On Saturday, Cornell’s Board of Trustees held a controversial vote to establish a new College of Business by merging its School of Hotel Administration, Dyson School of Applied Economics and Johnson Graduate School of Management. Many students, alumni and faculty are upset at the Board and new President Elizabeth Garrett for pushing this College through without any input from the greater Cornell community. On Tuesday and Wednesday, President Garrett will be meeting with students and faculty to discuss this important development. Given how well the Big Red men’s basketball team performed this weekend, the President may want to quickly befriend Matt Morgan and have him stand beside her.
Cornell swept Harvard and Dartmouth on the road for the first time since 2010. That 2009-10 team, led by current Penn coach Steve Donahue, won its third straight Ivy League Championship and finished the season in the Sweet Sixteen. While this team should not reach the heights of that historic group, all signs point upward for Bill Courtney and his youthful “never say die” squad.
For the second straight weekend, Robert Hatter, the Ivy League’s season-long leading scorer, was listed as a probable starter. By the end of the week, Coach Courtney had stated that his star guard’s status was up in the air for Friday’s game against five-time defending league champion Harvard. It came as no surprise, in the end, that Hatter did not play in either game.
While Cornell lost two close games against Columbia without Hatter, they were not going to be denied in this weekend’s contests. Again led by freshman sensation Matt Morgan, a favorite for Ivy League Rookie of the Year, as well as a potential 1st team All-Ivy, the Big Red defeated Harvard (9-11, 1-3 Ivy), 77-65, and Dartmouth (7-11, 1-3), 77-73. With the wins, Cornell moved into fourth place, evening its record to 9-9 overall and 2-2 in the Ivy League.
In his first ever back-to-back Ivy weekend, Morgan played 72 of 80 minutes and totaled 65 points, including 29-for-36 from the charity stripe. He was dominant in crunch time of both games, scoring 17 against the Crimson in the last nine minutes and 21 points in the last 10 minutes against the Big Green. After his first four Ivy League games, Morgan, the reigning Ivy League Co-Player of the Week and Rookie of the Week, leads the conference with 30.0 points per game, 17 three-pointers made, 46 free throw attempts and 37 free throws made.
The Big Red’s two victories followed similar patterns. Cornell stayed even through the first 10 minutes, took charge in the remainder of the first half, came out of the gate slowly at the start of the second stanza, and dominated the last 10 minutes. In those positive 20 minutes, the Big Red outscored Harvard 60-28 and ended the game scoring the last 13 points. Against Dartmouth, Cornell led the Big Green 51-28 at the conclusion of the halves and finished on a 16-3 run.
The team also used a deep 10-11 player rotation to score 77 points in each contest. Despite dominance in the frontcourt, Harvard and Dartmouth only used six to seven players and could not, ultimately, keep up with the intensity and stamina of the Big Red’s guards. While committing its share of turnovers in the two games, the Big Red backcourt was able to capitalize more than the Big Green and the Crimson for a difference of 40-23 in points off turnovers. Additionally, its quick guards were able to get to the foul line 49 times in the two games, and convert 38 of those chances.
Evaluating Cornell’s season, it appears that the Big Red needs to use its speed to put lots of points on the board and wear down its opponents. Eight of the team’s nine wins have come when scoring 76 or more points, and seven of its nine loses have occurred when scoring less than 76. If Robert Hatter stays out of the lineup, Matt Morgan will have to continue to put in over 30 points, since the rest of the team appears to have a ceiling with its scoring. Getting Hatter back not only adds another dynamic scorer to take the offensive pressure off the freshman phenom, but allows everyone to save energy to dominate on the defensive end.
Looking at the next few weeks of conference play, the Big Red should be able to continue forcing the tempo and have high scoring games. Defensively, the team should be able to take advantage of less deep and turnover-prone squads, like Penn and Brown. Additionally, beating Harvard and Dartmouth on the road, should give Cornell the confidence and experience to handle both teams when they visit Ithaca.
Cornell will have its greatest difficulty with Princeton and Yale. The Tigers are a deep and balanced high-scoring team that avoids turnovers, while playing at a fast pace. Yale has a strong starting five and is the one team physically capable of slowing down the Big Red’s tempo. With both teams, Cornell may have to catch them on a Saturday evening, after grueling contests with Columbia. For Princeton, there has to be an off night of three-point shots and imbalanced scoring. Against Yale, there has to be a hope that the team’s lack of depth will expose a vulnerability that was seen late in the second half of Saturday’s game against the Tigers.
Cornell boasts one of the youngest teams in the country. Even with the recent adversity to its top player, the Big Red have quickly matured and look to take another huge step forward when they visit Providence and New Haven this weekend. If it can continue to play its style of basketball, Cornell finds itself with a good chance to stay in the top division.