Amid an 80-degree, summer-like Homecoming on Saturday, the Cornell men’s basketball team held its Red-White Scrimmage, unofficially beginning year two of the Brian Earl era. With a year of experience under Earl’s more disciplined system, as well as the coach’s bringing in his first recruiting class, the Big Red look like a more confident and balanced unit that should improve upon last season’s 8-21 record.
On paper, the matchup was one of experience versus youth. The White team had seniors Wil Bathurst, Jordan Abdur-Ra’oof and Kyle Brown, juniors Matt Morgan, Stone Gettings and Troy Whiteside, and first-years Riley Voss and Jake Kuhn. The Red team had senior Pat Smith, juniors Jack Gordon, Steve Julian and Joel Davis, sophomore Josh Warren and first-years Jimmy Boeheim, Bryan Knapp and Terrance McBride. In all, the members of the White team had played 275 total games for Cornell with 118 starts, while the Red group played 108 total games and started just four.
Heading into the scrimmage, Stone Gettings was out for the White team. For the Red team, Pat Smith and Kyle Brown were not available.
Once on the court, the game was a huge mismatch, but not the way it was expected. The youthful Red team won 62-28 (all numbers for the day are absolutely unofficial – my concentration may have been less than optimal due to many helpings from the excellent Cornell Dining). For the victorious group, Gordon had 18 points, Boeheim added 12, while Warren and Julian each scored eight. For the White squad, Morgan was the leading scorer with nine points.
- The older players have learned from their first year in Earl’s system. There was more discipline and ball movement compared to last October.
- In Earl’s first recruiting class, Boeheim and Julian seem ready to contribute immediately and Kuhn is not far behind. Boeheim is a classic Princeton-like player, a 6′ 8″ who can pass, dribble, defend and shoot the three. The 6′ 6″ Julian, a JUCO transfer, can play strong defense, mix it up in the front court and run in transition. Kuhn, another 6′ 6″ wing, has physical tools and great confidence, but needs to work on consistency from the outside.
- Warren is working on his three-point shooting this year to become the type of do-everything player that coach Earl likes. He went 0-for-3 by my count, but he only took one three-pointer last season. If he can get those numbers up, the Big Red will have three bigs that can hit from anywhere.
- The team is deeper and more balanced than ’16-’17. Wil Bathurst appears to be the starting point guard. The 6′ 3″ guard, who has played four of five positions in his first three years, is not a typical playmaking floor general, but he does have the discipline to get the offense moving and avoid turnovers. McBride is a more traditional point guard, but he needs some time to develop. Davis had limited time on the court on Saturday, but he showed excellent speed, breaking through openings to successfully drive the lane on multiple occasions.
- While Morgan will start at the two spot and Julian the three, Whiteside and Gordon will be around to provide quality relief. Whiteside averaged 6.6 points in 29 games (23 starts) last year. Though only averaging 2.8 points per game last year, the Dallas native should increase his productivity this year. In league play, he increased his playing time from 4.5 to 19.1 minutes per game and averaged 46 percent from three-point range. On Saturday, he effortlessly hit four of five from downtown.
- Voss will be able to give a few minutes of relief to the team’s main frontcourt players, while Abdur-Ra’oof can help out at the four or three as he recovers from missing all of the ’16-’17 campaign.
- Cornell does have more depth than last year, but it needs to avoid the injuries and defections that plagued the ”16-’17 season. There was no explanation for Gettings’ absence from the contest and no mention of his return date. While Gettings’ injury appeared minor, there may be more trouble with Morgan. In the second half of the scrimmage, Morgan took a hard face-first fall as he came down from a baseline drive to the basket. After a minute or so, he got himself up and over to the bench for a timeout. While on the defensive end of the court about two minutes later, he yelled out in pain, apparently grabbing one of his hands. He and the coach went into the locker room. A short time later, he went to the bench with a ice pack clutched between his hands and a towel over his head. Cornell Athletics has not yet responded on the specifics or the extent of the injury, or if there will be any time lost for the league’s leading scorer.
- If the rotation can stay together on the court, the Big Red should be much more competitive on a game-by-game basis than they were last season. In a year when the conference as a whole is ready to make a large jump, the team’s individual and collective development may need to be ahead of schedule to a secure a trip to this season’s Ivy Tournament. As the year starts, however, the team’s fans should realize that the program that is on the right track and challenging for a spot in the upper division is certainly in reach.