Thorne will likely be doing play-by-play. Widely considered the best play-by-play voice for hockey, he’s so badass that he’s the voice of two different sports video game series—in two different sports!
NBA: Oklahoma City at Indiana. Sunday, 1 p.m., ABC
These two teams could well meet in the NBA Finals in a couple of months. If you need something to do while waiting for your hangover to subside, flip on the TV to ABC for this game—it should be excellent.
Glamour’s “Top 10 College Women” features a familiar face this year.
Junior Nzingha Prescod made the cut for Glamour’s 57th annual college-achievement competition, joining the ranks of twins who help Sri Lankan widows find jobs, a precocious engineer leading a project to put time capsules on Mars, and a star college women’s basketball player who spends summers encouraging kids on reservations to pursue higher education.
Still, this may not be the most esteemed top-10 list to which Prescod can lay claim—she is also one of the top 10 female foilists in the world and ranks No. 1 in the United States.
After a great rookie season in 2010—including Ivy Rookie of the Year and first-team All-Ivy nods—she took a year off to train for and compete in the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Earlier this year, in Poland, she also became the first American woman to win a Grand Prix title.
Spring is an exciting time for sports. Baseball season gets underway, professional basketball and hockey are finishing up tight races to qualify for the playoffs, and college basketball enters its postseason, aka “March Madness.”
It’s even more interesting for Columbia in particular, with Ivy seasons underway for the spring sports. This year, baseball, men’s tennis, and women’s tennis are all serious contenders for Ivy League championships.
Here’s what we’ll be watching this weekend.
Columbia sports—men’s tennis
Vs. Harvard. Saturday, 1 p.m., Dick Savitt Tennis Center
Two years in a row, Harvard has won the Ivy title in men’s tennis. Two years in a row, Columbia has finished second, just a game behind. It’s still early, but considering neither team is expected to lose more than twice in Ivy play, this match could well be the decisive one.
In case you haven’t been to Dick Savitt Tennis Center before—I hadn’t before last weekend—to get there, you go up to 218th Street and walk west, past the football field, until you get near the river. There will be a right turn into the parking lot for the arena. (You’ll also be able to see the famous C painted on the rocks.)
Other college sports—men’s basketball
Final Four. Saturday, 6:09 p.m., TBS
Was it really going to be anything else? These are four of the best teams in college basketball battling for spots in Monday’s championship game. The first semifinal is UConn vs. Florida. I’ll be more interested in the second game, though—Kentucky vs. Wisconsin. The young Wildcats are massively talented—seriously, look at their first-year class—and seem to have matured at just the right time, while the Badgers are pretty good in their own right, too. That’s set to tip at 8:49 p.m., also on TBS.
Professional sports—basketball and ice hockey
NBA: Oklahoma City at Houston. Friday, 9:30 p.m., ESPN
You could go on and on about this game. Oklahoma City is second in the Western Conference, coming off a win over first-place San Antonio—snapping the Spurs’ 19-game winning streak—while Houston is fourth. OKC’s Kevin Durant is on a Michael Jordan-esque scoring run. If dominant Rockets center Dwight Howard plays—he’s recently been resting a sore ankle in preparation for the playoffs—he’ll face dominant Thunder defender Serge “I’ll block ya” Ibaka. And if you’re interested, the teams are two of the bigger “moneyballers” in the NBA.
NHL: St. Louis at Chicago. Sunday, 12:30 p.m., NBC
St. Louis is tied for first in the NHL despite one of the lowest payrolls in the sport. The Blues give pretty much everyone boners because they play a gritty, defense-first game old-time hockey fans love, and that game leads to dominance in puck possession that appeals to new-age hockey fans like me. On the other side, Chicago is the defending champion. The Blackhawks will be missing their best player, but a) are really effing good even without him, and b) have home-ice advantage in this game. Should be a doozy.
Football head coach Pete Mangurian took to Twitter for 90 minutes to answer questions from fans on Tuesday night. The Light Blue bench boss of two years largely addressed the team’s progress from spring practice and how the Lions will attempt to rebound from last season.
“The older players have gone through hell and overcome it. They feel good about where they are & I do too,” he explained. “Our team will be better. Our players will play better. We’ll coach better. We won’t change our philosophy or try to be something we’re not.”
Come Thursday morning, Columbia could be the last Ivy team playing meaningful basketball games. I don’t know what that distinction actually means, given that the Light Blue is playing in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament—not the NCAA Tournament, National Invitational Tournament, or even the relatively new College Basketball Invitational—but I do know that a 21-win season and possible postseason tournament semifinal berth are, without a doubt, impressive.
All that’s left in the path of the Light Blue is Yale first-team All-Ivy forward Justin Sears.
(Then, hopefully, the Lions will face a battered and extremely fatigued Philadelphia 76ers team that has lost 3,400 straight games.)
While some of the other best players in the Ancient Eight really swing possession-based stats, Sears stands in a class by himself.
“The 14-Game Tournament” wraps up tonight as Penn visits Princeton.
Although it didn’t take all 14 games for Harvard to clinch the title, the Ancient Eight men’s basketball field was as deep as it’s been in recent memory. Five teams—Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, and Brown—finished above .500 and are eligible for postseason tournament selection.
But this week, before those tournaments get sorted out, the Ivy League will announce its postseason player honors. We asked columnists and Ancient Eight basketball buffs Peter Andrews, Ryan Young, and Daniel Radov who they’d pick on their All-Ivy teams. More »
The nightmarish 80-47 box score Saturday night is the enduring memory of this men’s basketball season for some. But not for me.
At 18-11 overall with two games remaining, the popular narrative should be about Columbia’s potential first 20-win season in four decades.
While a 20-11 record wouldn’t put the Lions in the NCAA Tournament—those hopes set sail after that whole Harvard game meltdown thing—it would still represent something significant for the program.
Twenty wins in college basketball is a basic benchmark of a solid team. Championship-caliber teams rarely jump from mediocrity straight to immortality—they usually have a very good season in between, one which is a sign of good things to come. Harvard, for example, finished with 21 wins in 2009-10. It was a seven-win improvement from the previous season and a 13-win improvement over the season before that. Fast forward to the present: Harvard has clinched its fourth consecutive Ivy title. More »