Tempo and Depth Will Carry the Big Red

Cornell plays at a much faster pace than the rest of the league. Will their up-tempo style and their impressive depth be enough to carry them into the top half this season?
Cornell plays at a much faster pace than the rest of the league. Will their up-tempo style and their impressive depth be enough to carry them into the top half this season?

To be successful in this league you have to play consistent basketball: 40 minutes, 14 games at the same high level. Emerging from a long weekend 0-2 could be the difference in two-to-three spots in the final standings. High highs and low lows just don’t work in a league without a conference tournament.

Consistency will be of foremost importance for Cornell because the Red have been everything but over

its 17 non-conference games. This team’s failure to string together 40 consistent minutes and struggles against fellow mid-majors have led some to re-evaluate it from a dark horse title contender to a bottom half finisher.

While certainly a fair assessment based on the non-conference eye-test, it’s hard to count out the Red just yet. Cornell is certainly offensively challenged. What the Red have going for itself is its style of play. At times, Cornell looked too fast for its own good, but the positives of successfully playing fast in the Ivy League cannot be ignored. Bill Courtney’s up tempo, run for 40-minutes style of basketball is different from just about everyone else in the league. Cornell manufactures almost 3% more possessions per game than Penn, the second fastest tempo in the league, and over 7% more possessions per game than the Ivy League average. Defensively, Cornell has the size, speed, and athleticism to force teams who like to play 60-65 possessions per game to shoot up above 70. Opponents will try to slow Cornell down and force the Red to execute a half court offense, but I’m of the mindset that it’s easier to speed a team up than slow it down. Rushed basketball leads to bad shots and forced turnovers, especially on the second night of a back-to-back Ivy weekend.

The question will become if Cornell has the offensive efficiency to take advantage of what its defense will create. It’s easy to be skeptical. Offensively, Cornell has looked stagnant and turned the ball over at a high rate. Cornell will need to evolve offensively to fully reap the benefits of its style of play. I think Bill Courtney has the pieces to do just that. The biggest offensive strength Cornell has is its number of options. There isn’t a reliance on one guy to score. If Shonn Miller can’t get his looks, Errick Peck and Devin Cherry are there to penetrate. If Johnny Gray’s shot isn’t going down, Nolan Cressler and the newly emerging Dom Scelfo will quickly get tabbed to pull from behind the arc. In a back-to-back tournament style league, options can be your biggest asset.

I do think Courtney can find scoring somewhere in the Miller-Peck-Gray-Cancer-Cherry-Scelfo-Cressler cast of characters and minutes will come down to who has the hot hand on any given night. Still, production from this group won’t be enough to translate into the number of league wins that will satisfy fans in Ithaca. The two keys: Miles Asafo-Adjei and Eitan Chemerinski. This year”s league is led by dynamic guards and if Brian Barbour, Siyani Chambers, Miles Cartwright, and Austin Morgan can’t be stopped, Cornell doesn’t have a chance. Asafo-Adjei is more than capable of locking down any matchup Courtney writes on the white board before tip, but his achilles heel is and has always been his offensive game. Miles doesn’t have to score to be effective because offense isn’t what earns him minutes. What he needs to do is take care of the basketball. Cornell has turned the ball over way too much this season and point guard play has been the catalyst for this deficiency. When Asafo-Adjei is on the court and makes smart decisions with the ball, Cornell wins. In games when he has better than a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio, Cornell is 5-1. This must continue for Cornell to be successful.

The second key, Eitan Chemerinski. Eitan is a guy who can and has been asked to score, but whose
success lies in his efficiency, not his volume. Chemerinski has never been the type of center who will wear you down over the course of a game and leave with a 20 point night. For Cornell to win, Eitan needs to play strong and smart. When he shoots over 60% from the field, even if he only takes two or three shots, Cornell is 7-2. When he grabs six or more rebounds, Cornell is 3-0.

For the first time in a long time, I have absolutely no idea what to expect from Cornell this conference season. A third place finish? A sixth place finish? Better? Worse? I have absolutely no idea. All I know is it’s going to be a fun 14 games and if you’re a follower of a team from New York, it all starts on Saturday.

1 thought on “Tempo and Depth Will Carry the Big Red

  1. Great write-up, Jake, but it’s easier for a slower tempo team to force a faster squad down to its preferred pace than vice versa. Exhibits A, B and C are Princeton-Georgetown, Princeton-UCLA and Princeton-Kentucky.

    That’s why I think Courtney will have great difficulty imposing his desired speed upon teams like Harvard and Princeton that know how to work a half-court offense patiently and how to get back on defense to prevent transition points.

    I don’t see any reason yet to think that Cornell will do better against conference opponents than the Big Red’s disappointing showing against non-conference teams.

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