Friday, January 21, 2011

Columbia Spectator Previews Weekend in Ithaca

Below, a pair of articles from the Columbia Spectator previewing this weekend's action in Ithaca...

By Molly Tow

The Columbia men’s basketball team will look to sweep Cornell and stay undefeated in the Ivy League when they travel to Ithaca, N.Y., on Saturday. The Lions (10-5, 1-0 Ivy) edged out the Big Red (4-11, 0-1 Ivy) in their matchup last Saturday and hope to have the same success four hours north.

The Light Blue has won its last two games on the road and hopes to carry the positive momentum into Ithaca. In the matchup history between the two teams, Columbia has the winning record: a total of 119 victories to Cornell’s 96, but the Lions haven’t swept Cornell since the 2001-02 season and haven’t won in Newman Arena since 2006. A victory on Saturday would continue Columbia’s streak of successes as well as set a tone for the rest of conference play.

This will be head coach Kyle Smith’s first trip to Cornell , but from what he has heard, it will be similar to his coaching experiences in Spokane vs. Gonzaga as an assistant for St. Mary’s. “A cold town with a hot gym,” he described it. The first-year coach expects there to be some nerves, but Smith has already proven that he can put those uneasy feelings behind him at game time.

The Light Blue is approaching this game as it did the first, only making a few small adjustments and looking to guards Noruwa Agho , who is averaging nearly 17 points a game, and Brian Barbour to lead the team in scoring once again. Coach Smith hopes to improve on defending in transition. The Lions are currently giving up a total of 72.7 points per game, worst in the conference.

Last Saturday, Cornell’s Drew Ferry, Errick Peck, and Chris Wroblewski all scored in the double figures. Coach Smith says that his plan for these three is to “give them different looks.” He mentioned the possibility of trying different people like freshman Meiko Lyles and junior Matt Johnson. Apart from variations in man defense, Smith said that the Light Blue is also “flirting with the 1-3-1 zone.”

Another issue that surfaced during the last matchup was the issue of Cornell sophomore forward Errick Peck, who frequently seemed to disappear and escape Columbia defenders. Smith plans to put both Agho and Asenso Ampim on Peck on Saturday but realizes that no matter what, the all-purpose playmaker will be a significant threat. “He is a terrific, young, versatile player who will be on his home floor. It will pose a huge challenge,” Smith said.

Up to this point, Cornell has been one the strongest team that Columbia has faced. “Their defensive pressure and mixing defenses poses a lot of challenges for our guards,” Smith said. Smith believes that in order to emerge victorious, the Lions must stay strong on the boards, both offensively and defensively. Thus far this season, the Lions have outrebounded their opponents by a margin of 6.8, led by sophomore center Mark Cisco, who has averaged 6.6 boards per game.

Smith understands the entertainment factor of the close games and small margins of victory but is confident that those games have taken a toll on his remaining years. “I feel like I need a bottle of Pepto next to me on the bench,” Smith said.

All humor aside, the Lions know their game plan at this point. If they score like they have been scoring, step up the rebounding and defense, and throw in a few tricks, they can put the Big Red in an 0-2 hole to start the season. Tip-off is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. at Newman Arena in Bartels Hall.

By Trevor Cohen

Cornell guard Chris Wroblewski’s first collegiate media call-out was easy to miss­. Buried in a Cornell Daily Sun article about the overcrowding of the school’s unexpectedly large class of ‘12, the new freshman was briefly quoted—not about basketball—but about his cramped, uncomfortable sleeping conditions. Wroblewski soon became more than just another face in a class of 3,183, though, establishing a presence on the basketball court and making headlines ever since.

This weekend, the Light Blue heads to Ithaca’s Newman Arena to prove that last Sunday’s handling of Cornell was no fluke. To win the season series for the first time in nine years, Columbia will have to keep junior Wroblewski—whose conspicuous 0-for-11 start last Sunday isn’t likely to become habit—at bay

The Cornell tri-captain broke into the league two years ago as an immediate impact player. Just three games into the season, he stepped in for injured point guard Louis Dale, the then-reigning Ivy League Player of the Year, and filled a crucial role in his absence. When Dale returned, Ski (Wroblewski’s confusion-reducing nickname) continued to contribute alongside Dale to give the Big Red an extra spark on offense.

“Every time he shoots, you expect it to go in,” said his high school coach, Paul Harris, in an interview with the Lake County News-Sun when Ski was a senior at Highland Park High School. “You’re kind of surprised when it doesn’t. And the thing about Chris is that he’s so smooth.”

In his debut Ivy League home game against Columbia two years ago,­ Wroblewski ran the offense for the first half while Dale was in foul trouble, helping Cornell to an 11-point home victory with a game-high five assists. Ski quickly became known for his high-percentage 3-point shooting, assists, and low turnover rates. With an inaugural season good enough to win him Ivy League Rookie of the Year honors, Wroblewski helped Cornell to an 11-3 conference record to defend its Ivy championship.

After Cornell won its third straight Ivy League title and advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament last year, the Big Red lost a key group of graduating seniors, including Dale and center Jeff Foote, making Wroblewski the only player left this season with two years of starting experience. Despite a lower projected finish for Cornell and his increased responsibilities, Ski seemed unfazed coming into the season.

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

He’s certainly elevated his game to fill that role, leading the team with an average of 15.5 points per game this season and trailing only junior guard Drew Ferry in minutes played. In Cornell’s last non-conference game against Stony Brook, Wroblewski shot eight for 13 from the field for a career-high 29 points. He’ll now look to carry that momentum into Ivy League play, viewing Sunday’s loss to Columbia as a mere speed bump on Cornell’s path to a repeat title.

“This year, we’re not only being written off nationally but also in the Ivy League,” Wroblewski said before the season started. “I think this year’s team is going to be playing with a chip on its shoulder, which will motivate us even more.”

Columbia certainly isn’t expecting the All-Ivy Leaguer to remain dormant again this weekend. “[His struggles] made a big difference, because he’s a key for them,” junior shooting guard Noruwa Agho said after the game. “He’s a great player. I’m sure he won’t start 0 for 11­—maybe for the rest of the season.”

Whether or not Cornell will be able to match its past success, Wroblewski has made sure the Lions won’t be sleeping easy before their series finale against the Big Red.

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