Thursday, December 5, 2013

News and Notes: Thursday Edition

Above, Errick Peck (Cornell '13), Ryan Wittman (Cornell '10) and Steve Donahue chat before tip off of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge Game Wednesday night between Boston College and Purdue. Below, news and notes for Thursday. 

On Feb. 16 of last year, junior forward Shonn Miller stepped calmly to the free throw line in a road game against Brown. He sunk both of them, putting his team comfortably up by seven with 1:42 left in the game. The Red would go on to defeat the Bears in that game and, at 5-3 in the Ivy League riding on a three-game winning streak, it looked as though Cornell was in good standing to finish in the top half of the conference.
15 games later and nine games into another season, the Red is winless and Miller-less. Miller would play two more games after the win over Brown, but the next time the Red faced the Bears in Ithaca, Miller was no longer in the lineup. Cornell lost that game, 84-65, part of the six-game losing skid that ended the season.
There is a new look to the Red this season that is refreshing, but has yet to provide results. Head coach Bill Courtney added a strong recruiting class of five freshman that, with the departure of Errick Peck ’13, Johnny Gray ’13, Eitan Chemerinski ’13, Miles Asafo-Adjei ’13 — all starters last season — and the loss of Miller to injury and junior Galal Cancer, who quit the team this fall, has proven a much-needed addition.
“Any time you lose an All-Ivy player, it’s going to hurt the team,” senior guard Dom Scelfo said about Miller’s injury. “He was a leader and he really helped us out on defense, which is where we’re struggling right now.”
The host of new faces for the Red has shown early promise, though, despite a still winless record. Two members of the freshman class in Robert Hatter and David Onuorah were starters through the first five games of the season. The two freshmen made both their names and their connection known in just the first minutes of the season against Syracuse. Hatter tossed an alley-oop into the air for a soaring Onuorah, who jammed it home for the first collegiate points of his career and the first points of the Red’s season.
“Coming off the alley to start the game against Syracuse was one of the best moments of my life up to date, and it is definitely something I will never forget,” Onuorah said. “Going into the rest of the game, I felt energized to make a presence and contribute to the team in whatever way possible.”
Hatter and Onuorah, along with fellow freshman Darryl Smith, have certainly done that in the early goings. Hatter has already won Ivy League Rookie of the Week honors twice this season, and exploded onto the collegiate basketball stage with a 32 point, five assist and six rebound effort against Loyola in just the second game of his career. Smith had a career-high 13 points in that game as well. Hatter is second on the team in scoring with 11.8 points per game and tied for first in assists with 3.2. Onuorah ranks third on the team in rebounding with 3.6 per game. For a group of five freshmen that is asked to make an impact on the collegiate level so soon, it is important for them to be a unit off the court as well. According to Onuorah, that came naturally to this year’s freshman class.
“All five of us hang out together all the time. We always try to eat dinner together and we’re always hanging out whenever we have free time or even if we’re just studying or doing homework,” he said. “It’s always a great time when we’re together and I think we get along very well.”
According to Courtney, this freshman class was expected to make an impact early on.
“Expectations for all our guys is to get better every day, and that’s what we’re working on right now,” Courtney said. “We’ve obviously had a slow start to the season as far as wins and losses are concerned, but more importantly when you have a group this young, and everybody is relatively inexperienced, you want to see growth every day and that’s what we’re trying to concentrate on doing.”
With only four seniors on the roster, one of whom just joined the team this year, younger players have been forced to emerge as leaders on and off the court. Junior guard Devin Cherry was named a captain this season, along with senior forward Dwight Tarwater. As just a sophomore, Nolan Cressler has been asked to take on the bulk of the scoring, averaging 18.1 points through the first nine games. All of this amounts to a team that is still trying to find its identity, as young talents work to mesh with veteran players. According to Scelfo, this means that there is a high ceiling for the team.
“We’re a young team with some younger guys and we have some things we need to learn down the stretch,” he said. “We need to have a lot more mental toughness going into games, we need to react better and it’s a mental thing we can control.”
 Though there is still ample time for it to play out, the combination of youth and experience is at least serving to develop the underclassmen.
“All the guys have contributed to helping me adjust to the fast pace system that we play in,” Onuorah said. “I feel like I am learning how to do things faster and also I feel like my body is getting used to the daily grind of things.”
Onuorah is the only freshman in the Red’s backcourt, as four of this year’s five recruits were guards. Joining him in the paint are Tarwater, juniors Nenad Tomic, Deion Giddens and Dave LaMore, and sophomore Braxston Bunce. Giddens has seen a spike in his playing time from last year, as he got his first start of the season against Siena. However, without Miller, the Red lacks a true and experienced post player. Tarwater has stepped up to the task this season, as he leads the team with 6.7 rebounds per game. Yet the 6’6” forward is more comfortable stepping out and hitting the three ball, as he is shooting 45 percent from beyond the arc, a team best.
According to Courtney, finding a balance between points inside and production from guards will be important as the season wears on.
“You always want to be able to score baskets on the inside, because that’s something you can do whether you’re having a great shooting night or not, and we are working on getting to that,” Courtney said. “Our strengths are in our guards, … but we can do things for the big guys like setting screens for them to get inside, not necessarily post up because they’re not necessarily great post up players yet.”
Though the Red’s record is not where the team expected it to be at this point in the season, the team has had to deal with a grueling road schedule that included trips to No. 4 Syracuse, No. 7 Louisville and Notre Dame, a new addition to the perennially strong ACC conference. According to Scelfo, playing these top-tier teams helped the squad gain some much-needed experience.
“It helped us a lot, especially with some of the younger guys, being able to compete with those guys helped the confidence,” he said. “No matter how many people there are at games from now on, they won’t get rattled.”
The Red’s difficult schedule so far is not showing signs of letting up, as Ivy powerhouses Harvard and Princeton loom in the future. The Crimson, the reigning Ivy League champions who upset Arizona in the first round of the NCAA tournament last season, have only gotten stronger with the return of Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey to the roster after a brief hiatus due to the cheating scandal that rocked Harvard’s campus a year ago.
Though the Red still has a lot of work ahead of it, the beauty of the Ivy League means that it will be a clean slate for the Red once the conference season starts on Jan. 18.
“We’ve shown stretches where we can play with anyone, but when adversity hits we just have to play harder,” Scelfo said.
-The Cornell men's basketball program will host Alumni and Friends Weekend from Dec. 6-8 in Ithaca.
-Included will be a Friday evening reception, Saturday's game against Saint Francis (Pa.) and a postgame reception, then Sunday's annual alumni game.
-Cornell will honor the 1953-54 and 2008-09 Big Red championship teams that weekend.
  • Cornell RPI Watch: The RPI (Rating Percentage Index) is a measure of strength of schedule and how a team does against that schedule. It does not consider the margin of victory, but only whether or        not a team won and where the game was played (home/away/neutral court). The formula is 25% team     winning percentage (WP), 50% opponents' average winning percentage (OWP), and 25% opponents' opponents' average winning percentage (OOWP). (See: for a further explanation of the formula.) The RPI may be the most influential factor in NCAA Tournament seeding. Cornell's RPI rank as of December 5, 2013 is No. 304 out of 344 total Division I teams. While neither the Ken Pomeroy or the Sagarin Rankings (USA Today) are used by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, the site ranks Cornell No. 330 in the nation, while the Sagarin Rankings (USA Today) have Cornell at No. 337. Both sites are predominantly used by fans and the media.
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Anonymous said...

Regarding the comment on last thread who ran through most of our classes and labeled them as unquestionably weak:

I somewhat resent the assertion that certain classes are "weak" or talentless.

When you have a bad coach, how can you distinguish whether it is a coaching problem manifested in developmental deficits, or whether it is a talent problem?

It's a question of logic. Given Donahue enjoyed a good recruiting environment in his last year or two after winning the Ivy title, and given Courtney benefited from a good recruiting environment in wake of the sweet 16 ... why did the vast majority of students recruited during this period turn out to be deemed "weak" by fans?

Which is more likely, that 85% or more of the recruits turned out to be "weak", or that something was wrong with the coaching that limited their development?

As lambasted as they were, coach D's last two recruiting classes (Peck's and Scelfo's) and Bill Courtney's first class (Miller's) were, believe it or not, our strongest classes on paper as measured by div I offers and public rating services.

While public rating services have their faults and Donahue exemplified the ability to build a strong team with unknown recruits that either uniquely fit your program or that you develop into beasts, I also don't think it's a coincidence that Ivy championships were followed by an improvement in recruits when measured by DivI offers and public rating services.

Scelfo got an offer from St. Louis, a very strong mid with frequent tourney trips; Tarwater was a Tennessee Mr. Basketball with strong interest from Princeton and late bcs interest; and Manny Sahota was a Canadian HS All-Star along with Harvard's Laurent Rivard.

The problem, of course, is that once we had a coaching change, performance plummeted. Players were hellishly inconsistent, including guys who had been consistent under Donahue. Other than Shonn, Nolan, and now Hatter (Onuorah is still iffy), few of Bill's recruits panned out; Galal and Devin, tasty-looking recruits who were major pieces on HS state champ level teams, were heavily blasted by fans, and the bigs were universally condemned as ineffective.

But the question, like I said, is, what is more likely -- that 85% of all our recruits turned out to suck, despite the fact that they were recruited over a period that should have been exceptionally favorable -- or that the coach does not properly develop players? Yes, some kids look good on paper then don't work out - but almost all of them?

The fact that so many of these kids would play like all stars for 3 games and then disappear for 5 only to emerge again for 3 makes me even more convinced that they are talented but have not been trained well enough to be consistent. Too many kids had too many good games for them to all be flukes, but only a minuscule number of guys would ever be consistent. I say these are the guys (Nolan, Shonn) who are so ridiculously talented that it can overcome bad coaching.

I say occam's razor to all our problems is the coach. We have slammed the kids, we have even slammed Donahue, we have slammed everyone and everything and blamed every situation, when occam's razor is that the coach is a problem.

The Cornell Basketball Blog said...

If Bill Courtney is the problem and if Steve Donahue and/or Zack Spiker are the solutions, please explain why Army and Boston College have combined to make zero NCAA Tournaments and a combined 1 NIT since 2010.

The problem up at Cornell goes way, way, way beyond just Bill Courtney.

Anonymous said...

OK, so what is the problem at Cornell?

The Cornell Basketball Blog said...

The problem is almost entirely a lack of talent and lack of experience on the roster.

The players are losing the games not the coaches (although Bill's technical last week cost his team a game).

Bill is not missing free throws. Bill is not getingt beat off the dribble. Bill is not throwing careless passes. Bill is not letting the opponent dominate the glass.

The Cornell offense looks much better than last year (albeit a work still in progress). Bill takes credit for that improvement. But the defense is terrible. And it is not because of the strategies employed.

And it is not Bill's fault that several Cornell players are failing defensive assignments and leaving 10 pts per game on the floor with easy missed FTs.

Trust in that no matter who takes control of Cornell, the Big Red will still struggle until the roster gets some upper class talent and there are players that can defend.

Unknown said...

Wow. Love the first comment, and almost totally disagree with CBB's 2:20 comment. I think lots of people have commented on here that there is plenty of talent on the roster (and also not on the roster but at Cornell or transferred) right now.

Bill is not doing all those bad in-game things because he is standing on the sidelines coaching them. Well-coached players in a good college system do those things correctly.That is the whole point.

Coaches teach kids to shoot, They teach kids to box out. They teach kids to dribble under control and pass. They teach every single thing you listed.

Any player with legs and arms can defend. They just need to be taught team and individual defense. In the junior class alone (Bill's upperclassmen) there are 3 potential highly competent defenders not including Shonn - Giddens could be all-world on that front, and Cherry and LaMore could be good too. These are physically talented Ivy-level players - every bit as physically talented as the kids Donahue had for sure.

From my view out here streaming games on the web, it appears they are not being taught, or coached.

Anonymous said...

Come on, we all know CBB is just a yes-man. If, and I repeat, if Courtney gets fired, CBB will start with how it had to be done and how great a decision it was and how whoever is named to take over will be the savior of Cornell Basketball.

The Cornell Basketball Blog said...

CBB is absolutely NOT a "yes man."

If you follow the CBB Twitter feed, there are many negative comments about Cornell's coaching decisions and further critical comments about players.

That said, CBB does not believe that there is a "quick fix" to the problem and that firing Bill Courtney will solve Cornell's struggles.

This is still a team that has been vastly injured his entire tenure and lacking in a junior/senior all-star leader (since the graduation of Chris Wroblewski).

Name a team with as many injuries as Cornell? THERE ARE NONE.

In Bill's four seasons, he's had an incredible 7 red-shirts (two of them were league all stars).

Errick Peck, Braxston Bunce, Shonn Miller, Jake Mathews, Dom Scelfo, Manny Sahota and Dwight Tarwater each missed at least one season each.

Also missing HUGE stretches of seasons included: Aaron Osgood, Devin Cherry, Galal Cancer, Johnathan Gray, among others.

Hard to have success with so many devastating blows.

Anonymous said...

Prior to the start of the season, you spent a year telling us that Courtney was recruiting as well as Amaker.

And now there's no talent on the team.

Obviously both of those statements can't be true.

The Cornell Basketball Blog said...

He lacks suitable talent in his senior class. It wasn't about entire roster.

Anonymous said...

So remove Curry, Casey and Rivard and you think our talent is the equal of Harvard's talent?

The Cornell Basketball Blog said...

Maybe with Shonn on the floor. I am not convinced Harvard is a great team without its seniors. They were an 11-3 team last year and scraped past a bad Cornell team.

Anonymous said...

What a joke. CBB, you'd get a Tommy Amaker tatto on your back to replace the Cornell underclassman with the Harvard underclassman.

The Cornell Basketball Blog said...

I'd take Siynani Chambers. The rest haven't done anything. They've got Dee Giger getting more minutes than some of their "Top 150" kids.

Unknown said...

I like to spar with CBB as much as the next guy, but I would also note that his comments via twitter, have become (suitably) more negative as the bloom has worn off this once (sort of) promising season. And we like his blog and don't want him to waver in his voluminous output. Someone has to compile all that data about this crappy team. Thanks CBB.

Anonymous said...

Hey CBB, what about Wes Saunders? I bet you'd take him along with Chambers.

The Cornell Basketball Blog said...

Saunders is a junior, an upperclassmen. As in, next year he is a senior. We are talking about the frosh and sophs, not the star studded junior class of Travis, Smith, Saunders and Moundou-Missi.

Anonymous said...

Again with the seniors.

Columbia has no seniors. Dartmouth has only 1. They're having nice seasons.

Princeton and Brown coaches are dealing with at least 2 classes worth of guys they didn't recruit. They're doing fine.

Amaker won his first title with no seniors at all.

And yet the seniors are a problem for Courtney.

A coach who is responsible for 3 out of 4 classes on his roster cannot keep blaming not having completely his own roster.

If you say "well Mike Martin inherited nicer players", then you're saying Jesse Agel out-recruited Bill Courtney and Bill Courtney is a poor recruiter.

If you then claim "oh but an all-ivy player is sick", then the team has no depth and Bill Courtney is a bad recruiter.

And with the injuries. Like no one else has ever had injuries.

Brown had at most 10 healthy men last year, at times less. They took down Providence with 8 healthy men.

In the past 2 years they have had injuries to all-Ivy Halpern and double-digit contributor McCarthy, in addition to other rotation players (Sharkey, Walker). They can survive without Halpern and McCarthy because they have depth at multiple positions. Again, if Cornell doesn't have this depth and cannot survive injuries, then Courtney is a poor recruiter.

Anonymous said...

No, you said that "He lacks suitable talent in his senior class. It wasn't about entire roster."

And an impartial observer would, in my opinion, clearly name Saunders as the best player in the league. And you recently said that Chambers runs his team better than anyone in the country.

All this is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. There is no way our talent comes close to Harvards - you can't make much of a judgment about a single game. Did Penn have better talent because they beat us at the Palestra in 2010?

Anonymous said...

anyone else think Wittman looks a little heavy there? Reminds me of a guy from Siena, Josh Duell!

The Cornell Basketball Blog said...

Columbia and Dartmouth are NOT missing their team MVPs.

Anonymous said...

Even if CBB's arguments held water, which I don't think they do, there's a big difference between simply underachieving and being one of the worst teams in college basketball, and a historically bad team at Cornell. There's no excuse for the latter, plain and simple, just four years removed from the Sweet 16.

The Cornell Basketball Blog said...

NOBODY said there was an excuse for being this bad.

There is none.

But that does not mean the coach should be fired.

Anonymous said...

So when should there be a coaching change? At what point is there accountability for taking a program at the height of historic success and bringing it to one of the worst teams in Cornell history (if we lose to St. Francis) in four years?

I'm curious where you see the line.

The Cornell Basketball Blog said...

Fair question and it deserves a fair and honest answer/opinion.

I think Bill has to have a "good" season next year.

Next season is Year #5. The entire roster will be his (for the first time). Even his most ardent supporters would have to agree that some substantial progress needs to take place next year. And without any excuses for injuries etc. (That "Get out of Jail Card" was used this year)

Bill has a nice roster next year. We should give him a chance to use it. On paper, it should be his best team yet. He's never had a trio as good as next year's Miller, Cressler and Hatter and his bigs are all back.

Now how do you define "good" year?

Demanding him to win the Ivy title is unfair.

But I think it has to be 20 wins and some postseason, whether CBI or

If he gets postseason with 17, 18, or 19 wins, maybe keep him on. But no postseason and it has to be over.

Cornell has a 30 game schedule next year (27 games plus 3 games in Charleston). Asking him to go to 20-10 is perfectly reasonable given what he has coming back and that it is year #5 in his contract.

If he cant get the team to the postseason in '14-'15, someone else should be given a chance in '15-'16 when Miller and Cressler are seniors.

I just don't see how anyone could honestly say that if he were to go 16-14 and miss the postseaosn that a 6th year should be granted. That's just too mediocre in year #5.

I hope and believe he can get Cornell to the postseason.

Unknown said...

Dear CBB;
I appreciate your thoughtful response to the question about performance. Let it be known that I will run naked through Willard Straight (all floors) as well as the arts and ag quads, if Bill Courtney leads Cornell to a 20 win season and a post-season bid next year. You have my (anonymous) word.