Friday, November 12, 2010

Cornell Daily Sun: Big Red Basketball Season Preview

Below, The Cornell Daily Sun's season preview for men's basketball.

Junior point guard Chris Wroblewski, senior forward/center Aaron Osgood and senior forward Adam Wire have all been named tri-captains for the upcoming 2010-11 men's basketball season. Cornell opens non-conference play Friday night at 7:30 p.m. against Albany.

By Alex Kuczynski-Brown
Cornell Daily Sun
November 12, 2010

They say what a difference a year makes. Though when it comes to the 2010-11 men’s basketball team, maybe that isn’t necessarily the case.

This time last year, the Red entered the 2009-10 season as the unanimous preseason favorite to capture the Ivy League title –– though that’s not to say there weren’t dissenting voices along the way.

Some national pundits maintained that Harvard and “Golden” Boy Jeremy Lin could throw a wrench in Cornell’s bid for a three-peat. Jeff Foote’s bold preseason prediction that the Red was a Sweet 16-caliber team was met with cynicism from virtually everyone not directly affiliated with the program.

In a way, not much has changed. As it opens non-conference play tonight against Albany, Cornell is picked to finish third in the Ancient Eight behind Princeton and Harvard –– with many Ivy League media representatives citing the graduation of the team’s own Big Three and departure of long-time skipper Steve Donahue as obvious deterrents to the Red’s quest for a four-peat.

Once again, Cornell goes into the season with something to prove, and, once again, the prognosticators –– according to current members of the Red –– are overlooking one glaring intangible.

“Every guy on this team knows nothing else but winning Ivy League championships,” said junior point guard and tri-captain Chris Wroblewski, Cornell’s only returning starter. “We know what it takes to make it four in a row.”

And as for the preseason polls that say otherwise?

“I can’t say [they’re] accurate; in our eyes, we’re still the ones to beat,” said senior forward and tri-captain Adam Wire.

While Cornell may have lost its coach to Boston College (and its most decorated senior class in program history to graduation), one thing the Red hasn’t lost is its commitment to putting in the effort on and off the court in order to build a championship team.

“Both practices from last year and this year are really competitive –– guys getting after it,” said Wroblewski, who was also an All-Ivy honorable mention in 2009-10.

The Red’s hard-hat attitude has not gone unnoticed by first-year head coach Bill Courtney, who acknowledged that “They’re a special group ... in that you don’t have to coach effort as much you can coach basketball ... they’re a group that comes in every day ... and gets their work done.”

Courtney, who comes to Cornell after serving a one-year stint as an assistant at Virginia Tech, is largely credited with recruiting the core of players who enabled George Mason’s run to the Final Four in 2006.

In comparing his coaching style to that of Donahue, Courtney pointed to their readiness to utilize the 3-point line –– a rational strategy considering Cornell led the nation in 3-point percentage (42.9) in 2009-10, with Wroblewski pacing the Ivy League at 45.4 percent.

“[Steve] built this team to shoot 3’s, so we’re certainly not going to deviate from that plan,” Courtney said. “I think you’ll see similarities in the toughness that the teams play with. His teams were very tough-minded and tough on the defensive end. ... We’ll probably do a few more things defensively to dictate tempo, but a lot of it will be similar.”

Wroblewski echoed this sentiment in describing what he’s seen from Courtney thus far: “Coach Donahue and Coach Courtney both are promoting a fun brand of basketball –– an up-tempo [style that dictates] we’re going to shoot a lot of 3’s.”

“Defensively, it’s a little different,” he added. “Coach Courtney wants us to be a little more aggressive.”

As for how the coaches compare when it comes to conducting practice on a day-to-day basis, “We run a lot more suicides under Coach Courtney,” Wroblewski said with a laugh. “The drills are definitely very different. There’s definitely more of an emphasis on defense; not that defense wasn’t a focus last year, it’s just this year I think that’s his No. 1 focus and main priority going into the season –– that we understand what he wants us to do on the defensive end.”

While defense may be the priority in 2010-11, one area of concern for this year’s squad will undoubtedly prove replacing the offensive production of Foote, three-time First-team All-Ivy selection Louis Dale ’10 and Cornell all-time leading scorer Ryan Wittman ’10.

With the exception of Wroblewski, no returner averaged more than 12 minutes per contest last season.

That said, Courtney has liked what he’s seen from his veteran players thus far –– namely senior forward and tri-captain Aaron Osgood and senior guard Max Groebe.

According to Courtney, Osgood –– who sat out the first two weeks of practice with a hip injury –– has “made some strides and has performed well” since his return to the court.

As for Groebe, he’s “had some days where he’s really shot the ball well,” Courtney said. “When he’s shooting like that, he becomes very, very dangerous.”

Indeed, after failing to connect on his first 3-point attempt in this year’s annual Red/White scrimmage, Groebe did not miss from beyond the arc for the remainder of the contest, easily finishing with well over 20 points. Last season, Groebe shot 56.1 percent from downtown in 27 appearances with the Red.

But for all the returning veterans who feel they have something to contribute in 2010-11, there exists a host of new faces bent on cracking the rotation.

One newcomer that both Wroblewski and Courtney singled out as having the ability to make an immediate impact was junior guard Andrew Ferry, a transfer from Palm Beach State College. As a sophomore captain, he averaged 18.7 points per game and shot 45.5 percent from beyond the arc en route to finishing in the top 20 nationally in junior college.

According to Wroblewski, Ferry has already proved his worth, hitting “six or seven 3’s” against Lafayette in last Saturday’s closed-door scrimmage.

“Andrew Ferry has fit in really well off the court, and then on the court I think he also fits into Coach Courtney’s style ... very disciplined player, understands the game, plays good defense, but can also shoot lights-out,” Wroblewski said.

“If he doesn’t start he’ll be sixth man,” Courtney said. “He’ll definitely be in the top of the rotation. ... We’re hoping for some big things from him.”

Courtney also pointed to the 6-8 Anthony Gatlin –– a transfer from Centenary College who sat out last season due to NCAA transfer regulations –– as an older newcomer who could see major playing time in 2010-11.

“We’re trying to get him to ... become very aggressive as a rebounder, because he is so athletic,” Courtney said.

Also in the mix for some minutes will be freshmen Manny Sahota, Jake Matthews and Dwight Tarwater.

“I think it says something about your program when you are not forced to play freshmen,” Courtney said. “That’s when you know you have a pretty good program, because if you’re forced to play freshmen, usually that inexperience hurts you a little bit.”

The fact that Cornell does not have to rely on its youth will undoubtedly help the Red against an upperclassmen-laden squad like Princeton, which returns five of its top scorers and three of its top rebounders –– “guys with tremendous experience and a certain style of play that befuddles people,” according to Courtney.

“You look at returning that team intact, and you have to say they’re the favorite,” he added.

As for the preseason No. 2 pick, “[Harvard’s] talent is so deep. They’re probably the most talented team in the league,” Courtney said. “If they can come back from injury, I think they might be able to put something together.”

Courtney mentioned Brown and Yale as “teams that can surprise,” and also alluded to the return of Penn’s Tyler Bernardini as a factor that could make life interesting for the other Ivies.

“It’s an exciting race shaping up, and I’m hoping we can be right in the thick of things,” Courtney concluded.

As a team that has known nothing but winning, one cannot expect that to change overnight.

So while the “basketball house” may have moved from Dryden to Linden, Groebe may have usurped Wire as the team’s wing-eating champion, and suicides may have replaced shooting drills, “the culture [has stayed] the same,” according to Osgood. “We’re all so close as a team and we still do the same things we did last year –– it just seems like new faces.”

By Dan Froats
Cornell Daily Sun
November 12, 2010

What do you get when you win three straight Ivy League titles and travel to the first Sweet 16 in school history?

A projected third-place finish in the Ivy League preseason poll and no additional talk of basketball greatness.

Well, perhaps the writers involved in ranking the Ivy squads should take another look at Cornell, because one of the key pieces to the championship puzzle remains in place and while he is here, the Red will stay relevant.

Since earning Rookie of the Year accolades in 2008-09, Chris Wroblewski has become a staple in Cornell’s recent string of success. Whether he is leading the league in 3-point percentage or filling the stat book in other ways, Wroblewski is as dynamic a force as there is in the Ivy League. As the only remaining starter from the past two championship teams, though, Wroblewski will need to do even more in 2010-11 as a tri-captain.

“I don’t feel any pressure,” Wroblewski said. “I’m looking forward to stepping into a new role as a leader and kind of embracing the challenge of it.”

Why should the junior guard feel pressure? After all, he did average 17.3 points a game against Big East foes a year ago. Nonetheless, Ski’s role this year will need to change with the loss of Louis Dale at point.

“I think [my role] is going to have to be very different from the past couple of years, when I just kind of gave the ball to [Ryan Wittman] or [Jeff] Foote,” he said. “I’m going to have to look to be more aggressive.”

Not only will Wroblewski have to score more this season, but he will also have to get a new cast of teammates involved. Fortunately, the new roster appears to already be meshing, and with Wroblewski as the centerpiece, maybe it’s too early to write the Red off.

“There is definitely a lot of similarities in how close we are and in the chemistry that we are building off the court,” Wroblewski said. “But this year we’re not only being written off nationally but also in the Ivy League, and I think this year’s team is going to be playing with a chip on its shoulder, which will motivate us even more.”

So before you disregard this year’s Red squad, keep in mind that a key piece is left, and if the rest of the pieces fall into place around him, a championship puzzle may once again be formed.

By Quintin Schwab
Cornell Daily Sun
November 12, 2010

With 8:41 remaining in the Sweet 16 matchup against Kentucky, Cornell’s freshman forward Errick Peck nailed a jump shot to cap a 9-0 run that pulled the Red within eight points. As the Red’s improbable tournament run was winding down, Peck’s shot gave the team one final spark in its historic season.

“I was nervous,” Peck said, speaking of the six second-half minutes he played on March 25. “But showing I could hang with a Kentucky team with five future NBA players was a confidence booster.”

The first Sweet 16 appearance for an Ivy League team in 11 years ended with a 62-45 Wildcats victory, and was followed by a Cornell coaching change and the graduation of five of its top six scorers. A new era starts for Cornell basketball, as well as for the 6-6, 215-pound Peck, who averaged 3.3 points and 1.5 rebounds in 7.4 minutes per game last season.

“I’m welcoming the challenge of a bigger role this season,” Peck said. “I’m excited to show all I can do on the court.”

Peck felt like he could have contributed more to Cornell’s third straight Ivy League championship.

“I was frustrated at the beginning of the season,” he said. “But I matured and learned that it’s not all about talent. Also, there were great players in front of me and it wasn’t my time yet.”

Now it is Peck’s time. Cornell is hoping the flashes of talent Peck showed last season in his limited minutes –– like the pair of double-figure scoring games –– will evolve into steady production for the Red this season.

“I worked hard on conditioning with a trainer back home in Indianapolis,” Peck said.

Peck’s offseason effort should help him adjust smoothly to head coach Bill Courtney’s fast-paced tempo. But most importantly he looks forward to having fun on the court.

“It’s been the same game the last 16 years,” he said. “I’m ready to go.”

By Quintin Schwab
Cornell Daily Sun
November 12, 2010

“No one player can replace Jeff Foote ’10 –– it must be done by committee,” said first-year head coach Bill Courtney. In the 2010-11 season, a relatively inexperienced Red frontcourt faces the task of making up for lost production from the First-team All-Ivy center and two-time Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year, as well as from Cornell all-time leading scorer Ryan Wittman ’10.

While the Red loses 12 rebounds and three blocks combined per game from the two star forwards, both of whom are now playing professionally overseas, the focus of the current Cornell frontcourt is on finding ways to replace their offensive production –– 17.5 points per game from Wittman and 12.3 from Foote in 2009-10.

“I’m going to have to shoot more this year and be more aggressive,” said senior forward and tri-captain Adam Wire, who was most known for his hustle plays and pressure defense during Cornell’s three straight Ivy League championships.

“We lost a whole lot of points from last season,” said senior forward Mark Coury, who played 11 minutes and scored 2.5 points per game off the bench in 2009-10. “I have to be more aggressive down low in the post offensively.”

Courtney believes the forwards and centers he first met this April complement each other well.

“Our forwards all have different skill sets,” he said. “Coury gives us rebounding and a physical presence; [senior forward/tri-captain] Aaron Osgood can score around the basket; [sophomore forward] Eitan Chemerinski works really hard and hustles; [sophomore forward] Josh Figini has a nice 3-point stroke; [sophomore forward] Errick Peck is extremely talented offensively.”

Cornell adds freshman forwards Manny Sahota and Dwight Tarwater –– from Brampton, Ontario and Knoxville, Tenn., respectively –– who were recruited by former head coach Steve Donahue. Sahota was a First-team All-Ontario selection as a senior, and Tarwater was a two-time All-state pick.

Sophomore forward Peter McMillan and senior Centenary College transfer Anthony Gatlin complete the Red frontcourt. McMillan saw action in seven games last year while Gatlin sat out the season due to NCAA transfer regulations.

The Red also lost late-blooming forward Jon Jacques ’10 and consistent forward Alex Tyler ’10. With the absence of talent and height –– most notably the 7-0 Foote –– from past seasons, the Cornell frontcourt knows it must outwork teams in 2010-11 and expect a battle every game.

“We’ve got to outhustle teams and do all the little things well –– stop people driving down the lane, box out, make crisp passes,” Coury said.

A handful of Cornell forwards who have played sparse minutes in their collegiate careers thus far will see big minutes and play larger roles this year. Only Wire and Coury averaged over 10 minutes per game last season. Nonetheless, the Red frontcourt is confident that it will fit together well and continue to improve.

“Everybody has his own role. I have to continue my scrappy plays and look to score more,” Wire said. “As a unit, I think we’ll come into our own and produce this year.”

Changing of the Guards: Cornell Basketball Boasts Backcourt Depth

By Quintin Schwab
Cornell Daily Sun
November 12, 2010

While the men’s basketball team lost only one guard who averaged over five points per game from last year’s Sweet 16 campaign, the remaining backcourt players know it will not be easy to replace the production of former point guard and three-time All-Ivy selection Louis Dale ’10.

“Lou was an excellent player,” said sophomore guard Miles Asafo-Adjei, who played only 71 minutes in his freshman season but figures to have a large role this year. “He taught me a lot when I was going up against him in practice every day. I’ve got to come in and take over the point.”

Junior guard and tri-captain Chris Wroblewski –– the Red’s best and most experienced backcourt returnee –– will also be expected to handle significant point guard duties in 2010-11. “Chris is a terrific player,” said first-year head coach Bill Courtney. “He’s very smart and can do a lot of productive things on the court.”

Wroblewski is suffering from a left ankle injury, and it is unsure whether he will be able to play in the first game of the season tonight at Albany. Even with the 2008-09 Ivy League Rookie of the Year in the lineup, the inexperienced Red guards must play integral roles on both ends of the floor this year.

“We’ve got to make shots and pressure up on defense,” said senior guard and 3-point specialist Max Groebe.

Pressure defense will be stressed by Courtney, who coaches a faster-paced style than former Cornell skipper Steve Donahue.

“We have some guards who are capable of really tiring other teams out,” he said. “Miles will be one of the best defenders in the Ivy League and [freshman guard] Jake Matthews is a really tough kid.”

Matthews is one of three newcomers to the Red backcourt, along with freshman guard Dominick Scelfo and junior guard Andrew Ferry, who transferred from Palm Beach State College.

“Andrew is a terrific shooter and he’ll help our offense,” Courtney said.

Three-point shooting will be missed from guard Geoff Reeves ’10, the other notable backcourt departure who played 18 minutes per game last season. Still, the main difficulty for the Cornell guards in 2010-11 will come in finding ways to compensate for the loss of talent and savvy Dale possessed.

“Lou was calm in every situation,” Asafo-Adjei said. “He always seemed to make the right plays and showed a lot of poise.”

While Courtney acknowledges that most of Cornell’s guards will experience growing pains from seeing their first significant minutes since high school, he believes the unit has great potential.

“We have a lot of backcourt depth,” he said. “Our guards are still a little injured at the moment, but once they have a chance to come together and mesh as a group, they’ll be effective.”

By Dan Froats
Cornell Daily Sun
November 12, 2010

Penn Quakers

2009-10: 6-22, 5-9 Ivy (T-5th)

A season ago, Penn shocked the college basketball world by defeating then-No. 22 Cornell at the Palestra in Philadelphia on Feb. 12, 79-64. Two of the engineers behind that upset, junior Zack Rosen and senior Jack Eggleston, will return for the Quakers in 2010-11 in hopes of repeating the magic of last February. Rosen’s 24 points and Eggleston’s 22 led the team in its rout of the eventual three-time defending Ivy League champs, and their great play throughout the year earned both players All-Ivy honors at season’s end. Despite the high-profile victory over the Red and the emergence of two Ivy League stars, the Quakers finished just 5-9 in the conference last season (6-22 overall). 2010-11 is a new season, though, and Penn figures to be healthier and better equipped for an Ivy League run this winter. In addition to Rosen and Eggleston, former Ivy League Rookie of the Year and All-Ivy honorable mention Tyler Bernardini will be back in uniform after suffering a season-ending injury in the Quakers’ second game a year ago. If Bernardini returns to form and Rosen and Eggleston maintain their high level of play, head coach Jerome Allen should see a significant jump in the standings in his first full season at the helm.

Princeton Tigers

2009-10: 22-9, 11-3 (2nd)

With Cornell predicted to be in a transition stage after three straight Ivy League titles, Princeton once again finds itself atop the conference prior to the 2010-11 season. The top five scorers from last season’s second-place Tigers squad will be back this year in hopes of building on an 11-3 conference record (22-9 overall) and earning its first NCAA tournament bid since 2004. Douglas Davis and Dan Mavraides will figure to lead the Princeton offense once again this season after averaging 12.7 and 11.5 points per game, respectively, a year ago. While offensive statistics garner all the attention, though, it is the defensive side of the ball where the Tigers will shine this winter. Princeton ranked No. 1 in scoring defense in the NCAA last season, allowing just 53.3 points per contest. If the best offense is truly a good defense, the Tigers will once again be competing for an Ivy League championship in 2010-11.

Columbia Lions

2009-10: 11-17, 5-9 (T-5th)

The Lions are yet another team to welcome in a new head coach in 2010-11. Kyle Smith was named the 22nd head coach in school history this past summer and will look to improve a Columbia team that finished 5-9 in the conference (11-17 overall) a season ago. Thirteen players will return from that squad, including All-Ivy League junior guard Noruwa Agho. Agho averaged over 16 points per contest in 2009-10 –– good for second among all returning Ivy League players –– and is a considerable threat from beyond the arc. To balance Agho, the Lions feature four seniors at the post positions. If Columbia can return to its usually defensive-minded form after giving up 65.3 points per game a year ago, expect to hear from the Lions in 2010-11.

Brown Bears

2009-10 : 11-20, 5-9 (T-5th)

The post-Matt Mullery era will begin for Brown in 2010-11 as the Bears look to avoid yet another middle-of-the-pack finish in Ivy League play. With its No. 16 all-time leading scorer and two-time All-Ivy selection now graduated, Brown will turn to senior forward Peter Sullivan to lead the way this season. Sullivan is also climbing the Bears’ scoring ranks –– currently ranked No. 20 –– and will try to improve upon a 12.3 points per game scoring average in 2009-10. Joining Sullivan in the Brown frontcourt will be sophomore Tucker Halpern, who last year ranked third on the team with 8.1 points per game. The player to look out for may be senior guard Garrett Leffelman, though. Leffelman averaged 12 points per Ivy League contest last season. With nine underclassmen on the roster, Jesse Agel’s Bears squad might have to wait a couple of years to climb the Ivy standings, but don’t be surprised if Brown makes some noise in 2010-11.

Yale Bulldogs

2009-10: 12-19, 6-8 (T-4th)

While most Ivy League programs appear to be in coaching turmoil heading into the 2010-11 campaign, the Yale Bulldogs boast the most tenured coach in the conference. James Jones has coached the Bulldogs for 11 years and will begin his 12th this season with hopes of improving his team’s 6-8 conference record (12-19 overall) from a season ago. The task will not be an easy one, as Yale will be without the graduated Alex Zampier, who led the team in scoring in 2009-10 with 17.4 points per game. As a result of Zampier’s departure, senior Michael Sands will be relied upon to lead the Bulldogs after emerging as an All-Ivy honorable mention last year. Sands averaged 10.8 points per contest in 2009-10.

Harvard Crimson

2009-10: 21-8, 10-4 (T-3rd)

No Jeremy Lin? No problem. At least that is the preseason perception surrounding Harvard prior to the 2010-11 campaign. Despite losing its four-time All-Ivy guard to the NBA last spring, the Crimson figures to once again vie for the conference title after finishing with a commendable 21-8 (10-4 Ivy) record in 2009-10. Eight players return for fourth-year head coach Tommy Amaker’s squad, including last season’s Ivy League Rookie of the Year, Kyle Casey. Casey, who was second on the team in scoring with 10.4 points per game and first in rebounding with 5.1 per contest last year, figures to play an even larger role in the Crimson attack this season. Junior co-captains Oliver McNally and Keith Wright, who both averaged over seven points per game a year ago, will join Casey in trying to live up to the team’s preseason No. 2 ranking in the Ivy League. In all, the roster will consist of three juniors, five sophomores and six incoming freshmen, so expect the Crimson to reside in the better half of the Ivy League standings for years to come.

Dartmouth Green

2008-09: 9-19, 7-7 (T-4th)

A year after finishing a dismal 5-23 with just one win in Ivy League play, the Big Green is once again predicted to reside in the conference cellar this season. Nevertheless, the team will be returning eight players from a year ago, including leading scorer Ronnie Dixon (9.3 points per game), and will also be welcoming back Paul Cormier as head coach. After Terry Dunn resigned as coach midway through last season, Cormier was hired to return to the Big Green this offseason. Cormier last coached Dartmouth in 1991 and will look to build a competitive program from the ground up.

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