Friday, April 23, 2010

News and Notes: Friday Afternoon Edition

Below, some news and notes for the afternoon...

  • During his introductory press conference today, new Robert E. Gallagher ’44 Head Coach of Cornell Men’s Basketball, Bill Courtney announced, “The best is yet to come.”
  • With Kevin App ('07) joining Ka'ron Barnes ('04) on Zach Spiker's staff at Army, the Cadets now have three Cornellians coaching at The Point. Go Big Red Knights!
  • If Bill Courtney wants to build a successful bench of assistant coaches in Ithaca, he should hire at least one coach with Ivy League experience, preferably with experience at Cornell. Courtney's second order of business is to develop a relationship with his players and fortify the verbal commitments of his incoming recruits.

Cornell’s success in the NCAA Tournament didn’t happen overnight. It was at least three years in the making.

After losing to Stanford in the first round of the NCAAs two years ago, coach Steve Donahue ramped up the nonconference schedule in 2008-09. An injury-plagued team that year failed to take advantage of the RPI-boosting opportunities, and it earned another low seed that resulted in another first round loss to Missouri

With a senior class that included a pair of Ivy League Player of the Year s in Ryan Wittman and Louis Dale, along with seven-foot center Jeff Foote and a deep and talented bench, Donahue again challenged his team from the opening tip in November. And finally, after 10 years at the helm of the program, the national audience got to see that effort pay off.

Cornell had an impressive nonconference schedule, nearly knocking off No. 1 Kansas in Lawrence in January. That would ultimately be the prelude to both the Big Red’s postseason success and the Jayhawks disappointingly early exit. It then ran away with the Ivy League, finishing 13-1 and winning the crown by two games over Princeton.

Still, a disappointing loss to a woeful Penn squad left the Big Red a No. 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament. What’s more, it had a first round game against a Temple squad that not only was the Atlantic 10 regular season and conference tournament champion, it was the squad coached by Steve Donahue’s former boss, ex-Penn coach Fran Dunphy. If there was ever a Top 25 opponent guaranteed not to take its opponent lightly, the Owls were the prime candidate.

Didn’t matter. The Big Red blasted the Owls to earn the first NCAA Tournament win in school history, then doubled its pleasure by beating Wisconsin in the second round. That got the team to the Sweet 16, and more national attention that has ever been bestowed on the Cornell basketball program.

Unfortunately for fans of Cinderella, Kentucky was too much for the Big Red in the East Regional Semifinals. Even the local fans at the Carrier Dome couldn’t will the team to victory, and the most successful season in school history ended with the loss to the Wildcats.

That marked the end to the college careers of a large senior class that included Wittman, Dale, Foote, Alex Tyler, Jon Jaques and Geoff Reeves. It will be impossible to replace what they have done for the program, but a strong group of freshman could keep the team atop the Ivy League if it takes the lessons it learned from the winningest class ever at Cornell to heart.


Final Record: 29-5, 13-1, 1st place in the Ivy League.

What Went Right: What didn’t? The Big Red played well in a challenging nonconference schedule, winning at St. John’s, Alabama, Massachusetts, Drexel and LaSalle. It lost just once in Ivy League play, beat Temple and Wisconsin to reach the Sweet 16, and even made things interesting against Kentucky. Anyone not impressed with that may have expectations of Ivy League basketball that do not reflect reality.

Ryan Wittman won the Ivy League Player of the Year Award, and Jeff Foote and Louis Dale joined him on the First Team. Wittman also became just the fifth player in Ivy League history to finish his career with more than 2,000 points.

What Went Wrong: Cornell wasn’t in a bracket with a different No. 1 seed. Kentucky’s athleticism really bothered the Big Red’s offense, and the scoring wasn’t there in the Sweet 16 loss. It also came excruciatingly close to knocking off No. 1 Kansas on the road before letting it slip away in the final couple of minutes.

The biggest surprise of the year was its loss to a woeful Penn team. The 79-64 defeat probably cost the team a higher seed, though it’s hard to argue with how things worked out for Cornell in the long run anyway.

Quote To Note: “He sat down in my office, and about two hours later I realized this guy has everything. He doesn’t have a huge profile, and he doesn’t have a list of big victories as a head coach, but he had determination, he had a will to succeed. He’d work with alumni. He’d been in charge of recruiting at Penn. This guy did everything. I said to myself, ‘What’s the head coach do?’ This guy does everything. And Steve Donahue was hired.”—Cornell athletic director Andy Noel, looking back on his decision to hire Steve Donahue a decade ago.


The Good News: Though it may not be obvious right now, Cornell is not doomed to return to the middle of the Ivy League pack just because it loses a whole lot of seniors this offseason.

The Big Red underclassmen played well this season - there just wasn’t much playing time to be had. But given their talent, and given the winning culture that has been installed over the past few years, there’s no reason for this team not to win its fourth Ivy League title in a row next season, especially given the considerable momentum that may carry over.

The Bad News: Forget school history. There hasn’t been a senior class like the one leaving Cornell in the Ivy League as a conference n recent memory.

Ryan Wittman, Louis Dale, Jeff Foote, Jon Jaques, Alex Tyler, Geoff Reeves … that’s a big group of players to replace. It was an experienced, battle-tested group that took the Big Red to a place no Ivy League team had been since Penn make the Final Four in 1979, and that’s a high bar indeed for the 2010-11 team to even dream of.

Key Returnees: Chris Wroblewski was the Ivy League Rookie of the Year as a freshman in 2008-09, and a starter for most of his sophomore season. He’ll have a new role in 2010-11—the man.

Wroblewski is the lone returning starter for next year’s squad, though there will be talented players alongside him nonetheless. Max Groebe could slide alongside him in the backcourt, with rising senior Adam Wire and promising freshman Errick Peck candidates in the frountcourt.

Roster Report:

F Ryan Wittman became the fifth player in Ivy League history with more than 2,000 career points, breaking that barrier against Wisconsin in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. He finished his career with 2,028 points, the most in school history.

-G Louis Dale leaves Cornell as the school’s all-time assists leader. He had 470 career assists in a run that saw him win Ivy League Player of the Year as a sophomore, suffer an injury as a junior, and then come back for a All-Ivy First Team season as a senior.

-F Eitan Chemerinski is already a big hit on YouTube, though not for anything he did on the court. The freshman solved a Rubik’s Cube in less than three minutes during one of the team’s road trips this season, and the film of that experience is available on the popular video site.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Cornell has a great coach in Bill Courtney. He is probably one of the best recruiters in the game, and his knowledge of the game is up there with the best of them. Cornell i applaud your efforts.