As the Cornell men’s basketball enters its fourth year under head coach Brian Earl, there seem to be more questions than answers surrounding the Red.
The team will be tasked with replacing the leading scorer in program history Matt Morgan ’19, who ended his tenure at Cornell last semester as the second-highest scorer in Ivy League history with 2,333 points.
While the loss of Morgan is brutal for a team that has not reached the NCAA Tournament since the squad’s 2010 run to the Sweet Sixteen, the Red will also be without Steven Julian, Joel Davis, Troy Whiteside and Jack Gordon. Julian led the 2018-19 team in rebounding and was named the Ivy League defensive player of the year. Additionally, all five graduated players participated in at least 22 games last season and comprised nearly 48% of the minutes played by last year’s team.
“It’s just the nature of college basketball, that every four years you will have a completely new team,” Earl said. “Granted, this year will probably be the biggest change since I have been here, but you don’t just fold up the tent and say ‘we can’t score’ or ‘we can’t rebound’ because of who left.
“The team is obviously going to be very different this year, which doesn’t mean that we can’t be as good, or even better than last season,” Earl continued.
Despite finishing .500 in Ivy League play last season and making an appearance in the CIT, expectations will be tapered this year. Earl cites that several players will need to take on a bigger role if the team expects to make an impact in 2019-20.
Entering the season, Cornell is expected to finish tied for seventh place in the conference according to the preseason media poll. The Red received just 33 votes, which was tied with Dartmouth. Meanwhile, Harvard, the team predicted to top the Ancient Eight, garnered 134 votes.
The Red will rely heavily on the big man duo of junior Jimmy Boeheim and senior Josh Warren to carry the load in terms of scoring and rebounding. The two finished second and third respectively on the team last year in terms of points per game at 11.8 and 9.7, respectively. Additionally, they were among the four best rebounders.
“Going into the season, we are pretty optimistic about how our team looks,” Boeheim said. “We are going to be a very different team, but personally, I am just trying to build off of my season last year and keep improving.”
The pair, along with junior guard Terrance McBride, were named captains for the upcoming campaign, so Earl expects them to not only take a step forward on the court, but also in a leadership role for the group.
“There has been a lot of growth from everyone on the team since the beginning of the season,” Boeheim said. “We have been excellent at moving the ball and sharing it with one another, which has been really encouraging as we get towards the end of the preseason.”
Not only will these three returners need to step up for Cornell to have a chance to compete for the Ivy League title this season, but Earl stressed the importance of former role players such as junior guard Bryan Knapp, junior forward Riley Voss, senior forward Thurston McCarty and sophomore guard Dean Noll to play much more substantial roles on the court when the season tips off on Tuesday.
Cornell has also added four freshmen, Marcus Filien, Greg Dolan, Chuks Uzoka and Jordan Jones. While Earl is not trying to put pressure on these four players early in the year, he acknowledged that their play could be vital for success during the latter half of the season.
“I don’t think that our team is going to look the same next week in our season opener as we will by the end of the year,” Earl said. “We have a lot of young, inexperienced players who are talented, but ultimately, it will take time. I don’t know if it will take five minutes, five games or five months, but I’m confident in the guys that we have here.”
Earl and the team will get their first test of the season when they host Binghamton on Tuesday night at 7 p.m.