February 1, 2008

M. Basketball Prepares For ‘Tough Test’ on Road

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In sports, the phrase “tough test” is thrown around like dodgeballs in a middle school gym Phys Ed class. This weekend, however, the men’s basketball team can genuinely say it will face a tough test. Traveling to Brown tonight and Yale tomorrow night, the Red just might be facing its hardest weekend of the season.
“This is definitely a big weekend,” said junior guard Jason Battle. “It’s against two very good teams and we play them back-to-back, so it’s going to be a tough test for us.”
Yale (8-8, 1-1 Ivy) was picked to finish second behind Cornell (10-5, 2-0) in the preseason media polls, while senior-laden Brown (9-7, 1-1) was recently profiled in the New York Times as a team on the move that could possibly take the Ivy League title this year with what the article referred to as the “Ivy League’s best backcourt.” Brown and Yale have also split a pair of tight games with each other the last two weeks, showing each is on par with the other.[img_assist|nid=27166|title=Straight up, no chaser|desc=Junior forward Brian Kreefer (34) pulls up for a jumper, making a contribution as one of the Red’s under-the-radar frontcourt rotation.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Aside from high level of competition, it will also be the first time this season Cornell will endure back-to-back contests, a quirk of the Ivy League, which schedules most conference games on Friday and Saturday nights.
“I feel like conditioning-wise we will be fine,” Battle said. “We have changed our practice regime to rest our legs and energy.”
For the first half of the weekend doubleheader, the Red travels to Brown. The Bears are lead by their dynamic backcourt scoring duo of Damon Huffman and Mark McAndrew. The pair combines for 31.7 points per game (Huffman at 16.2 ppg, and McAndrew at 15.5) which accounts for nearly 46 percent of the team’s 68 ppg. Both have shown a deft touch both inside and out, with Huffman hitting 46.2 percent overall and 43.6 percent form long range, and McAndrew nailing 43.1 percent from the floor and 42.7 percent from downtown.
The Huffman-McAndrew backcourt has fueled a Bears team that has knocked down 40.1 percent of its 3s, second only to the Red in the Ivy League.
“They are all great shooters and we know that we have to be on them as soon as they catch the ball and know where they’re at when they don’t have the ball,” said junior forward Brian Kreefer. “We can’t afford to let them have any easy looks.”
This means a vastly different strategy from the last two weeks, which included two games against frontcourt-heavy Columbia. Particularly last week, Cornell clogged the lane with double- and triple-teams. Tonight, the squad must extend its defense out further to counter the Brown offense, which relies on perimeter passing and backdoor cuts.
“We have been really concentrating on defense,” Battle said. “They have some good scorers and they run the well-known Princeton offense which is like no other.”
Waiting in the wings for tomorrow night is Yale. While Brown only has four players with over 80 shots attempted, Yale boasts seven and relies on spreading the ball around. The Bulldogs are third in the conference with 14.38 assists per game, behind Cornell (No. 1) and Harvard (No. 2).
The Bulldogs’ offense is orchestrated by guard Eric Flato, who paces the team in both scoring (13.8 ppg) and assists (2.6). Flato leads by the slimmest of margins in assists, however, as his total of 39 is just ahead of three other guards who have each tallied over 30 helpers. Because of the ball movement, hustle plays become important.
“It will be a challenge but the team that brings the most energy usually wins these games,” Kreefer said. “Any team in the league can beat anyone which makes intensity even more important.”
Aggressiveness will also be important against Yale for two other reasons. First, the Bulldogs lead the Ivy Leauge in steals, showing not necessarily a lockdown defense — Yale is sixth in scoring defense in the Ivy League — but a knack for getting into the passing lanes and winning 50-50 balls.
“We know that these two teams are going to try to out-hustle and out-work us and that is something that we pride ourselves on doing,” Kreefer said. “It’s a big test.”
Second, the Red will have to be aggressive on the glass, as Yale has allowed the second fewest rebounds among Ivy squads to its opponents this year. Last week, Cornell saw that focus, concentration and aggressiveness can reverse a rebounding edge. The Red had been outrebounded in its first win over the Lions two weeks ago, but credited an increased focus for a rebounding margin that significantly favored Cornell last weekend.
“The mental aspect is going to be the tougher issue because the turn around between games is so quick,” Battle said. “I feel as though the team understands that and knows that this is a long weekend, so we have to be focused.”