Friday, January 28, 2011

Ithaca Journal Previews Dartmouth/Weekend Action

By Brian Delaney
Ithaca Journal
January 28, 2011

Friday’s game
Cornell (4-12, 0-2 Ivy League) at Dartmouth (4-12, 0-2), 7
Radio: WVBR (93.5)

It's been a season of frustration for the Cornell men's basketball team, but for talented point guard Chris Wroblewski, nagging injuries have compounded the previously unfamiliar pain of losing.

The Big Red (4-12, 0-2) embarks on a four-game Ivy League road trip beginning with Friday's stop at Dartmouth (4-12, 0-2) and Saturday's visit to Harvard. Two wins, especially considering one would come against a Crimson team (13-3, 2-0) that's been nothing short of outstanding so far, could revitalize the season. Two losses would all but bury the three-time defending champions. A split would feel like status quo.

Regardless, Wroblewski is adjusting on the fly. A lingering pain in his hip -- beginning in late December -- was recently revealed to be a partially torn hip flexor. He was hesitant at first to discuss the injury after Wednesday's practice.

"I don't know how much I should actually be divulging," he said. "I don't want to be making any excuses. I don't want to seem like it's a copout."

Wroblewski's preseason included a broken nose after an inadvertent elbow, followed by a sprained ankle that cost him the first two games of the season. It took long after that for his ankle to feel 100 percent again.

In Cornell's two losses to Columbia, Wroblewski struggled at times with both foul trouble and his shooting stroke. His foul trouble in last Saturday's game had little to do with his mobility -- Wroblewski acknowledged he felt he just didn't play well.

This weekend will be the first time he's been asked to play games on back-to-back days. How his body responds on Saturday will play a factor in the Big Red's approach to playing the athletically gifted Crimson. Wroblewski leads the team in minutes played per game (32.6).

"I think the true test is seeing how it does back-to-back," he said. "Because only playing the one night (against Columbia), I could rest the next day. It gets sore. Last time was the first game I got a shot to numb it. That helped, although the first time I'm playing with a shot I get in foul trouble and I'm on the bench."

Surgery after the season could be an option, but Wroblewski is hoping rest will serve as a cure. It's a stress-related injury that he'll just have to play through.

He and his teammates, meanwhile, continue to grind through practices with the belief that a breakthrough is coming. A pair of four-point losses to the Lions did nothing to boost the confidence of a group trying to learn how to win close games.

"I think we're all still pretty positive," junior guard Drew Ferry said. "We know there's a lot of basketball to be played."

Friday's quartet of games mark the first of six straight Friday-Saturday weekends that will inevitably decide the league champion. Princeton and Penn will be playing their Ivy openers, hosting Brown and Yale, respectively. The other six teams already have two league games in the books.

Dartmouth was swept by Harvard, but gave the Crimson a scare last weekend in Cambridge. Under first-year coach Paul Cormier, now in his second stint at Dartmouth, the Big Green remains a team that prefers a methodical, grinder pace.

"They play a certain style of basketball," Cornell coach Bill Courtney said. "They keep the score very low; they're a very good defensive team ... so we're really going to have to disrupt what they want to do offensively and try and get that game going a little bit faster."

Harvard is the opposite. Coach Tommy Amaker has filled his roster with explosive talent, and 6-8 junior forward Keith Wright is having a player of the year-type season. Harvard's three losses have come against George Mason, Michigan and Connecticut, with wins over Boston College, Colorado, Boston University and George Washington.

"Very talented," Courtney said. "You watch them against BC, you look at that and go, 'Holy smokes.' They looked like a top-25 team in that game. I think they're beatable, but they are a very, very talented team. Tommy's done a great job of getting those guys to play together this year."

Despite a difficult start, Wroblewski said Cornell isn't conceding anything yet.

"We go in with the approach and mentality that our goals are the same, still to win the Ivy League," he said. "It's probably because the last couple years, we instilled that kind of winning mentality and come with the approach every day that we want to work hard.

"We know what it takes to win. We've been competitive every game; we just have to learn to close out some games."

Matchup: Cornell (4-12, 0-2 Ivy League) at Dartmouth (4-12, 0-2), 7 p.m. Friday

Radio: WVBR (93.5).

Coach: Paul Cormier (1st season, 4-12)

Last time out: Dartmouth led by as many as 12 in the second half, but Harvard rallied with a 23-2 run to beat the Big Green, 59-50, in an Ivy League game last Saturday. Harvard swept the season series. R.J. Griffin scored 20 points in the loss.

Probable starters: David Rufful (6-4, 210, Jr., F), Clive Weeden (6-9, 220, Sr., C), Jabari Trotter (6-1, 195, Jr., G), R.J. Griffin (6-4, 185, Soph., G), Kirk Crecco (6-3, 195, Jr., G).

Key reserves: Tyler Melville (6-2, 180, Fr., G), Gediminas Bertasius (6-5, 210, Fr., F), Mbiyimoh Ghogomu (6-6, 205, Soph., F), Matt LaBove (6-9, 235, Soph., C).

Injury update: Ronnie Dixon, a 6-1 senior guard, has missed more than a month with a hand injury. His status for this weekend is unknown.

Statistically: By average, Dartmouth's leading scorers are Trotter (9.1), Griffin (9.1), Rufful (9.0), Dixon (7.0) and Crecco (6.3). ... Trotter is shooting 44 percent from the three-point arc. ... Dartmouth is being outrebounded by a margin of 7.5 boards per game. ... Currently on a five-game losing streak. Last win was 67-59 over Drake on Dec. 21.

Outlook: This is a matchup of the Ivy League's two most offensively challenged teams. Both have cumulative shooting percentages under 40 percent. Cornell shoots the 3 better. Dartmouth shoots free throws better. Neither team gets above 65 points in a game with regularity.

Is it too simple to say whoever has the better offensive night wins? Regardless, it's a sign of how hard and far Cornell has fallen this year that there's no reason to think this game won't be close. The Big Red has won the last 10 in this series, but the Big Green, with no expectations, has proven dangerous on occasion. At home, ever more so. With the Big Red looking vulnerable, this isn't an easy spot for Bill Courtney's bunch.

Still, it's one they have to have, and they know it.

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