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nyc college hoops road trip

NYC College Hoops Road Trip: Columbia

Our NYC College Hoops Road Trip concluded Saturday night at Levien Gymnasium on the campus of Columbia University. And what a trip it's been: We've seen some good basketball, quite a bit of bad basketball, and have heard "Empire State of Mind" more times than we can count. (Actually, that's a lie: We did count, and we heard it seven times in six different venues.)

Anyways, Saturday was Senior Night at Columbia, but after hanging with Princeton for a few minutes, the Lions let the Tigers run away with this one, eventually falling 67–52. But where does Levien rank in our standings? Can it overtake Carnesecca Arena to win the printout of the blog post and the two sticks of butter that will be sent to the winning school? On to the scoring!

Venue: Levien Gymnasium, Manhattan
Team: Columbia Lions
Ticket Price: $10

Facilities. The gym itself is underwhelming, in large part because, in our minds, all Ivy League basketball teams play in some ancient field house known as much for its architectural beauty as for the team it houses. (Basically, we imagine they all play at the Palestra.) And Levien isn't that. Instead, it's a perfectly acceptable, modern-enough, utilitarian arena where the only hints of Ivy-ness are the banners of the eight member schools hanging on one of the walls. Oh, and it's underground. At least that's unique. Score: 4/10.

Quality of Play. Princeton is battling with Tommy Amaker's media darling Harvard for second place in the Ivy League, behind Cornell, and is one of the better teams the Ivy has had in years, so they're skilled. Columbia, better this year than they've been historically but still in the bottom half of the league, was never really close. It's worth noting the quality of play in the Ivy, often derided, is dramatically superior to the Northeast Conference, and, to our eyes, better than George Washington and Fordham, two of the bottom teams in the Atlantic-10. Everybody plays with a fundamental soundness that's difficult to find in the mid-major ranks. Now if only these guys could get scholarships. Score: 5/10.

School Spirit. Columbia wins this category, hands down. Granted, it was Senior Night, which is more likely to bring out a supportive crowd to send off graduating seniors, but the stands were packed and lively. All the elements are in place here: cheerleaders, a mascot (Roar-ee. Get it?), and last but not least, Columbia's smart-ass student band (the Columbia University Marching Band, or C.U.M.B., as the kids call it). From the pregame introductions when they displayed a "Where's Snooki?" sign for their New Jersey–based opponent, we knew we were in for a good time. We were right: After a questionable call on a shot-clock violation, they led a sing-songy chant ending in "You're a bastard, referee." (As you can probably guess, the band has seen its fair share of controversies.) Band members danced in the aisles during a rendition of "Hava Nagila." And though we couldn't hear a lot of what they were saying from our seats on the opposite side of the court, late in the game we're pretty sure one of the chants involved the phrases "kill, kill, kill" and "murder, murder, mutilate." That was maybe a bit too much — we were well into garbage time by this point — but hey, that's school spirit to the extreme. Score: 10/10.

Coziness. Of all the $10 venues we've been to this year, this was the one that at least felt like a larger-scale college-hoops game, thanks largely to that spirited crowd we just told you about. The seats are bleachers, but assigned: The lady we bought our tickets from asked us, "Princeton or Columbia bench?" like she was an usher and we were deciding between the bride and groom. Like you'd expect from an underground venue, you feel a little secluded at Levien, and returning from beneath, heading back out into the world once the game is over, can be jarring. Fortunately, you're exiting into one of the nation's most lovely college campuses, and one of the prettiest places in Manhattan. Scoring: 5/10.

Miscellaneous. It was fan-appreciation night, which at Columbia means attendees get a reusable Fairway shopping tote containing a T-shirt and three bags of something called "all-natural grilled-cheese puffs," which we're pretty sure is the same snack that caused the false-positive pregnancy test for Liz Lemon on 30 Rock. Other than that, not much stood out here, though it was kind of neat to walk past the band on 120th Street after the game, because there's something funny about seeing someone carrying a sousaphone through the streets of Manhattan. 2/10.

Final score: 26. A fun crowd and average scores elsewhere puts Columbia in a three-way tie for third place along with Manhattan and the Garden, and behind St. John's and Fordham. And with that, we hereby present the winner of The Sports Section's NYC College Hoops Road Trip: St. John's Carnesecca Hall! Your printout and two sticks of butter are in the mail!

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Photo: Joe DeLessio