Monday, November 9, 2015

News and Notes: Monday Edition

Below, news and notes...

  • Cornell opens the season this Friday at Georgia Tech and Georgia Tech Athletics writes, "There will be no television shows to explore the makeover of Georgia Tech basketball, and that’s fine because typical camera views wouldn’t do justice.  Live tours will soon be available in the Yellow Jackets’ house as their first four games will be in McCamish Pavilion, first on Nov. 13 against Cornell. Viewers ought to look past the curb appeal to best understand Tech’s new big picture.  Head coach Brian Gregory and his staff have re-made the Jackets with plans to play with greater tempo, and the upgrade starts from inside-out."
8) Cornell Big Red 13-17 (5-9)
This is the second consecutive year that Cornell has landed at the bottom of the media poll. Last season, Cornell sought to prove they were deserving of a higher spot and ultimately finished in an impressive fifth in the Ivy League. The Big Red approach this season with a similar mindset, looking to dispel the notion that they are deserving of a last place slot. Unfortunately for Cornell, the barriers to their success have seemingly risen. They have an extremely youthful roster, with eight freshmen, and lost three of their top four leading scorers.
Cornell will look to returning players such as junior guard JoJo Fallas, who was fifth in scoring last season, to pick up some of the offensive slack. The Big Red will look to their trademark tough and gritty defense to propel them to wins. Last years defense was stringent enough to garner national ratings. Cornell held opponents to a .389 field goal percentage, good for 18th in the country. In addition, the Big Red led the Ivy League in blocks per game, at 4.8. One key contributor to this defensive success was David Onuorah, who finished the 2014-15 season with 45 blocks.

Key Players: JoJo Fallas, David Onuorah
The idea that Penn lured Steve Donahue back to town with a rowhouse and an above-ground pool in Delaware County - as one of his Big Five brethren ribbed at a Coaches vs. Cancer event last week - works, since the new Quakers coach is about as local as local gets.
In fact, Donahue is living with his mother in Delaware County until his family gets down here.
However, an easy misconception about the Cardinal O'Hara and Ursinus graduate, the former Monsignor Bonner and Penn assistant, is that the coach back in town is the same guy who left.
If Donahue had never taken off, what percentage of what he will do now from an X's and O's standpoint would he be doing? If Donahue hadn't coached Cornell to the Sweet 16 in 2010, and moved on to Boston College?
"Wow," Donahue said, sitting in his office last week. "Probably 90 percent of what I've learned is from after that."
That 10 percent base is pretty solid, but he remembers taking a trip to Australia and then one to Spain, falling for the offensive principles he saw overseas.
"What I saw was they played fast, but they played the way I wanted to play," Donahue said.
Another easy misconception - speaking for myself - is that Cornell's success would have been Penn's success if the Quakers had brought back Donahue years ago after his old boss Fran Dunphy moved to Temple.
That those same Cornell players could have been at the Palestra.
In fact, Donahue makes it clear that the players who brought Cornell such great success were recruited only after he had tried and failed to lure players in this area up to Ithaca. After basically no success in his most familiar recruiting territory, Donahue and his staff fanned out across the Midwest, finding talented players willing to brave upstate New York winters.
It was all trial and error, including what worked and didn't work at Boston College in the more rarefied air of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Donahue's offensive footing is all supported by basic analytics - take layups, free throws, and three-pointers. Donahue spells it out for his players this way: If you don't think you have a 95 percent chance of making it from inside the three-point arc, don't take it.
"I don't know what came first - I'm watching and I'm liking how we're playing, and I'm evaluating it and I'm like: 'Hmm, this makes sense. Let's try to make it concrete, what we're doing,' " Donahue said.
That 95 percent rule can allow for different shots for different players.
"There's one kid on our [Cornell] team - he makes this one move in the lane, it was a spin-around, turnaround jumper in the lane from 14 feet and you're like, that's a bad shot, but that kid makes that shot every time, it's an automatic," Donahue said. "I'm not going to tell him not to do that."
You always want a layup or a dunk or to get fouled when you're attacking. That's basketball.
"The part that's philosophical - what's going through your mind when you're attacking?" Donahue said. "I want them to say, 'This is a 95 percent chance one of those options is going to happen.' If not, there are mechanisms in place for you to be successful when you attack the rim not to take that shot."
That, in the long-term, might be the key to the success of the whole thing.
"That's what we work on all the time," Donahue said. "Where guys are going to be, opposite corner, opposite wing, behind you - and you can always keep the dribble."
Obviously, you don't want to put doubt in a player's head, make him question whether he is pulling off a 95 percent shot. Is this 87 percent? Is it good enough?
"I would say the exact opposite," Donahue said. "Part of it is, when I was a player, I would have loved for my coach to say, 'Attack the rim.' Now, I don't have to shoot it. I remember my coach saying, 'You're that close, you've got to finish.' No. I can be smart here. I can keep my dribble, and Coach doesn't mind me looking for other options."
When Penn scrimmaged against Loyola recently, "we took not one shot that wasn't what I just told you - already," Donahue said. "We made 11 threes, we made 20 foul shots, and we took no twos that weren't layups, dunks or two-feet-in-the-lane post-ups. Already."
Having increased analytics, with Penn students actually charting everything, is a great motivator for players, Donahue said, to get the buy-in.
"Antonio Woods took seven shots the other day and had 18 points," Donahue said of his sophomore guard. "You know why he did that? Because he didn't take any hard ones."
Donahue's defensive principles center on stopping those exact things the Quakers are trying to achieve. Last season, offensive turnovers were an issue for them.
"There's going to be a learning curve," Donahue said, pointing out that his team will have a lot of possessions, so he will judge turnovers by percentage of possessions, not just a raw number. "We turned it over the other day, but we had 19 assists on 22 baskets. That's unheard of. We turned it over, but that's how we got better."
So the rules are the rules, but the local guy back in town said there's still room for this: "I want guys to try things."

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