As college basketball kicks off across the entire country this weekend, it is finally game time for the men’s basketball team as it heads to Evanston, Ill. to take on Northwestern tonight at 9:30 p.m. EST in both teams’ first game of the 2006-07 season.
“We have been playing against each other for over a month now,” said senior tri-captain and point guard Graham Dow. “There is a lot of excitement to go on the road and play against somebody else.”
Coming off last year’s third-place Ivy League finish, head coach Steve Donahue’s Cornell squad is looking to get off to a quick start against Northwestern and begin the sequence of non-conference games with a bang.
“Northwestern will be a good test for us,” Dow said. “We take a lot of pride in every game we play and expect to win every time we step out there.”
The game will also give the Red — as a representative of the Ivy League — an opportunity to prove it can compete with a team from one of the major conferences, in this case the Big Ten. Despite the Big Ten’s disappointing showing a year ago, when not a single team advanced past the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament, the conference is looking toward a revival with two teams — Ohio State and Wisconsin — ranked in the top-10 of the USA Today/ESPN preseason poll.
“Everybody in our league knows that we can compete with the guys that get shown on television every weekend,” Dow said. “As far as skill level and knowledge of the game, we know we are right there with them. They might only have an advantage when it comes to athleticism. This is our chance to go out and prove that we can beat a big-time team.”
The most intriguing individual match-up of the contest will feature two sophomores coming off phenomenal rookie campaigns in which both made all-conference freshman teams. Going head-to-head will be Cornell’s Adam Gore, last season’s Ivy League Rookie of the Year, and Northwestern’s Craig Moore, who, like Gore, is a sharpshooting threat from the outside.
“[Moore] is the one guy on Northwestern that we really know about,” Dow said. “It should be an interesting match-up to watch [he and Gore] go back and forth on the court.”
Versatile slasher Tim Doyle will also look to lead a Wildcat ssquad that lost over 60 percent of its offensive production from a year ago. The main departed contributor is Vedran Vukusic, the Wildcats’ leading scorer a year ago and three-time All-Big Ten performer who is now playing professionally in Israel.
While graduation hurt the Wildcats more than the Red, the game should be a fairly equal match-up of two teams looking to better their position in their respective leagues and improve on losing seasons from a year ago. Last season Cornell and Northwestern finished with similar overall records of 13-15 and 14-15, respectively.
For the Red, the focus of this first game of the season will be on the defensive end of the floor, as it looks to pressure Northwestern and eliminate easy buckets.
“Our coaches have been preaching [defense and rebounding] all throughout the preseason,” Dow said. “We have to limit them to one shot and rebound well so we can get out in transition.”
Part of the task of slowing the Wildcats and controlling the boards will fall to senior tri-captain Andrew Naeve, who finished third in the Ivy League in both blocks and rebounds a year ago.
While stopping Northwestern offense may be a tough task, it is a game plan that Donahue has crafted before, seeing as the Wildcats are led by former Princeton coach Bill Carmody, who as both a 14-year assistant and four-year head coach helped devise and evolve the Princeton offensive system that led the Tigers to numerous NCAA tournament appearances in the 1990s.
More important than stopping the Wildcat offense, Cornell will honor Hall of Famer Bob Gallagher ’44 with their play tonight. The Red had hoped the legendary player and friend of the program, who passed away this August and lived in Itasca, Ill., would be in attendance for the opener; instead, the initials R.E.G. will be sewn in a black oval on each player’s jersey in his memory.