The Stephen Curry led Davidson Wildcats challenged themselves in 2008 with a strenuous non-conference schedule. Five high profile games, including three against North Carolina, Duke, and UCLA gave them one of the toughest schedules in the country.
The problem for that Elite Eight team is the Wildcats lost all five of those games in addition to losing another to Western Michigan.
All those losses were close, which showed Davidson could compete with anyone, but the school's overall NCAA Tournament resume showed nothing but a bunch of close losses and no significant wins.
Despite the not-so-great profile, most pundits argued Stephen Curry should go dancing no matter what if Davidson were to lose in its conference tournament. The argument never came to fruition as the Wildcats didn't lose in their tournament.
Fast-forward to this season. Cornell, the preseason Ivy League favorite is following the same path as Stephen Curry's Wildcats.
This mid-major scheduled extremely well to give the Big Red a chance to prove that they belong in the NCAA Tournament.
Proven they belong the Big Red has.
Cornell opened the season with impressive road wins at Alabama (same Tide team that almost took down Purdue at home) and at Massachusetts. Two respectable losses to Syracuse and Seton Hall followed, but then the Big Red got on a roll.
Wins against St. John's, La Salle, and Davidson later followed, but Cornell's coming out party came in Phog Allen Fieldhouse.
On the road against the top team in the country, the Big Red should have never had a shot against KU if Cornell wasn't a tournament worthy team.
Instead, Ithaca's finest led for 22 consecutive minutes from the end of the first half and deep into the second half and led by as many as eight points. That's no small feat against this year's Kansas squad, especially considering KU has won 50 consecutive games on its home floor, the longest streak in the nation.
Steve Donahue's team clearly executed much better than Kansas throughout the game, but only the Jayhawks' athleticism stopped Cornell's efficient attack.
With Cornell's ability to compete, the Big Red absolutely deserve to make the tournament with a strong run through the Ivy League. It's doubtful that right now there are 34 teams in America that won't win their conference who are better than Cornell.
With Harvard's resume looking strong as well, one win against the Crimson could be enough to secure an at-large bid if Cornell goes 13-1 in league play since the Ivy League has no postseason tournament.
If Harvard also loses just one game (coming against Cornell), then the Big Red could pick up another quality victory against the Crimson in a one game playoff to decide which team receives the Ivy League's automatic bid to the tournament. Of course at that point Cornell wouldn't need the quality win to receive the at-large bid, but it would help significantly with seeding.
The arguments against Cornell are pretty simple—the Big Red are a part of the Ancient Eight. At-large builds for an Ivy League school are unheard of. Davidson's league the year Davidson could have received an at-large bid was ranked 15th by Kenpom.com. This year's Ivy League is 23rd.
An unblemished run through the Ivy isn't as impressive as what Davidson did in the Southern Conference.
The second argument against Cornell is that it's statistical profile isn't that great. Donahue's team ranks 181st in defensive efficiency, which is not becoming of an at-large team. The only team that was remotely in the neighborhood in defensive awfulness to still make the tournament was Arizona last year and the Wildcats were generally considered the last team to make the field.
But Cornell does have one thing going for it. The Big Red can flat out rake from the field. Cornell drops in 43 percent of its three pointers and have an offensive efficiency that rivals rosters chocked full of four and five-star recruits.
Anytime a team score like that, they can hang in and beat any team in the country.
Cornell proved that tonight, falling a handful of points short of the "best" team in the country.
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