February 20, 2009

Men’s Basketball Hopes for a Repeat Against Yale, Brown

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Men’s basketball head coach Steve Donahue has consistently said that it is hard to rank the Ivy squads in terms of talent this year. These past few weeks have proven Donahue correct, as upsets and tight games have left each Ancient Eight team — save Cornell — with at least three Ivy losses just past the midway point of conference play.
Cornell, with only one Ivy loss (17-7, 7-1 Ivy) and a two-game lead over second-place Princeton, can go a long way toward securing its second straight conference title with wins this weekend over Yale (9-13, 4-4) and Brown (7-15, 1-7).
It would seem that the Red asserted its superiority over the Bulldogs and Bears when it dismissed the two teams by a combined 60 points three weeks ago in Ithaca. However, both teams are coming off impressive performances last weekend. Both Yale and Brown scored double-digit wins over then-first-place Princeton, who had previously toppled Cornell by 20.
Although each team dropped close contests to Penn in their other game last weekend, Donahue said he was impressed by both squads’ outings. Yale, who Cornell faces tonight, fell late to the Quakers in a 68-63 loss.
“[Yale is] a very good, aggressive team,” Donahue said. “They are a good offensive rebounding team. … They had one of their worst games against us last time.”
Indeed, the Bulldogs could not seem to do anything right last time out against the Red, shooting an abysmal 23.1 percent on their way to 36 points.
Cornell used lockdown defense to propel a transition offense that outpaced Yale. Senior center Jeff Foote led the way with 18 points on mostly put backs and dunks. He neutralized the Bulldog’s advantage on the offensive glass — an Ivy League-best 11.6 per game.
“Last game I was able to get on the offensive glass quite a bit and get lots of second chance shots,” Foote said. “I think they’ll be more focused on keeping [me away from] that. Probably the biggest thing will be to check me out and things like that.”[img_assist|nid=35389|title=Road trip|desc=Senior center Jeff Foote and the Red will travel to take on Ivy foes Yale and Brown this weekend.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
One of the biggest things for the Red will have to be interior defense. The Bulldogs are last in the Ivy League in 3-point percentage and 3-pointers made. They only shot 1-for-11 from long range against the Red last time out.
Yale does have a cadre of big men — Ross Morin and Travis Pinick are both 6-7 — who can step out and shoot, and Donahue calls Alex Zampier one of the better shooters in the Ivy League.
“They just need to do their stuff better,” Donahue said. “They didn’t execute well last time.”
Brown has had its own problems executing this year. With three losses by a combined five points, Brown could easily find itself in the top-half of the Ancient Eight standings.
Under first-year head coach Jesse Agel, the Bears have struggled to adjust to a new power approach after running former head coach Craig Robinson’s Princeton-style spread offense for three years. The team has certainly missed the play of All-League guards Damon Huffman and Mark McAndrew, who graduated last year.
“Those two guys were two tremendous players for their team,” Foote said. “They were big reasons why they were in the hunt last year and one of the stronger teams. I think it’s exposed them a little bit and they’re still finding a way to overcome it.”
This weakness on the perimeter showed up in the Bears’ last matchup with the Red. Cornell was led by its guards, as junior Louis Dale had 23, junior Ryan Wittman chipped in 13 and freshman Chris Wroblewski added 11.
“Hopefully we can expose them a little bit with our guard play and our inside game,” Foote said.
Brown has seen the development of its inside game with the emergence of junior Matt Mullery. Mullery, who had always been a good shot-blocker, added a deft offensive touch to his game this year and is averaging 16.0 points per game, while still swatting away 1.7 shots per game. His career high before this year was 14 points.
“He’s hard to defend because he scores in so many different ways,” Donahue said. “There’s not one move that he goes to.”
Foote pointed out that Mullery will be a threat on the glass as well. He also singled out Chris Skrelja — averaging 6.5 rebounds per game — as a player the Red will have to focus on boxing out.
“[Brown’s] big and they’re strong,” Foote said. “We have to focus on keeping the ball out of their paint and keeping Mullery off the boards.”
After last weekend, though, Donahue thought it was most important to recommit his team to defense. Donahue said he pulled out some basic drills the team hadn’t done since October.
“A lot of it was just stance, position, how to handle screens and ball screens, checking out, stuff like that,” Foote said. “We got exposed a little bit against Dartmouth and we kind of got away from ourselves. The back to basics was getting us back in check, back to being aggressive.”