2008-2009 Record: 21-10 (11-3, 1st Ivy)
2008-2009 Review: Cornell was a solid Ivy League champion last season but seemed to have lost some of their invincibility after the previous year’s undefeated Ivy campaign. A 20-point loss at Princeton? A 12-point fall at Yale? Yes, there were nights when the Big Red recalled past Ivy greats (beating Brown and Yale at home by a combined 60 points), but their 10-7 non-conference record should have been better if they wanted to prove themselves an elite team. You’re just not going to get a high NCAA seed with double-digit losses to St. John’s, Siena, Syracuse, Minnesota and a weak Indiana team.
Key Losses: SR Adam Gore
The oft-injured shooting guard was a tough-as-nails player who would take and hit the big shot, but SO Chris Wroblewski, SR Geoff Reeves and SO transfer Max Groebe should offer more than enough firepower. The Big Red won without Gore when he was hurt and they’ll win without him again this year.
Key Returnees: SR Louis Dale, SR Ryan Wittman, SR Jeff Foote
What can you say about this trio other than they’ve led Cornell to unprecedented success. Dale may be small but he’s hard-nosed, deceptively quick and knows how to use his body to create space. He’s also an excellent rebounder. Wittman has NBA range, a quick release and a shooter’s conscience (none). The 7-foot Foote puts the Big in Big Red, providing blocks, rebounds and in-close scoring. They give Cornell All-Ivy talent inside and out.
Key Arrivals: SO transfer Max Groebe, JR transfer Mark Coury, FR Errick Peck
Just what Cornell needed, a shooter from UMASS and a wide-body from Kentucky. Groebe and Coury will add depth and major conference experience to an already-loaded squad and hope to keep Cornell rolling after this year’s seniors depart. It’s hard to see any freshmen getting too much playing time for Cornell (except in blow-outs), but if anyone can crack the rotation it will be athletic 6-6 forward Errick Peck from Indianapolis.
Top Non-Conference Games: Cornell’s schedule is loaded in preparation for what Coach Steve Donahue hopes will be an NCAA tournament run. If Cornell wants to show this year is different and they’re ready to compete with the big boys, a home win against Seton Hall (Nov. 20) would help and an opening game win at Alabama (Nov. 14) would go a long way. A win at Kansas (Jan. 6) seems unlikely, but Cornell should have a good chance to win the ECAC Holiday Festival (Dec. 20-21) against Davidson, St. John’s and Hofstra. Unfortunately for the Newman Arena faithful, the only non-conference games besides Seton Hall and St. Joe’s (Dec. 6) are Penn State Erie, Bryant and Clarkson. Ew.
By The Numbers: At 107.4 points per 100 possessions, Cornell boasted the most efficient Ivy offense of the past five years. The Big Red’s success could primarily be attributed to its 40.3 percent shooting from behind the arc (eighth nationally) and relative stinginess with turnovers (114th nationally). If there’s anything Cornell could work on, it would be getting to the line. It was among the nation’s worst in that category despite having two of the top 300 players in terms of fouls drawn in the country (Dale and Foote).
The defense was very good for Ivy standards. Its raw mark of 97.5 points allowed per 100 possessions was 87th nationally – six spots behind Princeton and 46 spots behind league-leading Columbia – but much like the Tigers and the Lions, its adjusted rank was a considerably lower 152nd, due to the relatively weak Ivy offenses that it faced.
Cornell was among the top 100 teams nationally in experience and effective height and with no substantial losses should improve in both of those categories. Increases in effective height often induce a minor improvement in defense due to extra rebounds and tougher shots for opponents over taller defenders.
Strengths: Cornell has the League’s top PG (Dale), top big man (Foote) and top shooter (Wittman). Not enough? Wroblewski is the reigning rookie of the year and provides depth at either guard spot. Reeves provides athleticism on the wing and SR Alex Tyler gives bulk and toughness up front. By Ivy standards, they’re loaded.
Weaknesses: A backup center would be a nice luxury and Coury may fill that bill. Otherwise, they’re two deep at every position. The team’s glaring weakness over its past two championships has been team foot speed, defense and the lack of an athlete who can go head-to head with high-major talent.
Season Outlook: Anything less than an easy march to a third consecutive title should be a disappointment. Cornell has the talent to run the table in the League and 24 or 25 wins overall is not out of the question given a 31 game schedule, a soft Legends Classic tournament in Philadelphia and a pre-Ivy stretch that would be a piece of cake but for Kansas. A record in the vicinity of 24-7 may also finally give Cornell a high enough seed to win a first-round tournament game. To guarantee a good seed, the Big Red may need to win 27. Sorry Coach Donahue.
Starting the Ivies with five out of six at home could also provide Cornell a cushion for the road stretch which follows. A big question will be can the Big Red separate themselves from the Ivy pack enough to clinch by game 11 or 12 in their final home weekend against Princeton and Penn, or will the home fans miss out on another raucous Newman celebration?
On the individual front, can Cornell make enough noise so that Wittman and Foote can garner some serious attention from NBA scouts?
It’s difficult to see Cornell having this experienced and talented a team for awhile after this year, so they’re going to have to make the most of this. The only things that could derail them are injuries or the heavy weight of very high expectations.