Saturday, January 15, 2011

Brian Delaney Breaksdown Cornell-Columbia

Above, Ryan Wittman ('10) defends Columbia's Noruwa Agho last season in New York. Below, some added Cornell-Columbia coverage from the Ithaca Journal.

A breakdown of Cornell's trip to Columbia
By Brian Delaney
The Ithaca Journal
January 15, 2011

For Cornell, the defense of its Ivy League men's basketball championship begins tomorrow night at Columbia. Levien Gymnasium is typically packed when these two teams meet up, a combination of optimism and NYC connections that serve both teams well. In recent years, Cornell has been the better team, winning nine straight in the series and 14 of the last 16.

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Aha, welcome back.

Where to start? There are plenty of nuggets left over from this week's advance work, but first I'll bring your attention to a bit of news that came out today: Cornell junior guard Max Groebe passed his concussion test Thursday, practiced and then practiced again today. He's expected to be available tomorrow, but what role he'll play is an unknown. He hasn't played since the New Hampshire game on Dec. 29, which means he's had just about two solid weeks of sitting out. No practice, no games. I'd advise keeping your expectations for Groebe at a reasonable/low level. If he contributes positively tomorrow, it'll be a bonus.

As for Columbia, here's a breakdown of some key players Lions coach Kyle Smith will likely utilize (in somewhat random order, although the two most key guys are first):

Noruwa Agho, 6-3, 220, G: No stranger to Ivy League opponents, Agho is an all-Ivy caliber guard. Both coaches this week spoke about Agho's improved handle. He has 66 assists through 14 games this year. Last year, he had 53 assists in 28 games. Huge difference there. He can score in just about every way - there's no shot he doesn't have. He's had five 20-point-plus games this season, with a season-high 26 at La Salle on opening night. He's not shooting as well from the 3-point line (.357) as he did last year (.446), but he's improved in just about every other area.

Brian Barbour, 6-1, 175, G: A sophomore PG, Barbour's been a steady decision-maker and playmaker for the Lions. He has 54 assists to just 20 turnovers, despite playing the most minutes per game (34.3) on the team. In the last three games, he's scored 21, 19 and 10 points.

"He's a little different than a lot of the guys we've faced," Bill Courtney said. "He doesn't have super blazing speed, but he's crafty. He's very crafty at getting by people."

Steve Frankoski, 6-2, 175, G
Dyami Starks, 6-2, 195, G
Van Green, 6-3, 185, G: Each of these guys brings instant scoring punch to the Lions. Kyle Smith likenened this group to a microwave. Frankoski is shooting 39 percent from the arc, but is 9-for-39 (.230) in his last five games. ... Starks has scored in double figures five times, but both his minutes and production have decreased since playing a season-high 27 minutes, and scoring a season-high 20 points, in a win over American.

Mark Cisco, 6-9, 245, C: Cisco's minutes have increased lately, as has his offensive output. He's had at least three field goals in seven of his last eight games. He has 10 offensive rebounds in his last three games.

Max Craig, 7-0, 265, C
Zack Crimmins, 7-0, 235, C: Both are role players, but when healthy, Smith will use both guys. They hit the boards hard, give Columbia long interior defense and help wear down the opponent. Craig has missed the last four games with an undisclosed injury. His status for tomorrow is unknown.

Asenso Ampim, 6-6, 245, F: Ampim is a very physical forward and probably the Lions' best rebounder. He averages 6.5 rpg, and is a constant presence on the offensive glass. His scoring output is inconsistent, but Columbia can win without getting points from him.

John Daniels, 6-7, 220, F: A sophomore, Daniels is establishing himself as one of those terrific role players every coach loves to have off the bench. He does a lot of little things - rebounds well, defends well, finishes well. He's shooting .594 on the season, but is a poor free throw shooter (.458).

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Courtney said that the coaching staff is still putting in "wrinkles" to its offensive and defensive systems to keep opponents honest.

"But for the most part, we're working on ourselves and trying to shore up our defense," he said. "Try to shore up our execution. That's still the biggest goal, to execute our game plan."

Which is:

1. Keep Columbia from dominating the rebounding category. The Lions are the Ivy's best rebounding team right now, and are particularly good on the offensive end.

"Those big guys don't take a play off," Courtney said. "They go to the glass every time, so we have to do a tremendous job on the glass. That's going to be a major point of emphasis for us."

2. Defensive rebound, then get out in transition.

3. Defend Agho hard.

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Personally, I'm interested as to how Saturday's game plays out. On one hand, you have a 4-10 Cornell team that has struggled to win games but has played an extremely challenging schedule. On the other, you have a 9-5 Columbia team that has successfully navigated perhaps the softest schedule of the eight Ivy schools.

Does Columbia benefit from winning five more times than Cornell? Or does Cornell play at a higher level because it was repeatedly tested by the likes of Minnesota/Syracuse/Wofford/Buffalo/Bonnies. Does Cornell exploit Columbia's struggles at defending the 3? Does Columbia exploit Cornell's rebounding inconsistencies?

I leave for NYC in the A.M. Expect twitter updates to commence around 4:30 p.m. with the start of the women's game. If you're in attendance and have a second to say hello during a slow moment, feel free to do so. Safe travels.

Cornell's attention on Columbia playmaker
Agho leads Lions in scoring


Noruwa Agho had a terrific year last season as a 6-foot-3, 220-pound sophomore guard for the Columbia men's basketball team.

He ended up a second-team all-Ivy League pick for a team that finished 11-17 overall and 6-8 in league play. But Agho (full name is pronounced No-ROO-uh AH-go) was limited over the second half of the season, in part, by lingering injuries that plagued then-senior point guard Patrick Foley.

Without a natural point guard to set the table, Agho's offensive talents were capped. In two games against Cornell, one of which Foley didn't play, Agho totaled 15 points on 5-for-23 shooting.

In part to address that issue, and in part simply to improve his game, Agho apparently went to work in the offseason.

"He's definitely worked on his handle (dribbling ability)," said Cornell coach Bill Courtney, whose top assistant, Marlon Sears, was a coach on Columbia's staff last season. "Coach Sears says he can see that from the tape, that he's worked on his handle. He presents a lot of issues for us."

Through 14 non-league games, Agho has totaled 66 assists-- tops for the 9-5 Lions. As a sophomore, he played 28 games and finished with 53 assists.

Entering Columbia's 7 p.m. Saturday Ivy League home opener against Cornell, Agho leads the Lions in scoring at 16.4 points per game. He also averages 5.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists.

"He's changed his role from being a scorer to being a playmaker," Columbia coach Kyle Smith said. "And he really tries to get the other guys involved and really has good vision."

But Agho has also received help. Sophomore Brian Barbour, a 6-1 guard, has developed into a steady ball-handler and decision-maker for Smith. Barbour leads Columbia in minutes played per game (averaging 34.3), and has compiled a near 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Courtney said that Barbour's play jumped off the tape.

"Just because of the things he can do," Courtney said. "Getting to the basket, transition, getting to the basket off ball screen situations. He's really crafty and he can knock down the open three."

gho and Barbour are the only players averaging more than 24 minutes per game. Smith rotates in a deep bench around his two key guards, who have proven themselves the Lions' two most consistent players.

"We've had good contributions from a lot of guys in different games that have helped us win games," Smith said. "We've played three freshmen and three sophomores quite a bit and they're still growing and getting better."

Regardless, Agho remains Columbia's anchor.

In a 76-73 win over Lafayette on Jan. 5, Agho scored 15 of Columbia's final 18 points, then blocked a potential game-tying three-point attempt at the buzzer.

"We've got to take away his space as much as possible," Courtney said. "Don't let him get going from three and make sure he takes contested jump shots."

Notes: Courtney said Friday that junior guard Max Groebe passed his concussion test Thursday and practiced both Thursday and Friday. He'll be available for Saturday's game after missing the previous three. ... Smith was hired after spending most of the last decade as associate head coach at St. Mary's College (Calif.). ... Columbia leads the all-time series, 118-96, but Cornell has won nine straight and 14 of the last 16 games.

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