By ADAM BRONFIN
After a forgettable 2-26 season last year, Cornell men’s basketball looks to regain its footing and return to prominence in the Ivy League. Last season was marred by injuries and the Red began 2013-14 with 13 consecutive losses. Cornell stumbled to a 1-13 conference record and finished last or next to last in nearly every meaningful statistical category including points for and against, field goal percentage, rebounds and assists.
But that season is history and Cornell is ready to start fresh and take on the 2014-15 season. Head coach Bill Courtney said he is confident that the squad has moved beyond last year’s disappointing campaign.
“When you go through what we went through last year, you can go two ways with it. It can either bury you, or you can come out of it and learn from it,” he said. “I think all of our guys have learned from it.”
Courtney said he believes in the Red. After his team finished last in the Ancient Eight last year, Courtney has his sights set on the Ivy League title.
With the return of forward Shonn Miller, this goal may be in reach. Miller, arguably one of the best players in the Ivy League, returns to the team after missing all of last season due to a shoulder injury. Miller, a 6’ 7” senior, was first team All-Ivy in his sophomore season, averaging 11.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 1.9 blocks per game.
“[Miller] should have an absolutely terrific year on both ends of the floor, offense and defense,” Courtney said. “He affects so many things, we’re looking to him to have a player-of-the-year type season.”
Miller’s co-captain, senior Devin Cherry, will also be a huge factor this season. Cherry averaged 12.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game last season and will likely be tasked with more responsibilities on offense as he will look to fill the void created by Nolan Cressler’s transfer to Vanderbilt. Courtney said the 6’3” point guard has worked on his shot relentlessly and is ready for a big season.
Miller and Cherry will be part of a strong senior core that also includes center Deion Giddens and guard Galal Cancer. Cancer didn’t play last year and Giddens watched most of the season on the bench with a knee injury. This year marks the first time the group has played together since their sophomore years.
Cornell, with newfound depth, will try to press full-court on defense, forcing opponents into turnovers. These turnovers should lead to fast-break buckets for the Red. With this aggressive style of basketball, mistakes are more likely to pile up, but Courtney said that the Red’s discipline and conditioning will allow the team to be successful.
“The guys have been working hard to be in great shape. It’s working pretty good, but we’re a work in progress still,” he said. “It’s definitely going to be an attacking style of defense where we want the opponent to react to us at all times.”
While last year the Red also ran an up-tempo style of play, Courtney says this year the squad is talented enough that they will be playing offense and defense at “warp speed.”
“Our biggest strength is our speed and our quickness, and we’re going to try to play to that,” he said. “It’s going to be an extremely exciting brand of basketball.”
Cornell tips off this season with a contest against George Mason on Friday at 7:30. The Red will travel to Fairfax, Virginia, to take on the Patriots who finished last year 11-20, including 4-12 in the Atlantic 10 Conference, good for 13th in the conference. The team graduated several key weapons but sophomore Jalen Jenkins and senior Eric Copes could step up this season as offensive threats.
George Mason will likely use its big front court to lock down the paint and force the Red to take perimeter shots. A key to the game will likely be whether or not Cornell can edge the Patriots in rebounding. Last year, the Red was outrebounded by a margin of 4.7 rebounds per game.
“We’re not the biggest team in the world, so we’re going to have to do a great job blocking out,” Courtney said. “But if we can clear the boards, we feel that we can get the ball out and run.”
Five years removed from its NCAA Sweet Sixteen appearance, the Red has yet to post a winning record under Courtney. He admits he doesn’t quite know this team’s fate, but has faith in the squad.
“We’re just going to go out and play as hard as we can and kind of let the chips fall where they may,” he said. “But that being said, we think we have a group that can do some special things.”