Previewing the Cinderellas: CornellPosted by rtmsf on March 23rd, 2010
Dave Zeitlin is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League.
The Friday before Selection Sunday, we published what we thought would be our last Ivy League column of the season. In it we gave some of our thoughts on the tournament as a whole and the Ivy representative, Cornell, in particular. Using what we thought were keys to victory, we thought that St. Marys (#10) and Xavier (#6) would outlive their seedings. They are still alive. We said, that based on those keys, Duke would be the national champion. The Blue Devils have looked impressive. And most importantly, we said that Cornell had the stuff to reach the Sweet 16 and that the country would be talking Ivy hoops. They did and everyone is.
Now it’s on to the Carrier Dome on Thursday and the mission … slay the Big Cats from Kentucky. So whether you are eating Buffalo Wild Wings, 550 calorie meals from Applebees, or any $5 footlong; even if you are walking the Fidelity green line or joining your bags and flying for free, its time to provide an in depth RTC analysis of Kentucky vs. Cornell.
Let’s begin by getting a few things out of the way. We will start with what is sure to be the CBS story line — academia vs. the hired guns; the four year seniors vs. the one-and-dones; the biochem majors/theoretical math minors vs. undeclared. And of course the jokes that will fly around the internet – Kentucky has a lot of double figure scorers but is their aggregate GPA in double figures? Etc. None of that, of course, is relevant. The fact is, if they played this game 50 times Kentucky may win 48 of them. Cornell only has to win once – on Thursday night.
Kentucky has only been beaten twice all season — 68-62 by South Carolina and 74-65 by Tennessee. Those games had a number of common threads. First the Gamecocks were down three at half, the Vols up 11. (In the two tournament games, Kentucky has been up 28 and 16 respectively at intermission). Both SC and UT had fewer turnovers than UK in those games. And finally, the Cats shot under 40% (38% & 35%) in both games. And rumor has it that Ashley Judd was making a movie and could not attend either game.
How Cornell Can Win
Play to Win: In 1980, Herb Brooks kept telling the US Hockey Team to, “Play your game.” You know the result. Steve Donahue has to adopt the same mantra. Having played Syracuse – in the Carrier Dome, incidentally – and Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse, there won’t be an intimidation factor. This is a highly skilled, well-balanced offensive team. They must go for it and shoot the shots when they are open and not hold the ball in the hopes of “keeping it close”. They all need to become Ali Farokhmanesh and shoot with ice water in their veins.
Protect the Ball: Cornell had 10 turnovers vs. Temple and eight vs. Wisconsin. Those numbers will do vs. Kentucky. Wall and Co. are murder when they get open court turnovers and can score in transition.
Stay Close: Play the game from timeout to timeout in the first half. Stay within striking distance. Use timeouts to stop Kentucky runs. Do all of this and the crowd will become a sixth man. Regardless of how many Kentucky supporters are there, and they do travel well, the Carrier Dome will be overwhelmingly pro-Cornell. And the longer the game stays close, the tighter the noose becomes for the Caliparimen who will be expecting to romp. And finally a memo to Messrs. Foote, Dale, Wittman, et al: Talk to the Kentucky players. Chances are that will completely confuse them. (Guilty as charged for falling into the stereotype trap.)
How Kentucky Can Win
Believe it or not, Kentucky’s McDonald’s All-Americans, blue-chip recruits, and future pros are not necessarily better BASKETBALL players than the Cornell players. But they are bigger, stronger, faster, and more athletic. There are times during the game when those attributes will get them some points. There is nothing Cornell can do about that. If the game turns into a track meet, a run-and-gun, throw the ball up and go get it type game — the outcome will be settled early and Kentucky will win by 20. These players are used to winning. They believe they will win, regardless of time and score. (Remember they were .1 of a second away from losing the SEC championship game). Kentucky at 85% efficiency should be enough to get the job done.
While most of the talk this week will be about the Cinderellas (Cornell, Northern Iowa, St Mary’s) and how wonderfully they have performed, most will believe that the glass slipper(s) will blow a tire and none will make the Elite Eight. This will be especially true of Cornell who is the only one of the trio about to face a No. 1 seed. In fact, John Calipari will spend the next three days trying to convince his players that Cornell does indeed represent a legitimate threat. They won’t believe him and that will work to Cornell’s advantage. So here goes:
When Cornell lost to Penn on Feb. 12, Doug Gottlieb called it the biggest upset in college basketball, given where the two teams stood at the time. Well on March 26, the Big Red of Cornell will once again shock the basketball world. They will play with poise and confidence and continue their torrid shooting (61% and 56% in their first two games); and when John Wall’s desperation three glances harmlessly off the rim, the shouts of glee you hear from the Carrier Dome to far above Cayuga’s waters, will be from Cornell fans celebrating a 78-76 victory. An RTC for the ages, Mr. Nantz.