Above, Cornell guard, Miles Asafo Adjei, a native of Nashville, TN. Below, some additional previews for tonight's game at Vanderbilt. Get all the information you need about the Cornell Big Red's games at Vanderbilt, Monday, December 17, 2012, 9 pm (EST) and at Duke, Wednesday, December 19, 2012, 7 pm (EST), both nationally televised on ESPNU, with The Cornell Basketball Blog's Game Preview Center.
Vanderbilt will play a few more impressive offensive teams in December, but don't expect a lot of potency from an Ivy League visitor on Monday night. Against Cornell, the Commodores will get another opportunity to polish their defensive communication and rotations before facing Middle Tennessee's senior experience and, after Christmas, Butler's loaded roster.
Vanderbilt took on a very weak offensive team this past Saturday, and coach Kevin Stallings's team, which is growing in confidence each day, did exactly what it was supposed to do against Alabama A&M. Roughly 48 hours after that conquest, the Dores will be asked to contain another struggling offense from a non-power conference.
Building better habits and establishing greater consistency are the needed goals for this Cornell game, because the next two contests after this one will take the measure of the Dores before SEC play begins. Vanderbilt needs to steel itself for Middle Tennessee and big, bad, Indiana-beating Butler. If VU can take both of those games, this team – which looked lost on the morning of Dec. 2 after the setback against Villanova – could actually produce an NCAA tournament-worthy resume if it can finish above .500 in the SEC and win at least once (at home, realistically) against both Kentucky and Florida.
Cornell is not an imposing team, but since the build-up to MTSU and Butler is very much in progress, the Commodores have to make sure that they don't lose momentum… or healthy basketball inclinations… when they take the court on Monday.
Three years ago, Vanderbilt fans probably took notice of the Big Red… not for anything they did to the Commodores, but for their lively and rousing Sweet 16 game against the Goliath in VU's conference, the Kentucky Wildcats. Yes, Cornell was a Sweet 16 team in March of 2010, as former coach Steve Donahue took a bunch of smart, heady players – many of whom could shoot the bejeezus out of the ball – and guided them to the East Regional semifinals. Cornell, as a No. 12 seed, whacked fifth-seeded Temple in the round of 64 and fourth-seeded Wisconsin in the round of 32 to make the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. Cornell lost to Kentucky on that Thursday night in Syracuse, N.Y., but not without putting up a fight. Cornell's run to the Sweet 16 marked the deepest NCAA run for any Ivy League team since the Pennsylvania Quakers reached the Final Four in 1979. This program created more than a little bit of history.
The present moment isn't as buoyant, to say the very least.
The Big Red have been singing the blues the past two seasons under Donahue's successor, head coach Bill Courtney. Cornell has been a middle of the pack team in the Ivy League, unable to win a majority of games in the conference over the past two seasons. In this third go-round for Courtney, Cornell is 4-5. What should concern the Big Red is that their losses have not all come against imposing foes.
Yes, a loss to Wisconsin is nothing to be ashamed of. Stony Brook has put together a solid program in the America East Conference, so Cornell's loss to the Seawolves shouldn't be seen as cause for concern. Losing to 2012 NCAA tournament team Saint Bonaventure is nothing to sneeze at, either. However, losing to an Arizona State team at the bottom of the Pac-12 and a St. Peter's team that went 5-26 last year (4-14 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) offer telling indications that Cornell is not ready to make a great leap forward in the coming months. This is a team Vanderbilt should be able to handle.
Forward – Josh Figini – Senior, 6-9, 215 2012-13: 4.2 points per game, 2.2 rebounds per game
Figini is technically a starter, but on a team that uses a nine-man rotation, Figini is ninth in minutes per game. He is more of a role player. The non-starter who gets the most minutes on the Big Red is Errick Peck, a 6-6, 224-pound senior forward who averages 7.4 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. Peck is part of Courtney's blended rotation system: No one on the Big Red plays at least 30 minutes per game (the top workhorse for the team averages 29.4 per game), averages more than 10 points per game, or hands out more than 2.6 assists per game. Balanced contributions from a group of nine players are sought more than anything else by the Cornell coaching staff.
Forward – Shonn Miller – Sophomore, 6-7, 202; 2012-13: 10 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 2.1 steals per game, 1.9 blocks per game
This is Cornell's best player by any appreciable measurement. Miller is not a strong three-point shooter (26.7 percent), but he does just about everything else well. Miller is an efficient player who doesn't take a lot of bad shots. His length and athleticism make him a presence on the glass and as a shot blocker. He also hounds opponents as a defender, using quick hands to take away the ball. Vanderbilt needs to be equally cognizant of Miller at both ends of the floor.
Guard – Nolan Cressler – Freshman, 6-4, 200; 2012-13: 9 ppg, 3.6 rpg, .425 3-PT FG percentage
Cressler is a legitimately good perimeter shooter. His percentage, shown above in the stat line, is the result of 40 long-distance attempts, or roughly four and a half per game. As his body develops, Cressler should become an even more formidable rebounder, and as things stand right now, it will remain important for Vanderbilt to keep this muscular guard out of the lane.
Guard –Miles Asafo-Adjei – Senior, 6-2, 170; 2012-13: 2.7 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 2.9 apg
Asafo-Adjei makes a particular effort to be a facilitator and "glue guy" for the Bid Red, thereby enabling other players to score and rebound. Though a senior, Asafo-Adjei has taken only two threes to this point in the season. He simply doesn't look for his shot or consider shooting to be at the core of his identity. He doesn't put a lot of value in that aspect of play, instead choosing to enable his teammates to find openings in an opposing defense. Asafo-Adjei owns the attributes of a thinking man's player, the kind of player a coach loves to have around. Basketball requires the kinds of performers who influence a game without scoring; this is one of the sport's great virtues. Yet, given the lack of a dynamic scorer on the Cornell roster, it would be good for the Big Red if Asafo-Adjei could look for his shot just a little more. The team would become harder to guard if this senior showed more of a willingness to be selfish... selfish in a positive way.
Guard – Johnathan Gray – Senior, 6-3, 184; 2012-13: 7.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg
Among Cornell's three guards, you'll notice that while Cressler is a freshman with a powerful physical makeup, Gray and Asafo-Adjei are seniors who are lean and lanky. In this sense, the Big Red's backcourt has three players – one freshman and two seniors – whose physiques are the inverse of what one would normally expect. In order to be particularly effective, a player with a slighter build either has to be lightning-quick or a lethal shooter, and Gray is not quite that player. Since Asafo-Adjei is less inclined to look for his shot – at least in the short term – it's Gray who needs to be more assertive against Vanderbilt if Cornell is going to enjoy more success.
With the aforementioned Peck essentially being a "sixth starter" while Figini (the technical starter) occupies the starting slot, there are three other players to point out. Forward Eitan Chemerinski provides a steady and serviceable though hardly imposing presence in the paint. Sophomore guard Devin Cherry is the team's best scorer off the bench, averaging 8.2 points per game. Guard Galal Cancer is the bench version of Asafo-Adjei, facilitating Cornell's offense and dishing out 2.6 assists per game.
One final note about Cornell's nine-player rotation as a whole: Everyone rebounds. The ninth-best rebounder in this rotation averages 1.9 boards per contest.
Keys to the Game
1) Pound the ball into the paint. Figini is Cornell's tallest starter at 6-9, and as mentioned above, he receives fewer minutes than the other eight players in the Big Red's nine-man rotation. Peck, as a tweener forward, weighs more than the Big Red's primary low-post players. This is not a physical team. Vanderbilt should be able to overwhelm Cornell within six to eight feet of the basket, wearing out – and wearing down – the Big Red on the low blocks and dominating on the glass.
2) Realize that Cornell could be a different team. It's obvious that Miller will draw attention from Vanderbilt's defense, given his ability to do so many good things for the Big Red, but Cressler is in many ways the player who could sneak up on Vanderbilt, using his shooting ability to go off for 18 or 20 points if the Commodores aren't careful. Realize this about Cornell: It has not played since Dec. 1. The Big Red will be physically fresh, and they will have had over two full weeks to iron out some of their problems (and take final exams as well). Stallings and his assistant coaches need to emphasize to their players that Cornell will likely show some new plays; the nine players who carry the load for the Big Red might enter this game with a fundamentally approach. Cressler could very well be the player who tries to make the biggest impact for the school from Ithaca, NY.
Vanderbilt finally got back to .500 this season with Saturday’s blowout win over Alabama A&M. They can roll that momentum into a three-game winning streak tonight by beating 4-5 Cornell in Nashville (8:00 p.m. on ESPNU).
The Commodores (4-4) got big performances out of Kedren Johnson (19 points) and Rod Odom (17 points) to outgun the overmatched Bulldogs on Saturday. The ‘Dores will also welcome back a key member of their rotation when Dai-Jon Parker returns from an eight-game suspension for the game. They’ll have a stiffer test waiting for them tonight; unlike A&M, the Big Red have wins this season over Division I programs.
That’s not putting too much praise on Cornell, however. The team is a shell of what it had been from 2008-2010 when the Big Red made three straight NCAA Tournament appearances. Their five losses include defeats against Stony Brook, St. Bonaventure, and St. Peter’s. Their best win came against 209th-ranked Western Michigan, and half of their victories have come against the two worst teams in the Big South – Presbyterian and Longwood.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that tonight’s matchup won’t be competitive. Cornell is ranked 235th in Ken Pomeroy’s rating system – just two spots below Marist. That same Marist team held Vandy to 33 points in a blowout win only three weeks ago. So can we expect the ‘Dores to take control on Monday night? Or will the Big Red come out hot and ruin Vanderbilt’s first winning streak of the season? Let’s look at the matchup.
The Opponent: Cornell is 4-5 this season, but has yet to record a win over a top 200 program. Their best victories have come over Western Michigan and Colgate. Their losses have come to Wisconsin (73-40), Arizona State (64-53), Stony Brook (76-53), Saint Bonaventure (72-68), and Saint Peter’s (68-64).
Cornell – Shonn Miller. At 6’7″ and 200 pounds, Miller has excellent size for a small forward, but Cornell’s lack of efficient big men has turned him into a hybrid 3/4. The move has worked out so far for the Big Red. The sophomore is coming off the best game of his NCAA career, having scored 20 points and pulled down 14 rebounds in a win over Colgate. He’ll likely be matched up with a player who has a similar profile in the frontcourt – Rod Odom. Cornell and Vandy are two teams that rely on quickness and shooting rather than interior play this season. That will make the performances of their big men on the wings even more important on Monday.
Vanderbilt – Rod Odom. Maybe Odom felt some pressure after fellow junior Kyle Fuller broke out against Xavier. That’s one way to explain his 17-point performance on Saturday. Odom, who has struggled with his shooting all season, connected on four of his six three-point attempts against Alabama A&M. That led to the highest-scoring game of his Commodore career. Will he be able to roll that confidence over into another home game against a below-average opponent? Or will he regress back into the sloppy-shooting forward whose misses can dissolve Commodore runs late in games?
Key Stat: Nine. That’s how many Cornell players are averaging over 14 minutes per game. The Big Red have only one guy – Miller – who plays more than 22 minutes per contest. The rest of Cornell’s roster rotates through heavy substitutions, which leads to fresher players as the game winds down. Conversely, Vandy has played four guys – Johnson, Odom, Fuller, and Kevin Bright – over 30 mpg so far this season. Their rotation will get a little bit richer with Parker back in the fold, but tired legs could give Cornell an advantage late in tonight’s contest.
Ken Pomeroy says: Cornell is ranked 237th by Ken Pomeroy, while Vandy is 127th. The Big Red are ranked 275th in offensive efficiency and 184th on defense. If you project these offensive and defensive ratings out over a 60-possession game, you’d end up with a final score of Vanderbilt 60, Cornell 54.