I’m going to be blunt. Cornell is struggling. A 23-point home loss to Stony Brook will make people say that. The Seahawks’ 23-point victory marked the first 20 point defeat for Cornell at Newman Arena since falling to Georgia Tech by 21 points on November 23, 2003. Stony Brook may not be the eventual national runner-ups like Georgia Tech was in 2003-2004, but they were good enough to expose many of the Big Red”s deficiencies. This game was more than Cornell going cold from the field at the same time that Stony Brook was heating up. It was a game where statistical tendencies took over. It didn’t start like that though. From the tip, it looked like Cornell may have turned a corner. Two consecutive wins in Vegas, ten strong opening minutes against a good Stony Brook team. It was 19-19 and Cornell’s ball movement looked much improved. The Red was taking high percentage shots,
shooting 54.5% from the field. Then at the 9:48 mark in the first half, everything changed. The disparity between an efficient defense and a flawed offense became apparent. Losing by 23 at home to a team Cornell historically
has had success against should raise eyebrows, but it’s something I wouldn’t be all too concerned with.
This team is young, but flawed. Athletic, but raw. Skilled, but undisciplined. It’s fine to say these things in November as long as they’re not repeated in February. In a year where most, if not all of the Ivy League is struggling out of the gate, the room for growing pains with the expectation of improving is there. At the end of the day, it’s not the non-conference season that the Big Red should be worried about. It’s learning from the loss to Stony Brook to have a better offensive showing against Duke, Bucknell, and Princeton, the only three teams left on the schedule with a defensive efficiency rating better than Stony Brook”s. To do so, this team has to find an offensive identity. Right now, offensive sets look rushed and out of control. Fast and controlled is where this team needs to be. The first step towards a controlled offense is defining roles.
In the first eight games of the season, Cornell has had six different game high scorers. The last time Cornell had that much fluctuation in the scoring column in such few games was the start of the 2006-2007 season, another young team. That team had an equally eye-opening loss at around the same point in the season, falling to a mediocre Lehigh team by 19 points. That team grew, improved, and ultimately ended the season with a 9-5 conference record, good for third in the Ivy League. The potential is there, again, but it won’t happen easily. The first thing that needs to change is turnovers: 124 turnovers through eight games, 29% of which have come from the point guard position, is unacceptable. Cornell’s three worst losses have come when it has turned the ball over 17 times or more, an average margin of defeat of 22.3 points. It doesn’t matter how much talent is on the roster, no basketball team at any level will win games if they turn the ball over that much.
Everyone knows Ivy League basketball is unique, but it”s especially so this season. Every team appears to be flawed and every team will enter conference play with a bad loss or two on its resume. Unlike past years in which league champions were all but crowned in the preseason (i.e. Cornell 2010, Harvard 2012), the best team at the end of February/beginning of March will look much different from how it currently looks. What this means is that even after losing in as ugly a way as one can lose, Cornell still has a shot. A good shot.