The two-time defending Ivy League champions will have their work cut out for them in 2009-10 — men’s basketball head coach Steve Donahue announced the team’s schedule on Friday, and it appears to be possibly the toughest non-conference schedule in Cornell history. Donahue has a history of challenging his players before the Ivy season begins — the Red has played Syracuse in four of the last five seasons, and took on powerhouses like Duke in 2007-08 and Indiana and Minnesota in 2008-09. With all five starters returning, Cornell (21-10 overall in 2008-09, 11-3 Ivy League) might just be up to the challenge. Senior duo Ryan Wittman and Louis Dale will be the Red’s playmakers, and reigning Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year Jeff Foote will continue to make his physical, 7-0 presence known around the basket.
The marquee matchup on Cornell’s schedule is against no less than Kansas, a potential preseason No. 1 team, on Jan. 6. The Red will take on the Jayhawks, who return all five starters from last year’s 27-8 Big 12 championship squad, at the famous Allan Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kan., where the team has the longest win streak at home in the country at 41 games. The Red is tied with Siena for the third-longest home win streak, 21 games.
Cornell’s home streak might end quickly, however. For its home opener on Nov. 20, the Red hosts Seton Hall, which finished seventh with a 7-11 Big East record in 2008-09, and 17-15 overall. The Pirates will be the first school from a BCS conference since Georgia Tech visited in 2003-04 to play at Newman Arena.
Cornell’s next game will be against another Big East foe, conference champion and eventual Sweet 16 participant, Syracuse. On Nov. 24, the Red will visit the Carrier Dome to mount another shot at an upset that was nearly achieved last year. On Dec. 3, 2008, Cornell nearly knocked off No. 20-ranked Syracuse on the strength of a career night from sharpshooting forward Ryan Wittman, then a junior. Wittman put up 33 points, draining 9-of-13 3-pointers and 12-of-28 overall. At one point in the first half, Cornell led by 16 points, but the Orange’s full-court press caused a few Red turnovers and quick shots, and Syracuse cut the deficit to five points by halftime. The Orange went back to its size and athleticism in the second half, causing nightmares in the lane for the Red and drawing 14 fouls for 15 points from the charity stripe, and came away with the 88-78 win.
Cornell will start the season with one of the tougher matchups on its schedule — the Red plays its first game on Nov. 14 against Alabama, which finished fourth out of six teams in the Southeastern Conference west division in 2008-09.
Just four days later, the Red starts play in the Legends Classic tournament, taking on UMass-Amherst. Regardless of the result against UMass, the Red will advance into a round-robin and face Drexel, Vermont and Toledo from Nov. 27-29.
The Legends Classic is one of two tournaments on the team’s 2009-10 slate. The other is the ECAC Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden, to which the Red will return for the first time since 1970-71. Cornell will tip-off at the Garden on Dec. 20 against Davidson, then play either St. John’s or Hofstra the next day.
Sandwiched between the two festivals are games against Bucknell and a home game against St. Joseph’s, another upset that got away in 2008-09. On Dec. 22, 2008, Cornell held a 13-point lead in the first half, but St. Joseph’s came back to win, 71-67.
After the non-conference gauntlet Donahue has lined up, the Red will return home for five of its first six Ivy League matchups. Cornell will look to get its momentum rolling at Newman Arena in search of a third consecutive Ivy League championship banner. The team will have to be road warriors starting in mid-February; six of its last eight games are on the road. The Red will return home to face Princeton and Penn on Feb. 26-27 to close out its home schedule, then hit the road for one last trip to Brown and Yale, the site of one of the team’s three Ivy losses last year, on March 5-6 to end the regular season.