Monday, December 21, 2009

Cornell at St. John's Preview from Johnny Jungle

Ambiance: Dizzee Rascal, Holiday (club swagger music from Britain, Not quite SFW; pops up in new window)

Ambiance: The Office’s Andy Bernard. He went to Cornell, you may have heard of it. (pops up in new window)

Monday evening is the Holiday Festival, championship game, where St. John’s will try to hoist the trophy for the first time in years. Cornell stands in the way.

The championship game of the 2009 Holiday Festival pits the two favorites, St. John’s Red Storm and the Cornell Big Red. It was almost not to be; both games required strong late-game efforts for the teams to advance. St. John’s fought off a determined and scrappy Hofstra team – one that had not been to the NCAA Tournament for much of the decade but nonetheless has won many games against lower-level competition (see what I did there? Responded to Hofstra’s athletic department smack talk) – with relentless and tenacious late-game defense.

Meanwhile, Cornell coasted for a while, went cold, and the crafty Davidson Wildcats slinked in with clutch shooting and excellent ball movement. Missed free throws allowed Cornell to take the game into overtime. Davidson still couldn’t be shaken until a 30 foot jump shot from Ryan Wittman at the buzzer brought the Cornell players onto the court and made the Cornell fans’ hearts start beating in the proper rhythms once more. A fantastic finish to a fantastic game.

On the season, Cornell has brought their excellent offensive attack to Alabama, U Mass, and Syracuse; they have played a home game against Seton Hall as well. The Big Red have combined great and consistent offense with a permissiveness on defense that allows teams like, say, the 3-8 Davidson back into the game. The Big Red can beat St. John’s, if the Red Storm allow them to score freely and put up offensively offensive performances like today’s against Hofstra. But the Red Storm’s swarming defensive ability and shot blocking can really help erase many of the other inefficiencies.

Heckle the Cornell fans at the fantastic Cornell Basketball Blog. And you may know that Cornell forward Jon Jaques wrote blog posts for the New York Times’ sports blog, the Quad.

Tip Off: 9:00 PM (or 30 minutes after Consolation game ends), Monday, December 21
Location: Madison Square Garden
Radio: Bloomberg 1130/ WSJU

Team Review

Cornell (8-2)

(starters and other information to come)

Cornell is led by 6′6″ small forward Ryan Wittman and 7′ center Jeff Foote. Wittman is a great shooter; they often run him off of screens for shots at the top of the key. His stat lines over the 4 years at Cornell have been almost disturbing in their similarity. He takes a good deal of shots, and gets most of his points from beyond the three-point arc (but is a very good jump shooter inside the arc). He takes the occasional free throw, gets the occasional rebound, and doesn’t foul much (perhaps because his defense is not physical). I think he is talented enough the get a look from the NBA, but that might be just my opinion. Errick Peck plays on the wing as well; he has some athleticism and talent, and I would expect him to get some time against St. John’s.

Up front, Jeff Foote sees a lot of action. He is tall and went off for 20 points in St. John’s win over Cornell in last year’s preseason NIT. Foote also continues to score at a solid clip. His rebounding work and shot blocking are commensurate with his size, but he could stand to turn the ball over less. His stats don’t show it but he’s not a bad passer. He’s not fleet of foot. Mark Coury gets some time up front, he can rebound and score efficiently. Also playing in the post is Alex Tyler, whose job seems to be to foul and hit people; he’s hit 4 of 21 field goal attempts. The aforementioned Jon Jaques is a willing shooter but doesn’t play many minutes.

The backcourt starts with Louis Dale, one of the few players who will be new to St. Johns this year. Dale was injured last year when the Big Red and Red Storm met last year. He can create space and is a gifted passer, though he seemed a non-factor for much of the game against Davidson. Shooting guard Chris Wroblewski is a solid shooter and scorer, and if Wittman is bottled up, he can hit a number of shots. Geoff Reeves plays a 3-point shooter role when he’s on the court, and he can hit well from distance.

Keys to the Game:

Bother the Shooters. Ryan Wittman, in particular, needs to have a”bodyguard” with him at all times, bumping, bothering, and dislodging him from the places ob the court where he wants to get comfortable shooting.

Counter the Droughts. Letting a team with excellent offensive players and three-point shooters hang around is a recipe for disaster. The Red Storm have to counter the droughts with defense, traps, turnovers, and get running the other way to draw fouls.

Ball Protection. The sloppy ballhandling allows crappy teams to hang close in too many ballgames.

Like a Window Washer. Clean the glass. Sean Evans and Dele Coker, among others, have to maintain position and own the glass on both ends. That kind of ugly play can really make this game the kind of mudwrestling match St. John’s can win.

Holiday Parade. A healthy does of getting to the free throw line – which requires good ball movement and aggressive drives – will go a long way to making this win. Conversely, not hitting one’s shots and/ or putting Cornell on the free throw line will go a long way into crafting a disappointing loss.

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