Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Blue Ribbon Yearbook: Cornell Preview

Cornell Big Red

Last Season 10-18 (.357)
Conference Record 6-8 (t-5th)
Starters Lost/Returning 1/4
Coach Bill Courtney (Bucknell '92)
Record At School 10-18 (1 year)
Career Record 10-18 (1 year)
RPI Last 5 years 170-68-115-46-


The three teams that had new coaches last season finished in the bottom half of the Ivy League standings, hardly surprising given the conference's idiosyncrasies. It takes time to adjust to how the league does things.

For Bill Courtney, the adjustment was even more pronounced given that the first-time head coach was taking over a team that graduated eight seniors -- including three All-Ivy players -- and was coming off its best season in school history. Courtney had more unknowns facing him than Hercule Poirot in an Agatha Christie mystery novel.

As the season went along, Courtney was trying to figure out not only who to play but what style to play. Finally, after eight changes to the starting lineup and an 0-4 start to conference play, Courtney found his answers. The Big Red went on to win six of its last nine games. Unfortunately, the season ended just as Cornell was hitting its stride.

Courtney shouldn't have to experiment as much this season, though he has to find a way to solidify a frontcourt hit hard by graduation, and he has settled on a style of play he believes is most effective for the Big Red's personnel.

Cornell had lost its first four Ivy games, including handing Dartmouth its only league win of the season, when Courtney decided to shake things up heading into the game at Yale. From that point on, the Big Red became a pressing, running team that did its best to wear down its opponent. Although Cornell lost to the Bulldogs by one point, the Big Red saw tangible results from playing this style.

"Especially losing our interior guys, we're going to have to do that even more," Courtney said. "We're going to be flying around like crazy. I've got 20 guys on the roster; 12 of them are going to play every game."

One benefit of speeding up the game was creating more possessions, which meant more shot opportunities for Cornell's prolific shooters. The Big Red, who ranked sixth in Division I in three-pointers (nine per game) last season, has long been known for its abundant shooting from behind the arc. Cornell remains a jump-shooting team, despite the coaching change.

"No question about that," Courtney said. "That's the way the team was built, and that's the guys that we still have, our veteran guys, and so we'll certainly still use [the three-point shot]."


Chris Wroblewski (14.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 5.7 apg, 1.5 spg, .433 3PT, .822 FT) was Cornell's most experienced player last season, however, but his role changed dramatically from his first two seasons. The 6-0 senior went from being a complementary piece to the Big Red's go-to player and full-time point guard. Had it not been for a slew of injuries -- broken nose, high ankle sprain and hip injury that required surgery after the season -- Wroblewski might have had an easier time fulfilling his new role.

"He wasn't healthy all year and he still made [second-team] All-Ivy," Courtney said. "For him to even do that is a testament to the kind of year he had, the kind of kid he is."

Wroblewski, who led the team in scoring, ranked second in the league in assists and led in steals.

"He's our leader," Courtney said. "We're going to go as far as he takes us."

Because of his size and quickness, Errick Peck (11.0 ppg, 3.6 rpg) creates matchup problems. The 6-6 junior forward is bigger than most Ivy wing players and speedier than most power forwards, the position he played at the end of last season. Peck benefited greatly from the switch in playing styles because he's more effective in transition than a half-court offense.

Peck also underwent surgery during the offseason, cleaning out cartilage in his knee, but he should be healthy by the start of the season.

"He's one of our most talented players," Courtney said. "He's a tremendous athlete."

On a team of prodigious shooters, Drew Ferry (11.9 ppg, 2.1 rpg, .379 3PT) stands out. Nobody in the league made more three-pointers than the 6-2 senior guard and junior college transfer, who took more than 75 percent of his shots from behind the arc and made 80 of them.

Max Groebe (6.7 ppg, 2.1 rpg), a 6-4 senior guard, and Anthony Gatlin (3.3 ppg, 1.1 rpg), a 6-8 senior forward, are streaky shooters capable of providing instant offense.

Jonathan Gray (4.7 ppg, 2.3 rpg), a former manager on Cornell's Sweet 16 team, is both a slasher and a shooter. Courtney says the 6-3 junior guard "has a chance to have a really good year."

Another scorer, 6-6 sophomore forward Dwight Tarwater (1.7 ppg, 0.6 rpg), missed most of last season with mono.

Miles Asafo-Adjei (1.7 ppg, 1.2 rpg), a 6-2 junior guard, and Dominick Scelfo, a 6-3 sophomore guard who sat out last year with a knee injury, are both solid defensive players.

Jake Matthews (1.4 ppg. 0.9 rpg), a 6-2 sophomore combo guard, started 11 games but averaged less than nine minutes a game. "He's got to continue to get better," Courtney said.

Josh Figini (3.2 ppg, 1.7 rpg), a 6-9 forward, and Eitan Chemerinski (2.2 ppg, 1.5 rpg), a 6-8 forward, have been little used reserves their first two seasons. Now the two juniors are expected to fill the void in Cornell's frontcourt. Both have spent a lot of time in the weight room adding bulk.

"Josh is going to be expected to pick up a big load inside," Courtney said. "Eitan has improved as much as anybody in the program."

Given how thin Cornell is up front, Courtney made it a priority to add players who are comfortable playing close to the basket and four of the six freshmen he brought in fit that need. Deion Giddens (Willow Canyon [Ariz.]/Bitburg, Germany), a 6-9 forward, is long and thin who needs to add strength. At 6-9, 230 pounds, Dave LaMore (Dexter/Whitmore Lake, Mich.) has the size to carve out space in the lane. Shonn Miller (St. Ignatius/Euclid, Ohio), a 6-7 forward, is an athletic player who blocks shots and rebounds. Nenad Tomic (North Royalton/North Royalton, Ohio) is a solid low post scorer. Any of the four might be called on to contribute right away.

Courtney also signed a pair of athletic guards, 6-2 Galal Cancer (Christian Brothers Academy/Albany, N.Y.) and 6-3 Devin Cherry (Meridian/Meridian, Miss.). Because of their skill level and athleticism, they, too, might compete for playing time despite Cornell's depth at guard.




Even if Cornell can carry forward the momentum from the end of last season, the Big Red faces an uphill battle as it tries to make headway in the standings. Too many Ivy teams return too many core players for Cornell to gain much ground. The Big Red is still too inexperienced compared to the other teams.

"Even though I think we'll be better, we still have to go up even another notch to improve record-wise," Courtney said.

In order to separate itself from the other inexperienced teams in the league, Cornell needs to do a better job defensively. Last season, the Big Red's opponents made 45.6 percent of their field goal attempts, third worst in the league. When it did try to contest its opponents' shots, Cornell often fouled. Teams averaged more than 23 trips to the free-throw line a game against the Big Red where they shot 72 percent. That's too many easy points to give up.

If it can make more of an effort on defense and develop a strong low-post presence, which would go a long way toward helping draw defenses away from its shooters and make them more productive, the Big Red could wind up winning a few more games than last season. Unfortunately, that probably won't be enough to finish in the top half of the standings.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

110% Defense can bring wins regardless of opponents hype or skill level.