A longtime friend of IHO, Rob Browne has agreed to join the site as a contributor focused on Cornell, a team poised to pull off a key upset or two during Ivy play. Here’s Rob’s in-depth look at the state of the Big Red:
Although picked last in the preseason Ivy League poll and having an initial KenPom raking of 311, Cornell has started the season 7-9 (0-2 Ivy) and finds itself with a current ranking of 232. While its most lopsided victory was against Division III Penn State Harrisburg, the Big Red scored decisive victories at home against Binghamton (No. 333) and Lafayette (No. 321). They had several close wins against Howard, (No. 269), Colgate (No. 209), St. Peter’s (No. 178) and Siena ( No. 109).
Its biggest losses were expected ones to major conference powers Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh and Syracuse. Perhaps its most surprising defeats were a 25-point loss on the road to Canisius (10-11, No. 211) and a three-point loss at UMass-Lowell (7-13, No. 324). The Big Red were able to stay competitive in nonconference losses to three-time defending America East Tournament champion Albany (No. 117), and MAC leader Monmouth (No. 63).
At the start of the Ivy League season, the Big Red, without their best player, almost pulled off the upset against Columbia in New York and stayed close in the return match the following week in Ithaca.
Where do things stand for the Big Red as they enter the last 12 games of the 14-Game Tournament?
Cornell is led by junior guard Robert Hatter, the Ivy League’s top scorer at 19.9 points per game. He is a high energy end-to-end talent that leads the team in minutes played (29.9), free throws (61-for-84), and assists (57). He is also the team’s best pressure defender, averaging 1.4 steals per game. He has been named Ivy League Player of the Week once and placed on the Honor Roll five times.
Right behind Hatter is freshman guard Matt Morgan. The talented rookie currently sits second in Ivy League scoring at 16.6 points per contest. Over his last five games, he has averaged 22.0 points and 2.2 steals. He has been named Ivy League Rookie of the Week three times and made the Honor Roll once.
Looking at the rest of the guards getting the most minutes, junior Darryl Smith is the next highest scorer at 8.8 a game. He is currently the Ivy League’s leader in field goal percentage and has a streak of 13 straight field goals. The recent loss of Hatter has given freshman Troy Whiteside (5.3 points per game) a chance to start, play more minutes and contribute more to the scoring. Junior JoJo Fallas (4.4 points per contest) is the team’s third-best three-point option (17-for-47). Joel Davis, another freshman, had his first ever start in last Saturday’s game against Columbia and is playing 10.5 minutes a game.
Sophomores Jordan Abdur-Ra’oof and Wil Bathurst split time at the forward position. Between the two, they are averaging 37.1 minutes per game, 9.6 points and 7.4 rebounds. Of the two, Abdur-Ra’oof is the stronger rebounder, while Bathurst is the more accurate shooter and gets to free throw line more often.
Junior center David Onuorah has improved his minutes played, scoring and rebounding from last year (18.9/26.8 minutes, 2.0/5.9 points and 3.5/7.9 rebounds per game). Behind Onuorah is freshman Stone Gettings, who is averaging 10.7 minutes a game and poured in 14 points during his debut against Georgia Tech.
With an undersized and athletic team, coach Bill Courtney has had the team play a guard-focused uptempo offense and high-pressure defense. While this has led to an increase in offensive output compared to last year, Cornell’s opponents have enjoyed even bigger increases in points and rebounding. Cornell has continued to excel in forcing turnovers and steals, in which it’s the best in the Ivy League.
For the Big Red to succeed in league play, they have to stick with their game plan. For a team that does not do as well in half court sets, they need to keep up the high tempo on both ends of the floor, forcing less athletic and deep opponents to adapt.
Additionally, Robert Hatter needs to return as quickly as possible. The team’s style will require the presence of the league’s statistical top offensive weapon to score and take the pressure off Morgan.
With defenses focused on Hatter and Morgan, having Smith and Onuorah more involved in the offense would help. Smith is a solid slasher and has the most accurate shooting percentage on the team. Onuorah is solid in transition and finishing feeds from driving guards.
Defensively, the team should put some more pressure on opponent’s three-point shooting. In its victories, the Big Red have held teams to 8.1 threes, while allowing 10.4 in losses. This small difference could be big for a team that will, most likely, be playing a number of close games against the rest of the league.
Concurrently, they will need to keep Onuorah on the court as long as possible. In seven games that he has played at least 28 minutes, he has averaged 10.4 rebounds and 3.1 blocks. In the other nine games, he averaged 5.4 rebounds and 0.6 blocks. Having him in the middle gives Cornell the best chance at minimizing the opposition’s significant edge in rebounds and points in the paint.
Last year, Cornell was able to win one game against all Ivies other than co-champion Yale and last-place Penn. While the Big Red, objectively, will not be favored against the top five teams in the Ivies, having two of the best scorers in the league and a unique style of play give them a fighting chance any evening, especially Saturday evenings.