“We’ve played teams like Kentucky before,” Jeff Foote said after beating Wisconsin yesterday. “We’re very experienced and very confident in ourselves.” The teams he’s referring to? Syracuse and Kansas, two No. 1 seeds heading into the tournament. In only their fourth game of the season, Cornell trailed then ninth-ranked Syracuse 42-36 at the half before losing by 15. Still, it gave Foote, Ryan Wittman and Louis Dale valuable experience for taking on more “real” teams than their Ivy League counterparts.
Wittman shot a respectable 6-for-13, making only 3-of-10 threes, while Foote shot 6-of-7 from the field. Also, don’t forget that in a game against then top-ranked Kansas, Cornell was leading with a minute and a half left before losing 71-66. And while Cornell will be playing Kentucky for the opportunity to advance to the Elite 8, Kansas will be watching from home.
Wittman, the son of former Minnesota Timberwolves coach, Randy Wittman, is the standout player on the Big Red. And besides his NBA potential, his 3-for-10 shooting from three that night was disappointing because of the way he’s been shooting all season. For a Cornell team that was ranked No. 3 in Three-Point Field Goals Per Game, shooting 9.3 per, the most telling statistic is that they were ranked first in the nation in Three-Point Percentage with 43.4 percent. Individually, Wittman was ranked 11th shooting 42.2 percent each game.
But as we have seen with this upset-filled tournament, regular season numbers don’t mean that much. Still, Cornell’s offensive numbers haven’t dipped at all in their games against Temple and Wisconsin, and more surprising than the upsets themselves, is how drastically Cornell’s defense has improved.
So how far can this Cornell team really go? If they beat Kentucky, there is no reason Cornell can’t compete for the national title. I’m going to take heat for this in the comments section, but the road after Kentucky is infinitely easier. Of course, beating Kentucky has become the biggest if of the tournament, as Kentucky has been crushing opponents by 30 and playing with the same swagger as John Calipari‘s Memphis team two years ago.
But if you need one reason why this is going to happen, the secret lies in their styles of play. Cornell depends on an in-out game, with Foote forcing double teams in the post and kicking it out to perimeter players for threes. Kentucky uses an up-tempo pace as much as possible, usually with great success, as John Wall pushes the ball in the open court with DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson wreaking havoc against smaller defenders in the post.
It is the difference in styles, and not the similarity, that gives Cornell the shot at one of the biggest upsets in tournament history. Using an NBA comparison, think No. 1 Mavs vs. No. 8 Warriors in the first round of the 2007 NBA Playoffs. The teams had completely different styles of play, and the Warriors forced Avery Johnson to change his gameplan and start Dirk at center in Game 1 to keep up with the Warriors’ small ball. The series was never the same after the Warriors won the first game. This is not to say that either Kentucky or Cornell will drastically change their gameplans, but a mismatch does not always work in favor for the better team.
Cornell beating Kentucky depends on an unlikely player, and that will be Cornell’s Louis Dale. Dale has been consistent throughout his four-year career at Cornell, putting up nearly the same numbers each season, but he has really turned it up against Temple with 21 points on 6-for-13 shooting, and Wisconsin with 26 points on 10-for-17 shooting. Wittman and Foote will put up their usually numbers, but if Dale can both defend Wall and fill in gaps for the Big Red, Cornell will win the game.
In my own bracket, I have Cornell going to the Elite 8 and losing to West Virginia. I’ll either look like an idiot or a genius, but from the way Cornell has been playing, I think they will beat Kentucky 70-67. Okay, maybe they won’t win, but whatever spread your bookie gives you, take it. In the end, though, I just might look like an idiot for not having Cornell going further. And with the game in Syracuse, just an hour outside of Ithaca, N.Y. where Cornell is located, there should be more than enough fans from Big Red to back me up.
What do you think? Can Cornell beat Kentucky?
Other Must-Read Articles From March Madness:
– Purdue’s Game-Winner Makes Big Ten The Tournament Top Dogs
– Michigan State’s Buzzer-Beater
– None Shining Moment
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