Season Preview: Cornell Big Red

This year, Cornell will look to improve upon last year”s 5th place finish. The Big Red open their season at home against Western Michigan on November 10th.

In 2011-12: 12-16, 7-7, 5th place

A Look Back

Two steps removed from the historic Sweet 16 team and the first season that Bill Courtney had his own recruits to work with, the 2011-2012 campaign served as a building block for Courtney and his program. A 5-9 non-conference record coupled with 7-7 in Ivy play defines

the word mediocrity, but did so in a way that provides promise for the future. An overtime win over future NCAA Tournament darlings, Lehigh, looks a lot better now than it did in early December. Near misses on the road against BCS foes, Illinois, Penn State, and Maryland showed the potential this team had. Road woes and inconsistent play kept the Red out of the league’s top half, but a win over Princeton and a thrilling overtime defeat of Yale showed what this team is at its best. Returning a decorated freshman class, including the league’s rookie of the year will allow Cornell to keep building. What won’t be easy to replicate is the production and leadership of Cornell’s starting backcourt. Drew Ferry led the league in three point shooting and Chris Wroblewski departs East Hill as the school’s all-time assist leader.

 

What to Watch For

  • Replacing Wroblewski

Cornell won’t realize what it lost until the ball is tipped on November 10th. Wroblewski was on the court 83% of the time and took 20% of Cornell’s shots last season. Shots and time can be replaced, but the effectiveness of a proven floor general will be tough to find. Galal Cancer and Miles Asafo-Adjei (projected starting backcourt) have plenty of potential, but they have an uphill battle to fight. Wroblewski is a career 2:1 assist to turnover ratio guy. The ball was always safe in his hands. In his freshman season, Cancer had a 1:1 ratio. Asafo-Adjei did have a 2:1 assist to turnover ratio in his limited time before injury, but his 2:1 ratio was just that, averaging just two assists and one turnover per game. These numbers will need to improve.

Number two, crunch time. Who takes over? This hasn’t been a question in Ithaca for quite a while. In his senior season, Wroblewski took the final shot or produced points in the last minute of the half or game in 22 contests. That’s over 81% of the time. Right now, I don’t see unwavering confidence in one guy when two points are needed and time is ticking away. Someone will need to step into that roll.

  • The Three Point Shot

Cody Toppert, Adam Gore, Ryan Wittman, Drew Ferry. Cornell Basketball has always been synonymous with the three point shot. That doesn’t appear to be the case this season. Cornell will have a starting lineup with three true forwards and no imposing three point threat for the first time in recent memory. This isn’t a bad thing, just a different brand of Cornell Basketball than we’re used to. Bill Courtney will, for the first time, have the personnel to truly teach and play his up-tempo style.

  • Winning on the Road

2-13. That was Cornell’s record away from Newman Arena last season. Very simply, this needs to improve. Cornell has some winnable true road games on its non-conference slate. If the Red can pick up wins at BU and at American, and maybe one of the BCS games, it will provide a big confidence boost heading into the 14-game tournament.

  • Errick Peck and Johnny Gray

The x-factors. At his best, Errick Peck is a first team All-Ivy League caliber player. At his worst, he’s the guy who leaves you scratching your head who was held to six points or less eight times (shooting 20% from the field in those games) in his last season on the court. Inconsistency has always plagued Peck, but a year away from the court, a new number (#13), and a new attitude could make the difference.

Johnny Gray has developed from a raw talent to a solid player in this league. But the questions remains, which Johnny Gray will we see? With so many questions in the backcourt, Cornell cannot afford the 5.4 points per game, the 28.8% shooting from the field, and the 17.1% shooting from three Johnny Gray we saw in last year’s non-conference season. Instead, the Red will need numbers a lot closer to the All-Ivy Honorable Mention Johnny Gray who averaged 12.3 ppg, shot 43.5% from the field, and 41.8% from three during league play.

 

Key Non-Conference Games

November 14 vs. St. Bonaventure, November 18 at Wisconsin, November 20 at Arizona State, December 17 at Vanderbilt, December 19 at Duke, December 22 at BU, January 2 vs. Bucknell.

 

Prediction

In a weak Ivy League, Cornell has a ceiling of challenging for the crown. Shonn Miller is a first-team all-Ivy player and I have full confidence that Errick Peck will take a giant leap forward. What will determine if Cornell breaks into the top half of the league standings for the first time under Bill Courtney will be the backcourt. Cornell has plenty of potential in its backcourt-by-committee system, but until someone steps up, what we’ll see will just be a shell of what Cornell was able to rely on for the past four seasons.

Cornell will need to find its identify early. Courtney likes to play fast on both ends of the floor and finally has the personnel to do so. Athleticism and depth should really help Cornell defensively. The Red likes to pressure the ball and force opponents into mistakes. With Peck back and the sophomore class with a year under its belt, Cornell should have the ability to improve upon the 68 points that they allowed per game last season

(7th in the league). The non-conference slate will also be crucial to define roles in the backcourt. Come January, look for the emergence of Devin Cherry as a lead guard and freshman Nolan Cressler as a go-to scorer off the bench. Courtney won six league games in his first year at the helm and seven in his second. Expect him to again improve upon that number. If Courney gets his troops in line and can convert theory to hardwood execution, the Red have the pieces to garner an eight-to-nine win Ivy season.

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