- The Ithaca Journal writes:
Cornell a surprise at 4-4? Big Red doesn't think so
After its nightmarish 2-26 showing last season, the Cornell men's basketball team was picked to repeat as the last-place finisher in the Ivy League this time around.So there are undoubtedly many followers of the college game who are a tad surprised at the Big Red's comparatively red-hot 4-4 start.Inside the program, however, "surprise" is hardly the overriding sentiment. Try disappointed."We knew just by looking at our group that we'd have a much more talented group," said fifth-year head coach Bill Courtney, whose ready smile and positive outlook never waned, even during the madness that was the 2013-14 season.He acknowledged the loss of last year's leading scorer, Nolan Cressler, by transfer to Vanderbilt was a blow to a program that suffered a lifetime's worth of them last year. But with the return of a pair of senior starters — 6-7 forward Shonn Miller from a major shoulder injury, and 6-2 shooting guard Galal Cancer, who sat out for personal reasons — the team knew it had made a substantial leap forward in terms of talent."I don't think anybody on our team is surprised that we're 4-4," Courtney said. "I think they're probably surprised that we're not 6-2, to be honest, or even 7-1. Our group expected that, expected to have success, and it's good where we're at, but we can see our improvement every day and hope that can just continue."Miller, the 2012 Ivy League Rookie of the Year and a first-team all-conference pick the following year, agreed with his coach's assessment."I think that's the mentality this team has — we don't think 4-4 is where we should be at right now," he said. "But there's nothing we can do about it except keep getting better.""We feel like we should at least be 6-2 or 7-1," added Cancer, who averaged around 6 points his first two seasons before stepping away to focus on his studies. "We gave away a couple of games where we weren't able to finish down the stretch. We're trying to focus on playing for the full 40 minutes."Four wins in eight games is a significant upgrade from a year ago, when Cornell won just once in its first 20 games, and that was a 22-point defeat of Division III Oberlin College. But it's entirely appropriate for the Big Red to look at the early portion of this season and think, "If only ..."Consider:• At Loyola (Md.) University on Nov. 16, Cornell rallied from a 14-point deficit to take the lead with 51/2 minutes to play, only to see the Greyhounds close on a 14-8 run to win, 76-71;• In Game 2 of the Charleston Classic on Nov. 21 in South Carolina, Cornell led nearly the entire way but fell victim to a buzzer-beating layup by Penn State's D.J. Newbill and lost, 72-71;• And the next night at Charleston, Cornell led previously winless Drexel by 14 points with 17 minutes to go but fell victim to a furious Dragons rally and fell, 61-59. The Dragons didn't take the lead till 1:35 remained.Ever the optimist, Courtney is seeing the glass half full and realizing that teams don't just show up and win."It's hard to go from what we had (last year) to all of the sudden winning every game you're supposed to win or could win," he said. "That's not to say we were supposed to win those games, Penn State and Drexel are both tough ballclubs. And part of it is learning how to win."It's hard to be good," he said, "and hopefully the lessons that we learn now will help us in the future. Had we been 7-1 now, maybe we don't learn as well in the time we have right now."That time to which he's referring is a full week of practice, something his team hasn't gotten since the season started. With eight games in the span of 15 days, there hasn't been much time for teaching and using the mistakes made thus far as learning tools. Cornell's last game was a 68-54 win last Saturday at Binghamton; its next game is at 4 p.m. Saturday against visiting UMass-Lowell."We haven't practiced more than one or two days since the season began," Courtney said. "You get better in practice, and we haven't had a chance to work on some of those things that may have happened the game before, but now we'll have a chance to work on some things."The main focus this week? Cutting down on turnovers. The Big Red is committing 14.3 per game, good for a minus-3.3 in turnover margin. In committing to an identity of "quick and aggressive" at both ends of the floor, Courtney knows there will be ball-security issues."We're not going to be the type of team that's going to turn it over just five times a game," he said. "I'd like that to be the case, but I know that's not going to be the case. But it's the careless turnovers that we've got to correct, and that's something we can do in practice."Miller's early-season play has been "decent," by his own admission, and he's picked up where he left off nearly two years ago as the Big Red's scoring leader (13.3 ppg.). Courtney said Miller is "just scratching the surface" of what he can be this season."He's going to be terrific," said Courtney, a two-time All-Patriot League guard at Bucknell in the early 1990s. "He's one of the better players in our league, and I think he can be the best player in our league. We're challenging him and he's got to challenge himself to be the best player in our league. I think he can, and his teammates think he can."A major factor in the Red's resurgence has been the play of the freshmen — more to the point, the fact that the freshmen aren't having to play very much. Experienced depth is huge, Courtney said."That's one of the things I learned under Coach (Jim) Larranaga," Courtney said, referring to his boss at both Bowling Green and George Mason, in Courtney's early days as an assistant coach. "He said that if your freshmen don't have to contribute, then you know you've probably got a pretty good team. Our veterans came back, and the sophomore class has really stepped up."It's something we knew in the summer, and everybody didn't know how good we were," he said. "I said it several times, that if we're the worst team, then it's a heck of a league."Surprised at being 4-4? No, it's definitely disappointment in the Cornell camp, but the ones that got away in November — like the season that got away last year — are firmly in the rearview mirror.
- Forbes writes of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, "Duke and Wisconsin haven’t met since the 2009-10 season, when the Badgers took a 73-69 win over the Blue Devils during the 10th annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge. During that time, Duke was ranked as the No. 5 school in the country by the AP while Wisconsin went unranked. Duke would later go on to win the National Championship in Indianapolis against No.5-ranked Butler. Wisconsin was eliminated in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, falling to Cornell 87-69."
- Cal Athletics notes, "Graduate student Dwight Tarwater, a transfer from Cornell University, has totaled 26 points so far playing in all six games. "
- The Post Standard notes that Syracuse's game last season against Cornell was the Orange's highest turnover game of the 2013-2014 season.