None of the Lions faithful want to remember that 2002-2003 season.
Columbia went 2-25, 0-14 in the Ivy League and rarely even close. The Lions also scored fewer than 50 points in 13 of the 27 games that year and 40 or fewer a whopping seven times.
Most of the effects of that disastrous season wore off rather quickly, as Columbia rebounded to go 6-8 in league play the following year and put together three-straight .500 finishes from 2007 to 2009. One landscape shift, however, hasn't reset itself to pre-2003 levels yet, and it happens to be one of the most important in league play - the season-opening travel partner series.
Over the 10 years prior to the 0-fer debacle, the Lions had split the matchups with the Big Red at 10 apiece. From 2003 forward, it's been all Cornell, as the Big Red has gone 14-2 over the last 16 meetings, including all of the previous nine. Since 1980, Cornell is 36-24 in the series, but through 2002 the two sides were obviously all square at 22.
The last six are probably excusable, as the Big Red reached historic heights relative to the program's past success, but getting swept in 2004 and 2006, when the programs were at similar talent levels, has compounded the problem.
A successful non-conference run - strength-of-schedule concerns, notwithstanding - has kicked up buzz of an upper division finish, but another sweep at the hands of Cornell would squash that discussion very quickly. And while it's almost comical to discuss a "must-win" game with six teams sitting on 0-0 records, history doesn't look kindly upon the road-road split (Columbia is 3-12 at Newman Arena since 1995), nor does it look kindly upon a team's prospects after an 0-2 start.
That means that for the first time since 2005, the Lions need to play the role of the unfriendly host and lock up at least a split in the friendly Levien atmosphere this weekend. Anything short of that will leave Columbia with 10 straight losses in the series and a daunting return visit to Newman attempting to avoid a nearly insurmountable 0-2 hole for the fifth-consecutive year. But that's just how it is in the 14-Game Tournament. One two-game span, one weekend can dash the hopes that take most of the season to build.
The unsatisfying reality of Saturday's game for Columbia fans is that the outcome probably rests more squarely upon Cornell's shoulders. Given the Lions' horrendous three-point defense and the Big Red's proficiency from long range, Cornell will likely be bombing treys from the parking lot. If it gets hot, it'll be a tough shootout for Columbia to win. If the Big Red goes cold, however, the Lions are the best rebounding team in the league and will be in great position to shut Cornell down.
For its own part, Columbia shouldn't have a lot of trouble scoring. The Lions should be able to take advantage of the weak Big Red frontcourt for interior buckets and frequent trips to the line. If Cornell collapses too much, Columbia has the necessary perimeter shooters to make the Big Red pay. It's pretty reasonable to expect the Lions to post an offensive rating in the low 100s, which equates to a low 70 point total at a pace in the upper 60s. Where Cornell ends up could be all over the map, however, due to the high-variance nature of the Big Red's three-point shooting.
That may not being a satisfying answer to the Lions fans hoping to stick a dagger in this nine-game losing skid, but it definitely simplifies the rooting concerns. Pull out those Chris Wroblewski, Andrew Ferry and Max Groebe voodoo dolls and liberally insert those pins into the shooting hands. Because if one or more of those three gets hot, this ignominious streak will almost certainly reach double digits.