Monday, November 3, 2014

News and Notes: Monday Edition

Above, images courtesy of Cornell Basketball's official Twitter account.  On a daily basis, Cornell Basketball is introducing its team to the Twitter world.  Below, news and notes...
"New Williams College men's basketball coach Kevin App has been a busy guy this month — just not the way he has been used to.  App, who has spent the last five years at Division I schools, can't begin practice with his Ephs until Saturday, Nov. 1. That's a NESCAC rule.  "You miss being able to teach the guys. But we have a pretty good culture here. They come around and I trust the captains," App said. "I think most coaches are teachers, and that's the one part that you're anxious to do and get started with.  "You miss being able to teach. But again, Coach Maker and the coaches before him did a great job establishing a culture. I'm looking forward to getting on the court."  After advancing to the NCAA Division III championship game last year, Williams enters the 2014-15 season as the preseason No. 5 team in the poll. Defending champion Wisconsin-Whitewater is No. 1, and Amherst is No. 2.  The first-year coach said he'll have his 14-member varsity squad on the court at 7:30 a.m. on Nov. 1 for the first practice. From there, it will be 15 days until the Ephs open their season against Southern Vermont, a team that upset the Ephs in the season opener last year.  App has already dealt with losing freshman of the year Duncan Robinson to the University of Michigan, and replaced one assistant. Dave Metzendorf, who was App's first hire at Williams, went back to Cornell to take a full-time assistant's position. Metendorf replaced former Cornell assistant Mike Blaine, who was hired earlier this month as head coach at Division III Mediaille College."
  • The Ivy Leauge notes, "Washington Wizards head coach Randy Wittman is the father of former Cornell star Ryan Wittman. Ryan was the 2009-10 Ivy League Player of the Year and a three-time, first-team All-Ivy selection. He led the Big Red to the Sweet 16 in the 2010 NCAA Tournament."
  • The Chicago Tribune writes, "there have been plenty of recent success stories in the Ivy League, courtesy of an Illinois prep basketball product.  Chris Wroblewski was a star at Cornell after prepping at Highland Park. Wroblewski finished as Cornell’s all-time leader in assists and scored over 1,200 career points while leading the Big Red to the NCAA Tournament."
2014-15 Preseason Player of the Year
Justin Sears, Jr., Yale (16.9 ppg, 6.9 rpg)
2014-15 Preseason All-Ivy League First Team
Siyani Chambers, Jr., Harvard (11.1 ppg, 4.6 apg)
Tony Hicks, Jr., Penn (14.9 ppg, 2.9 apg)
Shonn Miller, Jr., Cornell (11.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg in 2012-13)
Wesley Saunders, Sr., Harvard (14.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg)
Justin Sears, Jr., Yale (16.9 ppg, 6.9 rpg)

8. Cornell Big Red (2-26, 1-13)
Coach: Bill Courtney–Fifth season, 37-78 (.322)
Postseason: None
RPI/KenPom: 335/341
Starters Returning:
Key Loss(es): Nolan Cressler (16.8 ppg, 4.2 rpg), Dwight Tarwater (7.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg)
Name to Know: Shonn Miller. A burgeoning star in the Ivy League after a sophomore year in which he averaged 11.5 ppg and 6.8 rpg, Miller looked primed for a big junior year last fall. But then a shoulder injury that cost him the last four games of the 2012-13 season never healed in time, and it ended up costing him the entire 2013-14 season as well. Now, the 6-7 forward is back to full health and ready to pick up a big load for the Big Red, who need to replace their leading scorer last year and a whole lot more.
The Skinny: It was a real struggle last season for Cornell, who looked like they might go the entire season without a win over a Division I program (they beat D-III Oberlin in January) until they squeaked out a three-point win over Dartmouth on Valentine’s Day. Then things got worse with the news that Cressler, a sophomore guard who’d shot 38 percent from beyond the arc in his two years at Cornell, was transferring out; he’d land at Vanderbilt. Even with the addition of Miller back to the lineup, there’s not a lot on the roster to suggest that they’ll be able to pick up wins consistently against any of the programs ahead of them. The frontcourt has a chance to be decent with Miller and 6-9, 230-pound sophomore David Onuorah, who averaged 3.1 ppg and 3.8 rpg in 18.4 mpg last year.
"Though CoBL knows quite a bit about the Ivy League, we admit that there are some who know the league better–namely, the coaches in the league itself. So we called up a number of assistant coaches from several schools around the conference, to get their thoughts on the teams they would be competing with for that automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament come March.  Here’s what they had to say about Ancient Eight: (Note: Each “…” separates one coaches’ thoughts from another’s, and they’re all in random order): Cornell Big Red “They’re bad. Pretty simply put, they’re bad. Shonn Miller coming back is a big boost, but I’m not sure if it’s enough of a boost to keep them from being anything but really bad. I think they’ll finish last in the league again. …Cornell is in trouble. They get Shonn Miller back, but they lost their best player in Nolan Cressler. Not that I don’t like [freshman wing] Pat Smith, but if he’s their savior, I think they’re in trouble. I think they finish last in the Ivy. …They’re different because they play a different style than the rest of the league, trying to use more of the full court, pressuring in the full court, instead of the half-court game that most other teams play in the league. …Shonn Miller, if he stays healthy is a lock for first-team all-league. Just don’t see them winning many more games than last year, even with the addition of Miller. Losing Cressler really hurt them." 
  • Cal Golden Blog previews the Cal Bears and writes, "Cornell transfer Dwight Tarwater is an under-sized tweener, though he might be strong enough to defend certain match-ups...F Dwight Tarwater (Gr), 6'6, 230 lb.  Not known so much for his shooting or scoring, this Cornell transfer at least brings plenty of experience and a reputation for heady play. He's a bit of a 3-4 tweener, but has the strength to battle down low and the ability to step out to the perimeter. It's unknown whether he'll be a regular contributor or provide depth at practice."
  • Per NPH, Alex Hill, a member of Cornell's Ivy champion 2009 team, is among the leading scorers in Italy's Serie B. 
CORNELL (2013-14: 2-26, 1-13 Ivy)

Returning Minutes: 72.2%
Adjusted Returning Minutes: 78.5%

The only question is how far Cornell will rise this season.

That's the good news for a program that finally hit rock bottom last year, after a slow decline from the heights of its Sweet 16 appearance to the depths of finishing 2013-14 as the 11th-worst team in college basketball.

Actually, rock bottom might really have occurred just after the season ended with All-Ivy guard Nolan Cressler departing Ithaca to transfer to Vanderbilt and starting forward Dwight Tarwater opting to take his post-grad year at Cal.

How can a team that was as bad as Cornell lose two players to BCS schools and somehow improve?

The answer to that question is Shonn Miller. Miller was an All-Ivy forward in 2012-13 before missing all of last season with a shoulder injury. The 6'7 junior would be a very high-profile BCS target himself, if he ultimately decides to graduate from Cornell after this season and spend his final year of eligibility as a post-grad, much like Tarwater and Errick Peck did before him.

Also returning along with Miller is electric point guard Galal Cancer, who took a year off from the team last season, but showed flashes of dominant play during the 2012-13 campaign.

While Cressler's production will be extremely difficult to replace, Cornell could see a boost from a fit perspective. Bill Courtney loves to play a high-pressure, gambling defense which could benefit more from having a quick point guard and an impressive shot blocker than it might from having two options who were much more valuable on the offensive end.

2013-14 Pomeroy Ratings: (100 ORAT, 121 DRAT; Pythag - 0.1006, Rank - 341)

For a team that was as terribly as Cornell was, it's often hard to distinguish between what was unlucky and what was just a function of being bad.

Nothing went right defensively for the Big Red, as opposing teams made a living scoring at the rim, from three and from the stripe. Cornell opponents shot 54 percent from two (bottom 25 nationally), as the Big Red blocked just 7.7 percent of opponent shots (bottom 100 nationally). Cornell allowed opponents to shoot 41 percent from long range - second-worst nationally - and sent opponents to the line at rate that ranked among the 50 highest last season. Once there, opponents shot 73 percent, which made Cornell's "free-throw defense" among the 50 worst in the nation as well. The Big Red forced a well-below-average percent of two-point jumpers - not a surprise given that opponents could score so easily from other areas of the floor.

No matter how bad the Big Red's defense is this season, it would be hard to repeat that futility merely from a luck perspective. There could be as many as five points per 100 possessions wrapped up in an average free-throw conversion rate and a more reasonable three-point shooting percent allowed.

Offensively, though, the return of Cancer and Miller in place of high volume three point shooters Tarwater and Cressler could lead to a shift to more two-point jumpers, which would hurt Cornell's baseline offensive efficiency from the start.


Let's start by properly framing the value of adding Miller to the lineup. It's important to note that the 6'7 junior probably won't play more than 30 percent of team minutes and hasn't historically used more than 22 percent of team possessions.

First of all, that leaves 50 frontcourt minutes unaccounted for and second, it means that replacing Cressler with Miller star-for-star leaves a lot of possessions unaccounted for on the offensive end.

That's important because it dictates who you can pair with Miller in the frontcourt. For instance, a Miller-Onuorah pairing might look like a defensive dream but with Onuorah using just 12 percent of the team's possessions offensively, that would put a ton of stress on the guards to produce.

Deion Giddens and Braxston Bunce are even lower usage guys, leaving just Ned Tomic as a returning forward who has ever displayed the ability to eat an average percent of offensive possessions.

This is where a dynamic freshman like Jordan Abdur-Raoof could help, if he is ready to bear that kind of offensive burden. Failing that, Cornell's scoring looks like it will need to be heavily guard driven.

The Big Red does have some decent options there, as Robert Hatter wasn't shy about using a bulk load of possessions with above replacement-level efficiency while Devin Cherry did the same at a slightly lower but still well-above-average usage rate. Throw Cancer into the mix and you have a trio of guards who could use nearly 70 percent of team possessions while on the floor together, allowing Miller to play with a low-usage frontcourt counterpart.

The two problems are 1) that Cherry-Hatter-Cancer won't play 100 percent of team minutes, and the other guard options all have much lower usage rates and 2) Cherry-Hatter-Cancer aren't incredibly efficient meaning that while they *can* eat a ton of possessions, it's unclear that you would want them to do so.

Again, there is a real possibility that a freshman could come in and provide efficient offensive production. It's unlikely, though, that such production will be paired with a high usage rate - the part of the equation that Cornell is most desperate to solve.

What Does It All Mean?

It really hard to have such a high percentage of adjusted returning minutes and to have as different a team as Cornell will have this season.

Miller immediately adds 25-30 minutes a game of a dominant interior presence that the Big Red struggled to find on a consistent basis. The frontrunner to join him on the interior is Onuorah, who should get a bulk of the minutes assuming that the offense can handle his light usage rate. Between Cornell's freshmen and its existing frontcourt depth, it should be able to muster replacement-level or better minutes to round out the rotation.

The three backcourt spots are the much bigger wildcard, due to the offensive production they will be required to replace. Cressler was the anchor that could bail out the offense when it struggled. Hatter proved he was willing to consume the level of possessions that Cressler did, but not as efficiently as Cressler could. Hatter's performance in 2014-15 will be the key to how easily the Big Red can overcome the loss of Cressler to Vandy.

Cherry will join Hatter on the wings, as the 6'2 slashing guard has the ability to beat any perimeter defender off the dribble and at times can be a deadly finisher.

Despite his season-long break from the team, Cancer is easily Cornell's best returning option as a pure point guard. While Hatter and Cherry can both handle the ball if needed, Cancer has proven himself as a dynamic playmaker who is best suited to directing the offense. Whether or not he can provide steady production remains to be seen, but Cancer can provide enough moments of brilliance to deserve a lot of the team's minutes at the point.

Even assuming 70-75 percent of team minutes per player, that still leaves about 70-75 percent more that need to be claimed. What's more is that they need to come from a "high usage" guard, lest they put stress on the low-usage frontcourt.

Given Cornell's lack of high-usage returning players, penciling in the remainder of the minutes at replacement level is the safest call.

2014-15 Projected Pomeroy Ratings: (102 ORAT, 109 DRAT; Pythag - 0.3095, Rank - 255)


millertimeatnewman said...

Why do people bother to write these season previews projecting how each team will finish if they don't know enough about the teams as a whole to do so? Most of the preview's CBB has posted so far have not mentioned Jordan A-R, Galal Cancer, Pat Smith or Deion Giddens.

Even Mike James doesn't mention Pat or Darryl Smith in his in-depth preview.

If these people don't know anything about our incoming recruits and who's coming back, how do they expect to make an accurate projection about what will happen this year?

Anonymous said...

I have been saying for some time that we should be shooting a higher percentage of our free throws. Playground ball does not win in D1.
(And we must beat Columbia twice to even think about a good season).