Friday, December 17, 2010

Ithaca Journal Previews Cornell at Binghamton

By Brian Delaney
Ithaca Journal
December 17, 2010

ITHACA -- It's easy, maybe even appropriate, to set about evaluating Cornell's performance against non-league opponents by splitting the schedule into two parts.

The first part ended Dec. 4, with the Big Red pushing No. 15 Minnesota well into the final two minutes of a 71-66 loss in Minneapolis. The outcome left Cornell at 2-6 heading into a two-week break for final exams, with three losses coming against major-conference opponents and a fourth to a St. Bonaventure team that has since beaten St. John's.

The second part of the non-league schedule begins Saturday at Binghamton, a stretch of six games. Over the next three weeks, leading into its Jan. 14 Ivy League opener at Columbia, Cornell intends to address its flaws -- some glaring -- improve its strengths and fine-tune its deep rotation in time to raise a steadfast defense of its league championship.

"Truthfully, we're going into this with the mindset that we want to win every one of these games," said junior guard Chris Wroblewski, the team's leading scorer at 14.2 points per game. "Get some momentum going into the Ivy League season."

Said senior Aaron Osgood, who could return Saturday from a knee injury suffered Thanksgiving Day: "I think a lot of these games are going to be similar to the style of play we'll see in the Ivy League. Teams like Syracuse, obviously, are not like Ivy teams. Binghamton, Bucknell, they are similar to the Ivy League."

After a discouraging start, Binghamton (2-6) has shown vast improvement on the offensive end of its last two games -- an 89-85 overtime loss to Hofstra, and a 70-69 win over Manhattan. Defensively, the Bearcats rate as one of Division I's most inefficient teams. Opponents have shot 48 percent from the field, and 40 percent from the three-point arc.

Conversely, Cornell has been a poor defensive rebounding team with a distinct offensive imbalance. According to Ken Pomeroy's ranking system, the Big Red rates 343 out of 345 Division I teams in percentage of points per game coming from two-point field goals. Overall, Cornell is shooting an uncharacteristically low 37 percent from the field.

Both areas were aggressively addressed over the past two weeks.

"What we've done is really concentrate on executing our half-court offense, and we really are getting better," Cornell coach Bill Courtney said. "We see that. That's one area I think we've really improved."

The Minnesota game further complicated Courtney's rotation decisions. Sophomores Johnathan Gray and Peter McMillan saw significant time, contributed offensively, and followed up with a number of quality practices over the last two weeks.

Courtney said he would like to trim his rotation to nine players, but that might not yet be possible. He's evaluating a logjam of "good players."

"I don't see us playing less than nine with this group," he said. "And as I told the kids, I want them to play to exhaustion. It makes you understand and trust that the teammates behind them are going to give the same effort.

"It is very challenging. It's also a good thing to have because you have several good players. If it was something where you had several players who couldn't play, that's a problem."

A 31-day stretch without a home game will end Monday night, when Bucknell -- Courtney's alma mater -- visits Newman Arena. From there, Cornell plays two games at the VCU Tournament on Dec. 29-30, before hosting Buffalo on Jan. 3 and Stony Brook on Jan. 8.

It's a stretch that should reveal if Cornell is ready to contend for another Ivy championship.

"I think if we play more consistent we'll get there, because when we put together good stretches, put everything together, we've played well," junior guard Drew Ferry said. "The first eight games we've been trying to figure that out."

Matchup: Cornell (2-6) at Binghamton (2-6), 2 p.m., Saturday

Interim coach: Mark Macon (second year)

Radio: WVBR (93.5). Online: Follow Brian Delaney's in-game twitter updates at

Last time out: The Bearcats snapped a six-game losing streak with a 70-69 win over Manhattan last Saturday. Sophomore Jimmy Gray, a Binghamton High graduate, scored the game-winner with 4.5 seconds left.

Probable starters: Greer Wright (6-8, 215, Sr., F), Mahamoud Jabbi (6-7, 185, Sr., F), Chretien Lukusa (6-2, 215, Sr., G), Taylor Johnston (6-7, 205, Soph., F), Alex Ogundadegbe (6-8, 235, Fr., F)

Key reserves: Jimmy Gray (6-0, 175, Soph., G), Robert Mansell (6-4, 190, Fr., G). Moussa Camara (6-6, 185, Sr., F), Kyrie Sutton (6-9, 245, Jr., C).

Statistically: Wright, a returning first-team all-conference pick, is BU's leading scorer at 16.1 ppg. ... Opponents are shooting 47.5 percent from the floor and 40.4 percent from the three-point arc. ... Binghamton's rebounding margin is minus-8.2. ... After averaging 47.7 ppg in its first six games, BU has scored 85 and 70 in its last two. ... BU is 1-2 against Patriot League teams this year, beating Colgate (62-60) and losing to Bucknell (66-38) and Army (72-58).

Outlook: Binghamton has shown drastic improvement offensively in its last two games, an overtime loss to Hofstra and the Manhattan win. The Bearcats surprised everybody in the America East Conference last year by finishing with an 8-8 conference record.

The Big Red is playing its first game in 14 days, and its fifth straight road game. Its 2-6 record is offset by the Ivy League's toughest November (plus-one) schedule. Still, this is a game Cornell should win -- and needs to win in order to get on a roll before its league opener on Jan. 15 at Columbia.

A couple of key areas to watch: can Cornell shoot at a higher clip from the field? Can it out-rebound an opponent for the first time this season? Can it get more consistent scoring inside the three-point arc?

Answers to those questions over the next six non-league games should show what kind of team fans can expect the Big Red to be come Ivy time.


Anonymous said...

Is that Mark Macon, the former Temple guard?

The Cornell Basketball Blog said...

Yes, Mark Macon, the former Temple guard and NBA All Star.