Thursday, February 20, 2014

News and Notes: Thursday Edition

Below, news and notes for Thursday...

  • Saturday's game in Newman Arena (8 pm) vs. Brown will be nationally televised on NBC Sports and it also "Newman Nation Jersey Day." 
  • On Inside Ivy League Basketball, Nolan Cressler was interviewed last night and confirmed Shonn Miller is back to practicing with the team and noted that Shonn's presence "definitely makes practice more competitive."

As I have often done over the years, I pulled a “double duty” journalism assignment on Saturday. I went to Cornell with the intention of bouncing between arenas, taking in the hockey game and the basketball game, well aware that the teams were playing with different motivations. While the hockey team was playing to right the ship after a lousy two-game stretch, preparing for a deep run into the post-season, the basketball team—having won but one conference game—had come to terms with the fact that they won’t be Dancing this year, and would play to try to steal one from the Ivy-leading Harvard Crimson.  Sad to say, both games failed to deliver any real sense of drama. The hockey team fell behind early, and when a Big Red player failed to capitalize on a breakaway, and R.P.I. took a 2-0 lead in the first period, it was time to head for the hoop contest. Arriving late in the first half, I learned that Harvard had taken the lead a few seconds into the game, and they had not relinquished it. The second half brought more of the same, and as I saw Shonn Miller sitting on the bench for Cornell, I had to wonder how much of a difference his presence in the lineup would have made. Miller, the Ivy League Rookie of the Year as a freshman and a first-team All-Ivy selection as a junior, has not been able to play due to injury.  Even as I watched the Big Red drop another Ivy game, and knowing how mightily they have struggled this season, I was encouraged to see some faithful fans that were there when Cornell was struggling 10 years ago. They rejoiced with the rest of the community during the glory years of 2006-2010 and kept coming back when the pendulum went swinging back. To Steve and Marcie Schaeffer, Mike and Bonnie Richmond, Harry and Karen Carlsen, I say thanks for continuing to show up. When Cornell climbs back into the upper tier of the league, you will savor it more than fairweather fans.
  • Early on Wednesday, USA Today listed former Cornell coach Steve Donahue on its top 5 coaches on the "hot seat" and noted:
2. Steve Donahue, Boston College: The Eagles had high hopes for 2013-14 but started as poorly as they could have imagined and now own a 6-19 record. B.C. has only won two ACC games, leaving them in the basement of the league standings. The Eagles' losing season gives the former Cornell coach zero NCAA tournament appearances in four-year tenure. And they're in a league that's only getting tougher, with Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh in their inaugural ACC seasons and Louisville arriving in the fall. But incredible wins like Wednesday night's upset of the No. 1 and previously unbeaten Orange could stave off the pressure.
...if people are going to look at Boston College in the Dome and see Buster Douglas in Tokyo — BC coach Steve Donahue, the former Cornell boss, would not.
"This is big," he declared. "This is a huge success. I tell the players, 'Don't look at the record.' We're a good basketball team. We can play with any team in the country. That is the case."
  • ESPN writes of Donahue and B.C., "The former Cornell coach has been searching hard for happy moments since coming to Chestnut Hill, Mass. He took the Boston College job on the wings of the Big Red’s NCAA tournament success, a hot commodity deemed a home run hire for the school.  But success has been hard to come by. BC has struggled in its ACC fit for years and with the league expanding, the job is only getting harder. This year has been just a continuation of a string of frustrating seasons. The Eagles had managed only six wins before Syracuse. They’ve been close -- seven of their 19 losses decided by five points or fewer -- but that hadn’t done much to placate the fans waiting for Donahue to work his Cornell magic. The Carrier Dome would seem the least likely place to turn things around, not just because of Syracuse’s run of success in comparison to BC’s line of disappointments, but because the building itself has hardly been kind to Donahue.   Even when his Cornell team was at its best -- in 2009-10 -- the Big Red couldn’t beat their big in-state brothers. Adding insult to injury, it was in the Dome that Cornell’s NCAA run came to an end that year, against Kentucky in the Sweet 16. "
  • The Harvard Crimson writes, "Heading into this weekend, there is an abundance of important men’s basketball storylines to follow in the Ancient Eight. After hanging on by the skin of its teeth last week against Princeton, can Yale continue its stellar play on the road? Can Harvard take down Princeton in Jadwin for the first time since the Game Boy was released? Will Cornell get its second win against Division I competition?"
  • 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 February 20, 2014 is No. 332 out of 351 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. 336 in the nation, while the Sagarin Rankings (USA Today) have Cornell at No. 334. Both sites are predominantly used by fans and the media.
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Anonymous said...

Anon 7:37 on the previous post:

Building a program from dead last in the Ivy league to top 3 in the Ivy League WITH 2 ROYs in 3 years BEFORE Foote, Dale, or Wittman joined the team is not luck.

Turning Foote from a Division 3 reject, and a walk-on whom the Bonnies were more than happy to get rid of and mocked us about when we announced his addition to our team, into a truly magnificent Ivy player, is not luck.

I know you think you're being smart but all you're revealing is a complete ignorance about Cornell basketball even in the year just prior to Wittman's freshman year.

Donahue had already created an Ivy force to the point where one journalist who was following the league for a year was already predicting an Ivy title in the near future.

As for CBB's comment on whether Donahue's last few recruiting classes were weak, I believe we'll never know because they looked good on paper but ended up playing for a truly terrible coach, not for Donahue.

As others have pointed out in the past, these players actually looked great on paper and we were all very excited back then: they had offers from competitive schools like Butler and St. Louis; one was a Canadian all-Star like Harvard's Laurent Rivard and the other was a Tennessee Mr. Basketball.

We will never know what they could have been under a good coach; I'm sorry they had to endure this, not just a lousy coach but the constant criticism that they were weak and the frequent blaming of them for our troubles, even until this year.

Anonymous said...

I also want to address a comment I saw earlier on the boards: if Donahue left a bare cupboard at Cornell, what might things have been like if he stayed?

I think in the first year after the sweet sixteen, they would have been what pre-season polls were expecting them to be: about 125 in the country and 3rd in the league. Those guys could not have been the bottom of the barrel because Bill Courtney just got significantly worse each year afterwards, about 40 teams worse annually statistically if Pomeroy and Sagarin are to be believed, until they were about 140 teams worse, to the point where I am convinced that those guys were making Courtney look better than he was and that they would have been better off without him.

I believe that in ensuing years, they would have remained at worst in the 100 to 150 range, and possibly even better if a decent coach was able to turn post-Ivy-title recruiting gains on paper into actual improvements on the court instead of taking the most favorable recruiting environment a Cornell coach have and somehow producing one of the worst teams in the country out of it.

Also, Cornellians act like a return to cupcakedom was inevitable after 2010 and it was unreasonable to expect otherwise. But after 2010, the rest of the Ivy League seems to have realized that Ivy teams no longer have to be cupcakes. In 2009 there was only 1 Ivy team in the top 200; right now there are five and at one point this year there was six. In 2010 half the league was in 300-territory, including Brown and Columbia, but look at them now.

Cornellians also act like challenging Harvard is impossible, but during Courtney's tenure every Ivy coach BUT Courtney has either beaten Harvard (on multiple occasions for Princeton, Penn, and Yale, and once for Columbia) or at least taken them to OT (Brown and Dartmouth).

While I am relieved that Courtney does not have so many apologists left, it is dismaying to see that there is still a big "Donahue got lucky and a descent into cupcakery was an inevitable state" crowd. But given that the rest of the league has largely improved, and given Harvard pretty much rarely has a smooth and dominant path to the title each year, is it so impossible that a decent coach might have gotten a little more after the apparently-in-hindsight-not-so-terrible players that Donahue left behind, and turned on-paper recruiting advantages into real on-court results, and produced a top 150 team that could give Harvard trouble, like what Yale and Brown are right now? Bill Courtney makes it hard to imagine but I for one think it was totally possible for the reasons outlined above.

Sadly, we hired a person who said all the right things despite having not much of a resume, and we have paid for it dearly, to the point where we will never be able to answer these questions.

br2 said...

@Anon 9:52/11:35am - THANK-YOU!

Said everything perfectly (at least in my mind) - I'd buy you a drink if I could.

Anonymous said...

Thanks. Sorry it was all so rambly. I want to briefly add, to those who are like "Well Boston College's struggles this year clearly shows Donahue is a poor coach who just got lucky at Cornell and would've fallen to mediocrity had he stayed on", I believe Donahue has correctly diagnosed Boston College's problem this year: he tried to do what he did at Cornell in 2010, i.e. prepare his team to go to the next level by setting up an extremely challenging non-conference schedule (for BC, 8 BCS teams, 4 teams that were ranked at some point this season), and it totally backfired and destroyed their confidence.

Last year, as a rebuilding team consisting mostly of freshmen and sophomores, they had beaten the ACC teams they were supposed to beat and taken the best ACC teams to the wire at home, including 1-pt losses to top 2 ACC teams Duke and Miami. They were projected to finish top half of the ACC and possibly even contend. But then he tried to do with a bunch of star Boston College sophomores what he had tried to do with a bunch of star Cornell seniors, and it didn't work, and you know what one L after another does to young players.

Andy Katz said it in plain English last night what Boston College's problems were: they had had a "brutal" non-conference schedule and Donahue had "over-scheduled".

That said, I also think it shows that Donahue was not recruiting at ACC level. ACC players DO have to be ready to go as sophomores, not patiently stewed until they're seniors, which I wonder if his style and type of player requires. I don't think they'll give him time to find out, and I think this strategic misstep will cost him his job.