Friday, December 3, 2010

Ithaca Journal Previews Cornell at Minnesota

By Brian Delaney
Ithaca Journal
December 4, 2010

Saturday's game
* Cornell (2-5) at No. 15 Minnesota (6-1), 7 p.m.
Radio: WVBR (93.5)

ITHACA — Two games logged against power-six conference opponents, two games that were ripped from Cornell's grasp quickly and without mercy.

So with the third and final major conference opponent on Cornell's schedule — No. 15 Minnesota — awaiting the Big Red tonight in the Twin Cities, the question lingers: Can Cornell show a little progress in the category of mental fortitude against the Golden Gophers?

Right now, there's a mental component playing into the Big Red's inconsistent play — regardless of the caliber of opponent.

"That's something that's plagued us," said junior guard Chris Wroblewski, referring to the team's penchants for slow starts. "Sometimes I think it's like we come out, and maybe if one of our shots doesn't fall or something doesn't go right, we kind of maybe individually crawl up in our own shell and just worry about, 'Oh my god I just missed that shot.' "

Cornell lost 92-68 at Seton Hall on Nov. 14. Wroblewski didn't play, and Cornell missed him. The Pirates led 27-8 by the 11:14 mark of the first half. At halftime, Cornell had missed 11 of 14 3-point shots and was outrebounded 24-13.

On Tuesday, Cornell lost 78-58 at No. 8 Syracuse. Aaron Osgood didn't play, and Cornell missed him. The Orange led 29-7 with 7:56 left in the first half. By halftime, Cornell had missed 11 of 12 shots from the 3-point arc and been outrebounded by a 27-9 margin.

In Minnesota, Cornell faces a team with a much stronger November resume then either Seton Hall or Syracuse. The Gophers rocketed up the rankings with wins over North Carolina and West Virginia in Puerto Rico, and that was after they picked up quality wins over 2010 NCAA tournament teams Wofford and Siena.

The Gophers (6-1) are big, talented and worse yet for Cornell (2-5) — they defend well. As Big Red coach Bill Courtney continues his task of blending a number of new pieces together, signs of visible progress tonight would be a much-needed springboard into the team's two-week break for exams.

"I want to see us play good," Cornell coach Bill Courtney said. "Play like we did in the second half against Syracuse, with a certain aggressiveness, no fear and no backdown. Confident. I want to see us play that way. If we can play that way, no matter the results, I think we'll be going positively into the break."

Rebounding and offense have been at the core of Cornell's problems. In two wins, Cornell has tied its opponent on the glass and shot above 40 percent from the field. In five losses, it's been outrebounded by an average of 14 and while shooting under 36 percent.

Rebounding has had an adverse affect on the offense. A limited number of defensive rebounds has led to less transition, and thus less scoring opportunities when Cornell's opponent is unsettled.

Wroblewski believes an influx of confidence will help all.

"We're playing Minnesota, but we can't be awestruck going into that game," he said. "We can't be back on our heels and waiting for them to throw the first punch. We've got to come out there and be confident in ourselves and in our game, and know that if we're shooting well, we're a great team."

Courtney believes some pieces are coming around.

Senior Mark Coury has adjusted well to more minutes in Osgood's absence. Junior Max Groebe, after missing 15 straight field goals, knocked down a pair of 3-pointers in the final minutes of the Syracuse loss. Junior Drew Ferry has strung four straight strong games together. Perhaps most important, sophomore Errick Peck contributed his best offensive game against Syracuse with 14 points.

"He's definitely got the most talent on our team," senior forward Adam Wire said. "So far we haven't really seen that. That's also a good sign in a way. When he comes around, we'll be a really tough team."

And no one believes that Wroblewski, who is 4 for his last 19 from the field and 1 for his last 11 from the 3-point arc, won't find his stroke soon enough. The 6-foot guard just wants to see this team put up more resistance.

When he was a freshman, Cornell took a 40-28 lead over Minnesota at halftime before losing 71-54.

"They're real athletic, they're going to put a lot of pressure on the guards and the frontcourt and be aggressive," said Wroblewski, who played 33 minutes in that game. "As long as we can stay poised and take care of the ball, that's been an emphasis all year. We're starting to do a better job."

Scouting No. 15 Minnesota

Matchup: Cornell (2-5) at No. 15 Minnesota (6-1), 7 p.m., Saturday

Radio: WVBR (93.5).

Coach: Tubby Smith (4th season, 69-40)

Last time out: Playing without starting point guard Al Nolen, the Golden Gophers lost their first game of the season, 87-79, to Virginia on Monday night.

Probable starters: Maverick Ahanmisi (6-2, 175, Fr., G), Austin Hollins (6-4, 180, Fr., G), Blake Hoffarber (6-4, 210, Sr., G), Trevor Mbakwe (6-8, 240, RJr., F), Ralph Sampson III (6-11, 241, Jr., C).

Key reserves: Colton Iverson (6-10, 258, Jr., F/C), Chip Armelin (6-3, 186, Fr., G), Rodney Williams (6-7, 200, Soph., F), Devoe Joseph (6-3, 179, Jr., G).

Statistically: Joseph's first game back from an academic-related suspension was the Virginia game. He played 24 minutes and scored 16 points. ... Hoffarber averages 15.6 points and has a team-high 34 assists. ... Mbakwe (9.3 rpg), Iverson (6.9 rpg) and Sampson (6.4 rpg) are the leading rebounders. ... Minnesota won all three games at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Tournament Nov. 18-21, beating Western Kentucky, North Carolina and West Virginia. ... Nolen is not expected to play against Cornell.

Outlook: Nolen is a big loss for the Gophers -- he's a tremendous defender and floor leader -- but his absence is likely not big enough for Cornell to get a win here.

The Gophers are yet another strong rebounding team (+4.4), and that's been the Big Red's biggest deficiency (-10.0). In two games against power-six conference opponents Seton Hall and Syracuse, Cornell was overwhelmed quickly and thoroughly in just about every facet. Offense has been the culprit, and Minnesota is probably the best defensive team of the three BCS schools on Cornell's schedule.

Two years ago, Cornell went into the Barn and led by 12 at halftime before Minnesota roared back. Even a similar outcome for Cornell would be a step forward: the Big Red needs to be competitive through halftime, and see where the game goes from there. Afterward, a 14-day break for exams awaits.

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