Below, Brian Delaney of the Ithaca Journal gives his points on what to watch for during Saturday's Red-White Scrimmage.
As I wrote briefly in today's paper, the public gets its first look at Bill Courtney's Big Red at noon tomorrow in the Red-White Scrimmage. The team has been practicing for one full week as of this writing. I'll need more time to make evaluations on players in the mix, Courtney's systems and coaching methods, etc., but there's some early worthwhile notes, both good and concerning, that can be raised. So why not, I say, raise them?
In no particular order:
- Chris Wroblewski, when asked to compare Courtney and Donahue's approaches to practice, had this to say: "A lot of the similarities are in they kind of want efficient, crisp, clean practices, and really competitive. I think both coaches know that we have a deep bench, a lot of guys can play and competition is only going to make us better. As far as philosophies, the first practice, well, I don't think I've run a suicide since high school. (laughing) That's one difference."
Another obvious difference is that Cornell doesn't partake in nearly as many shooting drills as it did under Donahue. There's a good reason for that. Last year's team, comprised of guys who spent the bulk of 3-4 years playing together, knew Donahue's system cold. The coaching staff didn't have to bang away at sets like the current staff needs to, and a lot of the chemistry that was so pivotal to the success of last year's team was essentially just fine-tuned in October/November of 2009. It had already been established.
"None of us have played together, so we do need the time on the floor together," Wroblewski said. "Right now we're taking more out of our day to come in here and get shots up because we're not doing it as much in practice."
Errick Peck probably put it best - it's more likely that Wroblewski is adjusting to this new group's playing styles rather than they to he, because so much of this year's core played together on the Whites last season (scout team). Peck also said that conditioning, weight lifting and other workouts have been tougher under the new regime.
- From purely a numbers standpoint, this team is small. Cornell's two most physical, post-type bigs are Mark Coury (6-9) and Adam Wire (6-5). It's possible that, particularly early in the schedule, those two guys spend a lot of time on the court together. Both are outstanding defensive players, seniors with loads of big-game experience, but two players with fairly limited offensive games. Interestingly, Donahue would avoid playing them together for long stretches because he loved having (at least) four dangerous offensive threats on the court as often as possible. That likely changes this season, and it'll be interesting to see whether either guy can make a leap as a back-to-the basket scoring threat (even if it's 8-10 ppg), or if it puts added pressure on the wings to create and finish open looks. I do think Aaron Osgood (6-9) will contribute this year, but he's better off playing like a step-out 4 and defending a more mobile opponent, rather than a back-to-the-basket type guy. Osgood does have very good length, and he does have some post-up moves himself ... Josh Figini (6-9) is progressing, but right now seems to prefer to be a pick-and-pop finisher with range rather than a scorer on the low block.
Staying on the small theme, Andrew Ferry isn't 6-4 as he's listed on the website. He's probably closer to 6-1; he and Wroblewski are about the same height. It also appears that those two, along with Max Groebe, are right now a good bet to play a lot of minutes together. All three can really shoot it. Teams with big guards will really challenge Cornell, but that's not much different than last year when you had the Dale/Wroblewski/Reeves rotation.
- Speaking of Ferry, the junior transfer is drawing praise from teammates and coaches. As advertised, he's a very good shooter.
"Very impressed," Wroblewski said. "Behind Max, probably top two, top three shooters on the team. He doesn't make mistakes. He's a very smart player, defensively he can slide his feet and no one will run by him, so you can rely on him on that end, and offensively he's a knock-down shooter. With all the guys leaving from last year, we're going to need some of that."
- Love Peter King's work, particularly his I think I think column in SI. In that spirit, here's one thing I think I think about this team: it will still be able to shoot the 3 better than most, and things change drastically without a 7-foot shot-blocker in the back to erase/alter mistakes, but the ability to defend will be this particular group's new hallmark.
"I'm not going to put a ceiling on (this team's defensive potential)," Courtney said. "I think we can be a great, great defensive team. I'm going to hope that we continue to get better, even if it looks like we're doing really well. That's going to make up, I think, for anything we're lacking on the offensive end. ... You see it every day that we're getting better defensively. It's a strong group, a tough group, and a fairly athletic group. We're not a big group, so that hurts us defensively, but if we block out and rebound and get to the right position we can be a very good defensive team."
- It may be possible (and I may really try and argue this at some point, but it's really more of a developing theory right now) that the most important player this year for Cornell is Miles Asafo-Adjei. There's no concerns about MAA on defense; he's an absolute headache on that end of the floor. But the nonconference portion of the schedule will be vital for him to gain experience in how to effectively run a halfcourt offense, so that Courtney can take some pressure off Wroblewski. I worry a bit that this situation will evolve into one like the Cornell women's team had the last two years with Lauren Benson, when Benson was playing 39-40 minutes a night because you couldn't give the ball to anyone else. With the back-to-back nature of the Ivy League, Wroblewski must have possessions off the ball or time to sit without the coaching staff or teammates losing faith. I'm not saying MAA can't do it. He's a great athlete with a good handle, he's bright, well-respected and one of those guys you could see being a captain down the line. But he needs to take a rather big step this year. (Ferry, Groebe and Jake Matthews can also handle the ball, but MAA is a natural PG)
... Which brings me to this point: pay attention, in the Red-White, to how the team that doesn't have Wroblewski plays in the halfcourt. Do they consistently work the ball around, create space and get good looks?
- That said about MAA, Peck's development will go hand-in-hand with this team's success or lackthereof. So far, his work ethic has drawn praise.
"Errick Peck has been a monster," Wroblewski said. "I know a lot of people may think that he's lazy or whatever; I don't know what people have been saying about him, but that couldn't be more false. He's real hungry, he hates to lose and he's going to be something special this year for us."
- Saturday is a great format to begin evaluating the freshmen. Dwight Tarwater has practiced a little bit with the reds, and both Matthews and Manny Sahota drew praise Thursday from Courtney for their effort. If he plays and contributes, I can see Matthews being a crowd favorite. He's listed at 165 pounds, but he looks like he should be wrestling 125 next door. ("Jake Matthews has a ton of toughness," Courtney said.) ... As written early, Dom Scelfo is out with a knee injury.