Cornell Big Red
|Last Season||29-5 (.853)|
|Conference Record||13-1 (1st)|
|Coach||Bill Courtney (Bucknell '92)|
|Record At School||First year|
|Career Record||First year|
|RPI Last 5 years||207-170-68-115|
COACH AND PROGRAM
Becoming a head coach for the first time is a daunting task in its own right. Throw in trying to follow up the best season not only in school history but also the best by an Ivy League team since Penn's run to the Final Four in 1979, and you have the challenge facing Bill Courtney.
The affable longtime assistant coach, who was at Virginia Tech most recently, takes over a team that advanced to the NCAA Tournament regional semifinals before losing to Kentucky. The Big Red's two NCAA victories were the first in program history.
Yes, the eight seniors including three All-Ivy players -- Louis Dale, defensive player of the year Jeff Foote, and player of the year Ryan Wittman who were instrumental in that run to the Sweet 16 -- are gone, as is coach Steve Donahue, who moved on to Boston College. But it would be shortsighted to count Cornell out of the Ivy League race this season.
"Obviously what they did is absolutely incredible," Courtney said. "So coming on the heels of it, first of all, on the positive side, there's a ton of excitement around the program. Obviously, there are expectations, but I don't think anybody will have higher expectations for our team than myself or the guys on the team. Those guys are used to winning, and they don't expect anything less."
To be sure, Ivy League teams seem to struggle more than most with coaching changes for a variety of reasons. Still, Cornell has some talented players remaining on its roster. It all will depend on how quickly they mesh.
"We have so many unanswered questions because everybody -- even Chris [Wroblewski] who played -- is in a different role," Courtney said. "Everybody on our team is now going to have a different role. Everything with our team is a question mark."
Courtney is at the top of the list of those adapting to new roles. After spending 15 years as an assistant coach, he finally has been given a chance to run his own program. Although he has spent the last few years in the ACC and Big East, Courtney has an affinity for the Ivy League, having played at Bucknell, a Patriot League school.
Chris Wroblewski (8.9 ppg, 3.1 apg, .454 3PT) is the one known on a team of unknowns. The 6-0 junior started every game except senior night and earned honorable mention All-Ivy honors. He is the team's top returning scorer, though his best asset may be creating shots for his teammates.
Though Dale was the primary ball-handler for the Big Red last season, Wroblewski ran the offense quite a bit as well. His biggest adjustment will be going from a secondary to the primary scoring option. The last two seasons, Wroblewski seemed content to wait for his opportunities, allowing the upperclassmen to carry the offense. But now that they're gone, it's up to him until more scorers emerge.
"That's a big jump," Courtney said of Wroblewski making the transition to go-to scorer. "A lot of guys aren't able to do that. But he was Ivy League rookie of the year as a freshman, and so he has a chance to make that jump and we hope to see that."
If Wroblewski is going to become the Big Red's top scoring threat, he needs to expand his offensive repertoire. Most of his career, he's primarily been a jump shooter. Last season, more than half of his shot attempts came from behind the three-point arc.
Wroblewski already has shown he is comfortable taking over the leadership role vacated by the seniors.
"He embraced it before I even got [to Cornell]," Courtney said. "He had guys lifting and playing and working out. He was the leader behind that."
Either 6-4 senior Max Groebe (3.0 ppg, .456 FG, .561 3PT) or 6-4 junior Andrew Ferry, a transfer from Palm Beach State College, will join Wroblewski in the backcourt.
Courtney calls Groebe "one of the best shooters I've been around He's a great stand-still shooter. He's unbelievable." Deft shooting touch aside, Groebe has never averaged more than six minutes a game during his college career.
Ferry spent his freshman year at Valparaiso before going to Palm Beach, where he made 105 three-pointers last season. He shot .455 from behind the arc, which ranked in the top 20 nationally in junior college.
Miles Asafo-Adjei (0.5 ppg), a 6-2 sophomore, didn't play a lot of minutes last season but could see his playing time increase. Courtney loves Asafo-Adjei's energy and says he is the "best athlete on the team."
Though he may not be physically ready for the demands of college basketball, freshman Jake Matthews (Greensburg-Salem HS/Greensburg, PA), a 6-2 guard, could find his way into the backcourt rotation as the season progresses.
"He's a little thin right now, but he's got a lot of toughness, athleticism, and he can really shoot the ball," Courtney said.
The competition for frontcourt spots is wide open. "That's definitely going to be the biggest question mark," Courtney said. "I think the backcourt definitely is the strength of our team right now. Who we're going to throw it in to the post, that's the biggest thing. That role is up for the taking. We might have to do something a lot different offensively."
Errick Peck (3.3 ppg, 1.5 rpg) is among the leading candidates to grab one of the spots. The 6-6 sophomore has loads of talent, but he hasn't yet shown he is willing to put in the effort to become a great player.
"Consistency is probably going to be the thing we look for the most with Errick," Courtney said. "If he can develop that consistency and become a player that plays 100 percent every night, then I think he has a chance to be one of the better players in the league."
Adam Wire (1.9 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 0.7 spg), a 6-5 senior, started two games last season and played in all 34, averaging nearly 12 minutes a game.
"He's a tough kid, hard-nosed, jack-of-all-trades type of guy," Courtney said. "He really plays hard and is really one of the leaders on the team."
Mark Coury (2.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg), a 6-9, 240-pound senior center, also played in all 34 games last season. He is a physical, low-post defender.
Anthony Gatlin, a 6-8 senior, spent last season on the scout team mostly guarding Wittman. Gatlin started 28 games in two seasons at Centenary before transferring to Cornell and sitting out last season.
Aaron Osgood (0.7 ppg, 0.9 rpg), a 6-9 senior forward, has been stuck behind veterans for most of his career. This could be a breakout season for him.
The three sophomore forwards -- 6-7 Peter McMillian (0.9 ppg, 0.6 rpg), 6-8 Eitan Chemerinski (0.3 ppg, 0.8 rpg) and 6-9 Josh Figini (0.7 ppg, 0.8 rpg) -- have a chance to be in the mix but like most big men at their age they still need to develop.
Three more freshmen join the program: 6-5 Manny Sahota (St. Marguerite d'Youville HS/Brampton, Ont.); 6-3 Dominick Scelfo (Jesuit HS/New Orleans); and 6-6 Dwight Tarwater (The Webb School/Knoxville, TN).
Sahota averaged 20 points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots a year ago. Schelfo was rated by Scout as the No. 15 player in Louisiana. He averaged 18 points and shot 58 percent from three-point range as a senior. Tarwater was chosen Tennessee Mr. Basketball in Division II-A after averaging 23.2 points and 10.1 rebounds and shooting 38 percent from three.
BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS
No one expects Cornell to replicate last season, especially given the turnover the Big Red has un-dergone. Still, the program has experienced too much success the last three years to fall off significantly. Nonetheless, it will be a rebuilding season. And it could be rough going early as players grow into their new roles and Courtney becomes comfortable as a head coach. It takes outsiders a bit of time to adjust to the peculiarities of the Ivy League, not the least of which are the Friday-Saturday conference games with long bus rides in between.
Don't look for Courtney to change Cornell's style of play too much. The players he inherited were all recruited to fit a specific system. The Big Red will falter if Courtney tries to take the players too far away from what they have done best the last several years, which is to shoot the ball from the perimeter. Of course, it helps to have a strong low-post player to keep the defense honest.
The other Ivy teams have grown weary of getting beat up by the Big Red and will be looking to exact their revenge this season. They'll show no mercy as Cornell goes through its growing pains.
The longevity of those growing pains will depend on how quickly Cornell establishes its rotation. The more Courtney has to tinker with the lineup, the more the Big Red will struggle. If the frontcourt assignments are settled quickly, Cornell might surprise some people.
BLUE RIBBON COLLEGE BASKETBALL YEARBOOK
Ivy League Predicted Order of Finish
Preseason All-Ivy Team
Noruwa Agho, Columbia
Doug Davis, Princeton
Zack Rosen, Penn
Kyle Casey, Harvard
Peter Sullivan, Brown
Player of the Year
Zack Rosen, Penn
Newcomer of the Year
Miles Cartwright, Pen
Blue Ribbon Yearbook Ivy League previews on ESPN.com Insiders:
- Harvard-"Harvard lost to only two Ivy teams last season -- league champion Cornell and Princeton, and its losses to Princeton were by a combined six points. Will this finally be the season the Crimson wins the Ivy League?"
- Penn-"[Penn added] Marin Kukoc (Highland Park HS/Highland Park, Ill.), a 6-7 freshman who played with Cornell's Chris Wroblewski in high school, opted for the Quakers over the Big Red... Remember, these Quakers were the only ones to hand Ivy champion Cornell its lone league loss last season."
- Princeton "Princeton has 16 players -- because they don't give scholarships, Ivy teams aren't limited in how many players they can have on a team -- but that's small compared to the Cornell  and Penn  rosters. Those teams can survive injuries a bit better and have plenty of bodies to keep everyone fresh."
- Yale-"'Never has the league been as wide open as I think it is now," [James] Jones said. "I look at the talent level that Cornell had last year -- they had the three best players in the league, and they were substantially better than most everyone else. I just don't see anybody having players like that going into the season. I think we're one of a handful of teams that has an opportunity to do something special.' ...Too many opponents -- especially in the league -- had an easy time scoring against the Bulldogs last season. It was bad enough that Sacred Heart scored 92 and Colorado State 93, but Cornell put up 90, Penn 81 and Princeton 82."