Friday, November 11, 2011

Jake Mastbaum Previews Cornell at St. Bonaventure

Cornell opens the season in Olean, NY against Andrew Nicholson and a highly-rated St. Bonaventure squad.


By Jake Mastbaum, IvyHoopsOnline

Cornell starts the 2011-2012 season in the same place Jeff Foote began his college career five seasons ago. If the Big Red want to progress in year two of the Bill Courtney era the same way Foote progressed when he traded maroon for bright red, the crew from Ithaca is going to have quite the early test. The 2011-2012 campaign kicks off in Olean, NY as St. Bonaventure boast their best squad in recent memory. The Bonnies return four starters from a team that posted its first winning season in eight years, highlighted by preseason first team A-10 pick, Andrew Nicholson. Nicholson, a rare legitimate NBA prospect out of St. Bonaventure is coming off a year in which he averaged over 20 points and 7 rebounds a game. The forward who is comfortable setting up on either block and who can finish on both sides of the rim, will provide a major challenge to Cornell’s unproven front court.

Cornell, a team who will look to play fast this season, relying on their depth, will have to dial it back Friday night due to a collection of preseason injuries. Most notably riding the pine is junior swingman Errick Peck. Peck, who averaged 11 points per game last season is “questionable” for Friday, but will most likely sit this one out, recovering from off-season knee surgery. On the flip side, early reports indicate that St. Bonaventure is fully healthy for this matchup.

A Year Ago

Cornell took a 2 point lead into the locker room at the half, but in the end, the front court duo of Andrew Nicholson and Demitrius Conger proved too much for the Big Red to handle. Nicholson and Conger combined for 41 points and 24 rebounds en route to a 2 point victory. Demitrius Conger hit the game winning three pointer with 47 seconds left, which was set up by 3 straight offensive rebounds. After battling various injuries, Chris Wrobleski dropped 25 points in his first start of the year for Cornell. Max Groebe added 16 points on 5-9 shooting.

Keys to The Game

COR: Rebounding

Cornell fans, get used to seeing rebounding as a ‘Key to the Game’ pretty frequently this season. Last season, Cornell was out-rebounded by 96 on the year. Now, eliminate the three leading rebounders from that team due to graduation. Add in the fact that the strength of this St. Bonaventure team is its frontcourt (the same frontcourt that outrebounded the Big Red by 20 a season ago when Aaron Osgood, Adam Wire, and Mark Coury were in the lineup), and you now have a less than ideal situation.

If Cornell wants to have a chance in this one, they need to trim that rebounding differential from a season ago. Second and third chance opportunities just won’t cut it against a team as talented as the Bonnies. Eitan Chemerinki, Josh Figini, and Dwight Tarwater will play a big role in manning the boards. However, I’m not solely looking at the bigs here. Cornell is blessed with solid rebounding guards like Chris Wroblewski and Jonny Gray who will have to consistently be crashing the boards to neutralize the physicality of St. Bonaventure. A team effort dedicated to rebounding the basketball is what will be needed to have a chance of winning this one.

SBU: Perimeter Defense

There’s no question that Cornell is a perimeter oriented team and St. Bonaventure is a frontcourt oriented team. This creates mismatches for both teams on one side of the basketball. Despite a slew of pre-season injuries, Cornell is a team that is going to look to run out of the gates and push the tempo. Three point shots will come early and often for the Big Red. Defensively, the Bonnies like to come out in a half court man-to-man defense. Cornell will work to stretch the D. They typically can shoot the three at the 1 through 4 and sometimes even 1 through 5 (when Figini is on the floor). If St. Bonaventure wants to neutralize Cornell’s biggest strength, their bigs need to be able to rotate quickly and defend on the perimeter while closing out on shooters.

Major Question

Q: Can the Big Red defend Nicholson?

A: Yes.

To prove this point, I go back to when Cornell traveled down to New Haven last season to take on Yale in the John J Lee Amphitheatre. Now upon reading this, most Cornell fans will cringe in distress. Rightfully, I should be questioned for using a game in which Cornell blew a 10 point lead with 1:58 to go to prove how a potential first round NBA draft pick can be defended by three guys who averaged 7.3 minutes per game a season ago. Going into this matchup, the focus was on how Cornell’s frontcourt would matchup with Greg Mangano and Jeremiah Kreisberg, arguably the best frontcourt in the Ancient Eight. Aaron Osgood was out with an injury and the senior duo of Adam Wire and Mark Coury only played a combined 17 minutes. So guess who was tasked with controlling Kreisberg and Mangano. Yep, you guessed it, Eitan Chemerinski and Josh Figini, the same duo who will be bodying up Andrew Nicholson Friday night. The inexperienced duo was able to hold Kreisberg to just 16 minutes of game action after drawing him into foul trouble and contained Mangano to just 14 points and 9 rebounds. All of these numbers were well below Kreisberg and Mangano’s respective season averages in these categories and way below numbers you would expect him to put up against a then-struggling Cornell frontcourt.

The key to containing Nicholson Friday night will be Chemerinski and Figini defensively executing the same way they did that night in New Haven. Mangano never looked comfortable in the post. Interior defense started the second the ball was inbounded. Half the battle was preventing the ball from even entering the paint. Cornell can keep Nicholson in check and limit his effectiveness by controlling the post before the ball finds its way down there. For the Big Red to be successful Friday night, they need to force the Bonnies to beat them with something other than their strength. Cornell proved they could do this once and there is no reason why we can’t see Chemerinski and Figini step up big again.

Players to Keep an Eye on

COR: Dwight Tarwater

Coming into last season, I thought Dwight Tarwater would be the most impactful newcomer. At this level, making the jump from high school ball to college ball is huge and few can do it without a big adjustment period. What stood out to me was that Tarwater had the frame to compete at the college level right away. My prediction never had the chance to be proven right or wrong because Tarwater missed the bulk of his Freshman season due to a battle with Mononucleosis. Now, Tarwater enters his Sophomore season with 4 years of eligibility. The high expectations I had for Tarwater a year ago are only intensified by the fact that he’s had a year in this program to learn the system and will have the opportunity for big minutes. Tarwarter is expected to make the first start of his career Friday night and will have every chance to make the case to stay in Bill Courtney’s rotation with a wide open frontcourt and a sidelined Errick Peck. Keep an eye out for #33.

SBU: Eric Mosley/Charlon Kloof

St. Bonaventure has recently been a frontcourt-oriented team. Even with Andrew Nicholson on the roster, this is something that might change this year with Mark Schmidt now seeing depth at the point guard position. Junior Eric Mosley has been battling 6’3’’ transfer Charlon Kloof for the starting job all pre-season. As of now, it looks like the 5’10’’ Mosley will get the nod Friday against Cornell. Mosley, known as more of a shooter and a scorer, is quick off the dribble, while Kloof is seen as a distributor and a defender. Both guys should see plenty of minutes on Friday, especially with the Bonnies looking to play a faster style of basketball this season than we are used to seeing from Schmidt’s squads. As Schmidt is looking to solidify his rotation, both of these guys have something to prove. I expect either Mosley or Kloof to step up to the plate and cause some problems for Cornell.

Projected starters

Cornell

G – Chris Wroblewski
G – Drew Ferry
G – Jonathan Gray
F – Dwight Tarwater
C – Eitan Chemerinski

St. Bonaventure

G – Eric Mosey
G – Michael Davenport
F – Demitrus Conger
F – Da’Quan Cook
F – Andrew Nicholson

Prediction

Cornell hangs with the Bonnies in the first half. Chemerinski, Figini, and Tarwater are able to hold Nicholson in-check during the first half. In the second half, things start to unravel. Conger and Nicholson become too much down low and St. Bonaventure opens up a double-digit lead by the under 8 minute media time out. Cornell doesn’t go without a fight. Led by Drew Ferry, the big red make it a 6 point game late, but pure free throw shooting by the Bonnies give them a double-digit victory and send the Big Red back to Ithaca to face up-state New York foe, Binghamton, still in search of their first win of the season.

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