Friday, February 10, 2012

Ithaca Journal Previews Cornell vs. Yale/Brown

Cornell's Shonn Miller, left, knocks the ball away from Columbia's John Daniels during the first half of their game at Newman Arena.

ITHACA -- Cornell men's basketball coach Bill Courtney is finally ready to say it: This weekend is a big one for his team.

Midway through the Ivy League schedule and heading into a weekend home stand against Yale and Brown, the usually cautious second-year coach isn't downplaying the significance of the next two nights.

"There's no question about it; this is an important weekend," said Courtney, whose club (8-12 overall, 3-3 Ivy League) sits fourth in the league standings. "I think everyone around our team understands that. If you want to be in the upper division (of the league), you have to win your homes games."

The need to win at home is urgent for the Big Red. After Friday night's game against Yale and Saturday's meeting with Brown, Cornell plays four consecutive conference games on the road, where Courtney's squad is 1-10 this winter.

When the Big Red returns to Newman Arena on March 2, there will be just two games left in the season.

"Playing at home is advantageous for everyone," said Courtney, whose team is 7-2 at home this season. "It only helps us that we have two opponents coming here this weekend. On the other hand, the road versus home record has a lot to do with who you play. We haven't played anyone on the road that isn't near the top of their conference."

Cornell will play a top-tier squad Friday night when 15-5 Yale -- second in the Ivy standings at 5-1 -- comes to Newman. The Bulldogs have won three straight and are coming off an impressive home sweep of Penn and Princeton last weekend.

Six-foot-10 senior center Greg Mangano, a conference Player of the Year candidate, averages 19 points, 10 rebounds and 2.4 blocks to the lead the Bulldogs, who, according to Courtney, present a near-perfect "contrast of styles" to his team.

While the Big Red has been outrebounded in 16 of 20 games, Yale outrebounds opponents by nearly seven boards per game. The Bulldogs also figure to make things tough for Cornell's shooters, having limited opponents to just 33 percent from beyond the arc.

"It's really going to be a contrast of styles," Courtney said. "With Yale, you have to concern yourself with their size and try to keep them off the offensive glass. With us being much more of a perimeter-oriented team and trying to speed the game up, it's going to come down to who wins that tempo battle."

As for defending Mangano, Courtney says he'll be "throwing a number of guys at him," including freshman forward Shonn Miller (9.5 ppg., 6.6 rpg.), "as good a defender as there is in this league."

Although they have struggled to consistently find their way into Courtney's rotation, junior forwards Eitan Cherminski and Josh Figini will be counted on to provide some valuable minutes. They're averaging a combined 11.9 points and 5.0 rebounds.

The Big Red also need to track 6-4 senior forward Reggie Willhite, who chips in 12.3 points and 5.6 rebounds per game, as well as junior point guard Austin Morgan (12.0 ppg.).

On Saturday, Cornell will face a very different challenge in the slumping Bears (7-16, 1-5), who head into Friday night's contest at Columbia losers of three straight and eight of their last 10 games.

Brown struggles in the rebounding category, and has shot just 41 percent -- and a league-worst 63 percent from the free-throw line.

Sophomore guard Sean McGonagill (14.5 ppg., 5.7 apg.) will be counted on to help slow down the Big Red's explosive, guard-heavy rotation.

Cornell senior point guard Chris Wroblewski (10.1 ppg, 5.2 apg.) enters the weekend averaging double figures for the first time this season. Junior swingman Johnathan Gray has increased his productivity of late, having scored 12 or more points in four consecutive games.
CU men's basketball

Record: 8-12 overall, 3-3 Ivy League

Friday night: Yale (15-5, 5-1 Ivy League) at Cornell

Saturday: Brown (7-16, 1-5) at Cornell

When: 7 p.m. (both games)

Where: Newman Arena

Radio: WXYL-HD2 (103.3)

Online/Twitter: For in-game updates, follow @Ed_IJSports

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