Lions to carry Ivy League to CTI title?

 2016 ucirvine turner01

Trying to become just the second Ivy League school to capture a postseason tournament, the Columbia Lions face a tall task – literally – this evening.

Levien Gymnasium is the scene for the CTI championship game between Kyle Smith's crew and the visiting Anteaters, with a 7 p.m. ET tip in Upper Manhattan. Oddsmakers from online sports book BetDSI prefer Columbia as a 1.5-point favorite entering the action.

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The Lions (24-10) dominated NJIT in Sunday's semifinal round, 80-65, behind combo guard Maodo Lo's season-high 29 points. Lukas Meisner also notched his first career double-double with 11 points and 10 boards. Columbia not only shot 48.2 percent from the field, it outrebounded the Highlanders by 10.

Good luck reprising the same sort of glass-cleaning success vs. UC Irvine (28-9). Seven-foot-6, 300-pound center Mamadou N'diaye anchors a front line that made mincemeat of Coastal Carolina two nights ago. While N'diaye (12.1 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.4 blocks) had a quieter-than-usual showing in that 66-47 rout, Luke Nelson stepped up with 15 points on 6-of-14 shooting.

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Frankly, the Anteaters rarely display expert marksmanship. Head coach Russell Turner knows his assets – size and defense – and makes the most of them. UC Irvine has been exceptional when removed from the cozy confines California, too, with a 13-4 road mark on the year.

Can you genuinely expect four straight victories to conclude the tournament, though? The Anteaters' bigs could struggle to find their legs early, giving the Lions' slashers easier access into the paint. Motivation certainly won't be in short supply, either, as the hosts covet the conference's first slab of postseason hardware since Pete Carril's famed Princeton squad claimed the 1975 NIT.

TUESDAY NCAA FREE PICK: COLUMBIA -1.5

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