Piece by Piece, Cornell Slowly Putting It Together

Coach Bill Courtney has to be pleased with what he has seen from his previously unproven squad. The Big Red are 3-4 with a couple of nice wins heading into the Finals layoff. (Photo Credit: syracuse.com)

“We’re building something here. We’re building it from scratch. All the pieces matter,” Lester Freamon proclaimed to Prez in HBO’s hit series, The Wire. “All the pieces matter,” a simple adage, rings true with what Head Coach Bill Courtney is trying to accomplish with his young team; a team that builds, day by day, game by game. The 13-day intermission between Cornell’s win over Lehigh and its matchup with Albany on Friday night comes at the perfect time. Courtney has a chance to slow down, take a step back and use what he has learned over the team’s first seven games to grow.

Every team in the league has a lengthy exam break this time of year so one might ask if it is that big of a deal for Cornell. Yes, it is. Every other Ivy League team had defined go-to guys and established roles to open the season. Through a third of the season, it’s been these guys filling up the box score: Zach Rosen for Penn, Ian Hummer for Princeton, Greg Mangano for Yale, to name a few. Their performances this year are what one would have expected to open the season. This means that their respective coaches are able to continue to implement their pre-season strategies due to the production of their star players, something the Cornell staff does not have the luxury of doing.

To begin the season, the word used to describe this Cornell team was “potential.” With potential comes inconsistency. It may be a sports cliché, but what you take from a game is just as important as the result. With this type of team, this early in the season, the proverb holds true. However, we are now getting beyond this point.

The data obtained from the first seven games of the season should allow the coaching staff to use the 13-day exam break to develop a strategy to put their players in the best position to succeed on the court. With a decent sample size now, the capabilities of this roster are more clear. We’ve had quite a few surprises along the way though. To start the season, who would have predicted:

  • Chris Wroblewski shooting 24% from the field
  • Shonn Miller averaging over 23 minutes a game and leading the team in rebounds
  • Josh Figini and Eitan Chemerinski combining for 36.6 minutes, 17.3 points, and 6.9 rebounds per game.

Now, we know this. Too often this season, Cornell has looked better in transition than they have in half-court sets. A break from intense film study and game preparation should allow Cornell to tweak its sets based on its current rotation. At this point in the season, the onus of improvement is just as much on the shoulders of the staff as it is on the players.

Already, Cornell has two top notch victories that it can hang its hat on: home victories over Boston University and Lehigh. However, the schedule gets no easier: three upcoming BCS road games against Illinois, Penn State, and Maryland, propelling them into the grueling Ivy League season. Whether it’s Lester Freamon and the rest of the Major Crimes unit tracking Avon Barksdale or Bill Courtney and his troop chasing an Ivy League title, it’s all done the same way, “day by day, piece by piece.” Cornell has had the perfect opportunity to put those pieces together. Time will tell if they made the most of it.