By Rob Gross
January 31, 2008
Cornell is not used to being in this position. In fact, no one is besides Penn and Princeton.
The Big Red (10-5, 2-0 Ivy) were picked to win the Ivy League by media members before the season began, and so far, their play has pretty much lived up to the hype. They cleared their first hurdle to the title by sweeping the two-game series with Columbia.
Steve Donahue's team has been most impressive on offense, where it leads the Ivy League in field goal percentage (.482), three-point percentage (.413) and scoring margin (+5.9). The Big Red have averaged 76.9 points per game - more than six points better than any other Ancient Eight team.
Cornell's success on offense begins and ends with its perimeter play, where coming into the season it boasted arguably the best group of guards in the league. Louis Dale acts as the team's floor general, but he's also a scoring option. The All-Ivy point guard leads the league with just under five assists per game and is second on the team in scoring average, at 13.3.
The group took a big hit when sixth-man Collin Robinson left the team shortly before its first win over Columbia. The University of Southern California transfer had been providing a huge boost off the bench, averaging over ten points and four assists.
Robinson's departure means starting guard Adam Gore may have to pick up some of the scoring slack. The junior has played fairly well after missing almost all of last season with a knee injury, but he has not lived up to the expectations that came with being named the 2006 Ivy Rookie of the year.
The most dangerous offensive weapon is not a guard, though he certainly plays like one. 6-foot-6 forward Ryan Wittman, thanks to a blistering .478 clip from three-point range, leads the team in scoring at 14.3 ppg.
Although the Big Red have looked superior offensively to their Ivy League competitors, don't anoint them champions just yet. They still have serious question marks on defense and in the interior.
Cornell is in the middle of the pack in points allowed and is second to last in rebounding margin at -3.1 per game. No player on the roster averages five rebounds or more.
The Big Red have also yet to establish a legitimate low-post scoring presence, despite the improved play of sophomore forward Alex Tyler.
With a team that depends on perimeter play to win, it is often hit or miss. If their long jumpers aren't going down, the Big Red are beatable. But if Wittman and Dale are dialed in, bringing an Ivy League title back to Ithaca - for just the second time - seems to be a strong possibility.