More than eight months have passed since Cornell’s cagers last competed in a regular season game, and more than one month has passed since the team began practicing in anticipation of its season opener against Marist in the Pepsi-Marist Classic. This evening, the team can finally say, let the games begin. Cornell enters the tournament with high hopes and a new game plan, while the Red Foxes find themselves in a similar transition period under first-year head coach Matt Brady. Birmingham-Southern and Northeastern will also vie for the top spot on the four-team bracket and give the Red a barometer against which to measure its progress since last year’s 69-66 season-ending loss to Brown.
Though the team’s leading scorer and captain Ka’Ron Barnes ’04 will not be available to lend his sharpshooting skills in the two-day event, Cornell does return three starters and eight of the team’s top 11 scorers from last year. In addition, junior transfer Ryan Rourke, who has been picked as the Ivy League’s preseason Rookie of the Year, brings experience and outstanding skill to the lineup.
Senior co-captain Eric Taylor also continues to deliver consistently outstanding play and leadership. Not only is he the first player in Cornell basketball history to serve as the captain of his team for three years, he was also the only player in the Ivy League to rank among the top-15 in scoring, rebounding, and assists as a junior.
Taylor and classmate Cody Toppert are on pace to surpass 1,000 career points this season, and the pair has combined for 138 starts in their time on the Hill. They, along with junior Lenny Collins, will lead the Red as it attempts to start its 2004-05 schedule with a win.
“This is our first real test of the year. We played great against Waterloo, and I expect us to continue this weekend,” head coach Steve Donahue said. “We shared the ball, moved it around, played the boards, and really executed on both offense and defense.”
Cornell’s exhibition match against Waterloo, a team from Toronto, ended in an 82-58 rout. “We played great against Waterloo, but this weekend will be significantly tougher,” Taylor said. “We know that Marist has a good team, but we’re not familiar with their style.”
Though the cagers are not entirely sure what sorts of schemes Marist will utilize against them, they do expect that Brady, a former assistant with St. Joseph’s, will have his team playing a more uptempo game than in years past.
“They’re going to be a different type of team this year,” Toppert said. “They’ll probably be making the transition to more of a [St. Joseph’s] style of play, more fast-paced.”
Birmingham-Southern and Northeastern also have strong teams. The Panthers, under head coach Duane Reboul, have won 39 games in the last two seasons, and they return three starters and 10 letter-winners this year. This year, the squad will make the move to Division I status with hopes of winning an NCAA bid in the Big South Conference.
Northeastern has one of the top backcourts on the East coast, with junior guard Jose Juan Barea averaging 20.6 points-per-game and Marcus Barnes an All-America East candidate.
“Birmingham-Southern is one of the best shooting teams in the country. They have good size and play a Princeton style of game,” Donahue said. “Northeastern has two of the better guards in the country. We’ll have to play well to win against them.”
With Barnes gone, so too is the team’s offensive strategy of a year ago: giving him the ball. Instead, Donahue has worked to establish a more team-oriented approach.
“We’re focusing this year on ball movement on offense and staying with our strengths on defense, as far as rebounding goes,” Toppert said.
“We’re looking to play team defense and help each other out on offense,” Taylor added. “I think you’ll see a lot more people putting points on the board and getting touches.”
After last season’s hot start and cold finish — Cornell finished 11-16 overall and fifth in the Ivy League (6-8) — the new look may give the squad the breath of fresh air it needs to shake the monkey off its back and start this season with an auspicious victory.
Archived article by Everett Hullverson