Thursday, January 31, 2008

Cornell Sun: Big Men Integral

Junior center Jeff Foote (1) looks for the ball from junior teammate Brian Kreefer (34).


By Harrison D. Sanford
The Cornell Daily Sun
January 31, 2008

Going into the men's basketball season, it was the combination of guards that the Red had who garnered all the preseason attention. And rightfully so, as sophomores Louis Dale and Ryan Wittman are coming off stellar freshman campaigns, junior Adam Gore played an integral role in the Red's third-place finish in his freshman year and junior Collin Robinson's previous stint at U.S.C. had Red fans excited about the backcourt play and wondering who was going to do all the dirty work inside.

"They deserve the most attention," said sophomore Jeff Foote. "For the most part they are our best scorers."

"We know that they are great players," said sophomore Alex Tyler. "They are the best three-guard lineup in the league … We knew that as a frontcourt we were really underrated and we didn't take anything away from them."

And while nobody questions the Red's backcourt talent despite the recent departure of Robinson, there are few worries about the frontcourt's prowess as well after this weekend's dominance over John Baumann and the Columbia frontcourt.

"We definitely have one of the deepest frontcourts in the league," Tyler said. "We all bring something different and we all come in with a lot of energy."

The frontcourt's depth was on full display this past weekend as the Red dominated on the boards, winning the rebounding battle 41-27 and holding All-Ivy first team center Baumann to zero field goals in the18-point victory.

"When we played Columbia at home we got out-rebounded and they got a lot of second chance points," Tyler said. "In the second game, we showed that we can go out there and play hard."

It was a vast difference from the weekend before when the Red allowed Baumann to score at will but still managed a tough 70-64 home win. In that contest, Baumann finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds and the Red were out-rebounded 31-21 — something the frontcourt unit was focused on preventing from happening again this past weekend, and something Baumman had to give Cornell credit for.

“They have a great bunch of big guys, they have a great rotation,” Baumman said. “They really did a good job of not letting us get anything easy inside. I think the thing that makes this team good is the quantity of big guys they have to where you can get one of their big guys in foul trouble, and they don’t really seem to lose anything when they bring another one off the bench.”

Indeed, the Red has a good rotation of big men who are capable of scoring, rebounding and playing good interior defense.

"When we put any one of us in the game, its hard for any opposing player to get into any type of rhythm because we are all different," Tyler said.

Tyler and Foote, alongside senior Jason Hartford and junior Brian Kreefer, make up the aforementioned interior rotation for the squad.

"It is one thing that we feel is our strength," Kreefer said. "We can throw any two of us in there they can be starters.”

In fact, each player has seen time as starters and has also shown the ability to score for the Red. Early in the season, Harford led the Red in scoring in two contests. Kreefer scored 21 points against Navy early in the season and has reached double-digits numerous times in his career. Tyler has consistently been a threat for the Red on the interior and the eligibility of Foote has given the Red a new dimension.

“[Foote’s arrival] has helped a lot,” Kreefer said. “You can take more chances on defense because you know that he is back there.”

“Foote has brought in that extra depth,” Tyler said. “With how long he is, he can block shots and he is a presence … he disrupts what a player can do.”

And while Foote’s blocking prowess earned him energized chants from Newman Nation two weekends ago, the Lockwood, N.Y. native insists that he and each one of his teammates are equals.

“Its really not one above the other,” Foote said. “If I am not having a big game, we know we can put somebody else in and have a fresh rotation … A.T. [Alex Tyler] is the big physical guy. He has solid post moves and probably the best defensive post player we have … J. Hart is just so hard to guard … Kreefer is one of the best playmakers and finishers. He has a knack for the ball and is always in the right place at the right time.”

And while players like Wittman, Dale and Gore will garner more attention as the Ivy League season heats up, both sides — the frontcourt and the backcourt — know that they will have to rely on each other for the chance to bring the Red its first conference title since the 1987-1988 season.

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