Analysis. History. Perspective.

Sports Then and Now

Cornell Men’s Basketball Team Thriving

Posted on February 26, 2010 by Chris Kent
NCAA First Round: Cornell Big Red v Missouri Tigers

Cornell point guard Louis Dale is part of a great senior class.

Ithaca, N.Y. has always prided itself on being home to Cornell University, a prestigious Ivy League School that has put the city on the map globally. Its’ rich academic history is reflected in its’ colleges such as The Johnson School of Management, The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, and the College of Veterinary Medicine. Over the past decade, Cornell has had multiple students be named Rhodes Scholars and four faculty members receive the Pulitzer Prize.

While Cornell will always be recognized academically as one of the world’s premier research and land-grant universities, its’ visibility has also been enhanced by the success of its’ athletic program over the last several years which has added too its’ already great athletic history. The women’s ice hockey team just won its’ first ever Eastern College Athletic Conference regular-season title on Saturday Feb. 20 with a 6-1 win over Union (NY). The men’s lacrosse team has gone to the NCAA Final Four two out of the last three years including last year’s national championship game where they lost a 10-9 heartbreaker to Syracuse in overtime.

The men’s hockey team always plays before sellout crowds at Lynah Rink and has been dominant for decades. Wrestler Jordan Leen won the national championship at 157 pounds in 2008. The women’s basketball team won the Ivy League Championship – its’ first in the program’s history – in 2008. Speaking of basketball, the men’s team also won the Ivy League Championship with an unblemished 14-0 league mark in 2008, their first conference championship in 20 years.

The Big Red men’s basketball team didn’t have to wait long to win another Ivy League Title as they repeated as conference champions in 2009. Cornell athletics has hit the national stage big time and chances are, the men’s basketball team is on the verge of doing it again. The Big Red stands alone in first place in the Ivy League at 9-1 as they host Princeton and Pennsylvania on Friday Feb. 26 and Saturday Feb. 27 respectively. Game time is 7 p.m. each night.

This weekends’ games will mark the final home contests for one of the best senior classes in school history. The starting senior trio of point guard Louis Dale, sharp-shooting 6-foot-7 forward Ryan Wittman, and 7-foot center Jeff Foote (265 lbs.) has been a stellar unit. Yet, it doesn’t stop there as Cornell can turn to experienced seniors off the bench in 6-foot-4 guard Geoff Reeves, 6-foot-7 forward Jon Jacques, and 6-foot-7 forward/center Alex Tyler all of who have started at least four games this season and given quality minutes and production.

Earlier this season, Wittman became the school’s all-time leader in both points scored and 3-point baskets made. He enters this weekend with career totals of 1,908 points and 355 3-pointers in 114 game played. Wittman also tops the team with 17.6 points-per-game and has been a First Team All-Ivy pick each of the last two years along with Dale.

Foote, a dominating presence inside, leads Cornell with 8.4 rebounds-per-game and is second behind Wittman with 12.4 ppg. Foote also leads the team with 52 blocked shots this year (1.9 avg.) and runs the floor well. Skilled with excellent footwork, Foote was named the conference’s first ever Defensive Player-of-the-Year last season as a junior when he was named Second Team All-Ivy for the second straight year.

Dale, the Ivy League Player-of-the-Year in 2008, became Cornell’s all-time leader in assists this season as he surpassed the great Charles “Chuckie” Rolles who tallied 378 from 1953-56. Dale enters this weekend with 439 career assists and leads the team with 4.8 per-game this season. His quickness and instincts allow him to penetrate to the basket and open up passing lanes for Foote or Cornell’s perimeter shooters which besides Wittman includes Jacques (6.6 ppg.) and sophomore starting guard Chris Wroblewski (8.6 ppg.).

All in all, Cornell is a formidable opponent. They have all the pieces and then some to win the Ivy League again and gain the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. No doubt they will be looking for some revenge Saturday night against Penn who handed them their only league loss of the season, a 79-64 setback at the Palestra on Friday Feb. 12. It will also be senior night on Saturday and a sold out Newman Arena with the faithful “Newman Nation” (student section) is expected to rock the decibel level.

Cornell is on the verge of something special. Until last year, they had never repeated as Ivy League Champions. Now they have a chance to three-peat. Penn was the last team to accomplish that feat (2005-07) prior to Cornell’s recent run.

Geoff Reeves provides Cornell with a spark off the bench.

Geoff Reeves provides Cornell with a spark off the bench.

So while Cornell has made plenty of history among its’ faculty and graduates, it is nice to see that these accolades have been complemented by major athletic success which has catapulted the Big Red onto the national scene. Top notch sports broadcasters have taken notice, even in defeat. Renown ESPN college basketball analyst Doug Gottlieb said that when Penn handed Cornell its’ first league loss this season, it was the biggest upset in college basketball to that point this season. That is a strong statement as it speaks volumes to the success that Cornell has had under head coach Steve Donahue, the former Penn assistant coach, now in his 10th year at the helm. March Madness is just around the corner and that is where Cornell will seek to really make its’ mark.

It has been 12 years since an Ivy League team last won an NCAA men’s game. It happened on March 12, 1998 when fifth-seeded Princeton beat 12th-seeded UNLV 69-57 in the first round of the East Region in Hartford, CT. With Cornell having lost to Stanford and Missouri in the first round each of the last two years, the Big Red will be seeking to take something positive from those losses to pull off an upset next month. Then again, maybe it won’t be such an upset. After all, like its’ premier academic history, Cornell is building on a great athletic heritage as well.

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