November 16, 2010

Time to Raise The Roof

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After having its school-record 21-game home win streak snapped by the Seton Hall Pirates last November, the Cornell men’s basketball team began to work on a new streak at Newman Arena. That streak currently sits at a modest 11 games and will be threatened tonight, when the Red plays host to the Delaware Blue Hens in its 2010-11 home-opener at 7 p.m.

Although the team has changed since the graduation of last year’s historic senior class, Newman Nation — the Red’s faithful home supporters — has not. Cornell (1-1, 0-0 Ivy) will look to the fans clad in red and white to help establish a firm home-court advantage throughout the season, beginning with tonight’s game against the Blue Hens (0-1, 0-0 Colonial).

“I can’t say enough about the support we’ve enjoyed over the last couple years. The fans have been great, and it makes Newman one of the best places to play in the country, and one of the tougher ones for opponents,” said junior guard and tri-captain Chris Wroblewski. “I love coming back home and playing here in front of our fans, and we’re going to do everything we can to protect our home court. It helps a lot to have that sixth man in the stands on our side.”

When all is said and done, though, it will be the Red’s performance on the court that determines its fate this winter. Wroblewski figures to play a key role in that performance, but his status for tonight’s showdown is still uncertain as he continues to recover from a sprained ankle.

“The ankle is doing much better. The recovery is a gradual process, but I worked out for the first time [Monday] with no pain, and woke up [Tuesday] with little soreness, which is promising,” Wroblewski said.

Whether Wroblewski plays or not, Cornell will have its hands full with the Blue Hens’ talented pair of starting guards.

“They’re a tough matchup for us,” said head coach Bill Courtney, who will be making his home debut as Cornell’s newest sideline addition. “They have two of the quickest … and most explosive scoring guards we are going to see this year.”

Senior Jawan Carter headlines the pair of guards. In 2009-10, Carter averaged over 18 points and was named to the All-CAA second team. His partner in crime this season, Devon Sadler, stole the show in the Blue Hens’ most recent game. The freshman filled the box score with 19 points, seven assists and six rebounds in a 88-69 loss to Ohio on Saturday.

Carter’s and Sadler’s ability to score from all over the court will be yet another test for Courtney’s aggressive defensive scheme. The coach is hoping that the defense fares better than it did on Sunday against Seton Hall, when it allowed 92 points on the road.

“I think more than anything we’re going to try to make sure we get better defensively,” Courtney said. “We’ve struggled so far compared to how we do in practice, so I want to continue to get better defensively.”

In order to do so, the Red will need to stop the Delaware transition game.

“They love to push it in transition, so we’re going to have to really work on getting back and containing them,” said senior forward and tri-captain Aaron Osgood. “We also need to be willing to attack them. … They’re going to push and we’re going to push so it should be a high-paced game.”

While defense is clearly the focus, the offense will also be looking to rebound heading into tonight’s contest. A year removed from leading the nation in 3-point shooting percentage, the Red has hit just 28.8 percent of its 52 long-range attempts this season.

Carrying the bulk of the load offensively thus far has been Osgood. In 2009-10 Osgood was lost in the shadow of big-man Jeff Foote, but this year the senior has emerged as a legitimate scoring threat, averaging 16.5 points per game.

“A big reason my scoring has been as good as it has is the guards’ ability to drive and dish. I’ve pretty much been finishing. As a big guy that’s what I need to do,” Osgood said. “I always felt that I had a good offensive game. It’s nice that Coach Courtney is giving me the opportunity to show that I can do that … I worked real hard in the offseason to get better and I think it’s really showed.”

In addition to Osgood’s output, Cornell has received a balanced scoring effort from several other players. The team features four players averaging over seven points per game, with sophomore guard Jonathan Gray (9 points per game) and senior guard Max Groebe (7.5 points per game) leading the group.

The return of Wroblewski should help the team’s scoring efforts even further. He averaged close to 9 points per game and dished out 106 assists a year ago

“Chris is one of the best pick and roll guys that I’ve ever played with and I think off of that there is going to be a bunch of opportunities not only for myself but for the shooters,” Osgood said. “He’s going to be drawing the defense and kicking the ball out to the open shooters.”

Courtney also expects the junior guard’s return to have a positive impact on the team.

“It will be huge,” Courtney said. “He’s a leader both offensively and defensively. He provides a sense of calm to our team and he’s one of our better shooters.”

Whether Wroblewski is in tonight’s lineup or not is still uncertain, but one thing that is certain is that Cornell needs to perform well in its next two home games. After the two-game home stand — which begins tonight against Delaware and concludes Friday evening against St. Bonaventure — the Red will embark on a five-game road trip that will see it visit national powerhouses such as Syracuse and the University of Minnesota.

“No matter who you play on the road and how well you play, it is possible to lose each and every road game,” Courtney said. “It’s very difficult to win the road games so we have to take advantage of being home.”

Original Author: Dan Froats