By Brian Delaney
February 18, 2011
A dangerous threat near the bottom of the Ivy League men's basketball standings, Cornell had a chance to impact the championship race with last Saturday's home game against Princeton.
A Kareem Maddox floater with 10 seconds left was all that separated first-place Princeton and Cornell in a 57-55 outcome at Newman Arena. Visiting Cornell's comfy home confines Friday is second-place Harvard, owner of an 18-4 overall record and 7-1 mark in league games. Dartmouth (5-17, 1-7) plays Cornell on Saturday night.
The roll of spoiler is only worthwhile if embraced. After last weekend's strong showings -- Cornell (6-16, 2-6) beat Penn in overtime the night before the Princeton thriller -- the Big Red is clearly confident it can beat the league's best.
"We feel like we're so different now," Cornell coach Bill Courtney said. "It wasn't even that long ago, but we're an entirely different team. Hopefully we've become more of the attacker than the attackee."
Courtney has, after much tweaking, refined his deep rotation over the last three weeks. Specific roles have crystallized. A higher level of consistency has emerged.
He starts his "energy" unit -- guards Chris Wroblewski, Miles Asafo-Adjei and Jake Matthews, alongside sophomore forwards Errick Peck and Josh Figini -- then typically rotates six players off the bench. Reserve guards Drew Ferry, Johnathan Gray and Max Groebe, and forwards Eitan Chemerinski, Adam Wire and Manny Sahota are now key contributors.
The depth paid off last weekend, particularly against Penn, whom Cornell thought it wore down. Harvard, like Penn and Princeton, doesn't go deep down its bench. The Big Red defended aggressively against Princeton, mixing in varying traps, and forced the Tigers into an uncharacteristically high 18 turnovers.
Against Cornell three weeks ago, Harvard had just four turnovers.
"(Our approach to Harvard) won't be the same as last time because some of the things we're doing differently, but we're not changing who we are," Courtney said. "We're going to see a lot of guys out there playing, and playing with 100 percent maximum effort."
Wroblewski (14.9 points per game), Ferry (11.7) and Peck (11.2) remain Cornell's top offensive threats. Gray and Groebe have played better of late, while Coury's minutes have spiked with added toughness, defense and the occasional bucket inside.
Harvard is coming off a wild 85-78 win last Saturday at home against Brown, in which the Crimson rallied from a 24-point second-half deficit. Junior forward Keith Wright, who had 21 points and 11 boards against Cornell in the first meeting, finished with 22 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks.
Kyle Casey, a bouncy 6-foot-7 sophomore forward, plays alongside Wright underneath. Courtney says Casey appears to be fully healthy again after playing through the aftereffects of a broken foot suffered in October. Casey's averaging 14.6 points in eight Ivy games, behind Wright's 17.9.
"He is definitely back," Courtney said. "He's blocking shots at the top of the square, catching dunks off the vertical jump. He's doing things that not a lot of guys can do in this league."
Wright and Casey were at the heart of Harvard's win three weeks ago.
"Really, Casey and Wright asserted themselves in the second half. We had a hard time dealing with those guys," Courtney said. "We've got to do a better job of making them catch the ball, and when they do catch it, giving some help. It's also a double-edged sword, because if they get help, they kick it and Harvard can shoot threes."
Cornell's intent is to push the Crimson just like it pushed Penn and Princeton last week, Yale and Brown the weekend before. A win in a close game would indeed be a breakthrough. Cornell is 0-6 this season in games decided by three points or fewer.
Matchup: Harvard (18-4, 7-1 Ivy League) at Cornell (6-16, 2-6), 7 p.m.
Radio: WVBR (93.5). Online: Follow Brian Delaney's in-game twitter updates (@BDelaneyIJ) at www.ithacajournal.com/twitter.
Coach: Tommy Amaker (fourth season, 61-48).
Last time out: Harvard rallied from a 24-point deficit in the second half Saturday against Brown to win 85-78. The comeback was the second-largest in Ivy League history.
Previous meeting: Harvard pulled away from Cornell at Lavietes Pavilion on Jan. 29 for a 78-57 victory. The Crimson had 17 assists to four turnovers in the win. Five players scored in double figures.
Probable starters: Brandyn Curry (6-1, 195, Soph., G), Laurent Rivard (6-5, 215, Fr., G), Christian Webster (6-5, 205, Soph., G), Kyle Casey (6-7, 215, Soph., F), Keith Wright (6-8, 240, Jr., F). ... Oliver McNally (6-3, 180, Jr., G) suffered an ankle injury in the Brown game. His status for this weekend is unknown.
Key reserves: Matt Brown (6-3, 205, Fr., G), Jeff Georgatos (6-7, 210, Soph., F), Andrew Van Nest (6-10, 235, Jr., F).
Statistically: Wright had 22 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks in the win over Brown. In eight league games, he's averaging 17.9 points and 9.1 rebounds while shooting 62.1 percent. ... As of Monday, Harvard had an RPI ranking of 44. ... The Crimson is 12-0 at home and 6-4 on the road this season. ... Harvard is 13-0 when shooting above 35 percent beyond the 3-point arc, and 5-4 when held under 35 percent. The Crimson's top 3-point shooters are McNally (.433), Webster (.404) and Rivard (.402).
Outlook: The Crimson is the Ivy League's most athletic team, top to bottom. Wright, a back-to-the-basket threat, and Casey, a free-lancing, inside-out leaper, are tough matchups and open up looks for their teammates from the outside. Last time against Cornell, Wright had nine offensive rebounds. If McNally can't go, the Crimson would lose a leader, a steady ball-handler, a 91-percent free throw shooter and a tough defender.
Cornell proved last week it will be difficult to beat at home. A win over an excellent Harvard team could be a springboard to better things, even beyond this season. To get there, the Big Red has to limit Harvard's second-chance opportunities, defend with toughness and consistently hit shots on offense. Even a moderate offensive dry spell can be punished thoroughly by the Crimson, which has a penchant for quick spurts.