The Cornell Big Red slipped on the glass slipper with an 87-69 victory over Wisconsin on Sunday, and set up a showdown with the top-seeded Kentucky Wildcats.
Well, it was fun while it lasted, but there is no chance the Big Red can pull of another stunner against the stronger, more talented Wildcats, right?
Wrong. Cornell absolutely can beat John Calipari’s young Wildcats squad, and here are five reasons why.
Cornell starts four seniors, including leading scorer Ryan Wittman (17.5 ppg) and big man Jeff Foote (12.3 ppg and 8.2 rpg). Furthermore, this is a club that is making their third consecutive appearance in the Big Dance.
While they failed to win a game in their previous two appearances, the experience they gained in the process has already proven invaluable.
On the other hand, Kentucky starts three freshman and no seniors. While there is no doubt that the Wildcats’ freshman trio of John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, and DeMarcus Cousins are simply phenomenal, they certainly lack the valuable game and tournament experience that the Big Red possess.
7’0” 245 pound Jeff Foote has the size and strength necessary to play in the post with monstrous rookie DeMarcus Cousins, who stands 6’11” and tips the scales at 260 pounds.
In addition to possessing the necessary size and strength, Foote is extremely fundamentally sound, and defends in the post intelligently.
Cousins has struggled to contain his emotions during his freshman season, so don’t be surprised if Foote’s intelligent and physical play frustrates Cousins and throw him off his game.
The Big Red lead the nation in three point shooting percentage at 43.2 percent. While the Big Red have six players that can pull up from downtown at any time, Ryan Wittman leads the team with 104 makes on the season.
Knocking down the three is almost always part of the formula for monster upsets in the NCAA tournament. Just ask Northern Iowa’s Ali Farokhmanesh. The Wildcats have been effective at defending the three this season. At 31.1 percent they rank 36th nationally.
However, Cornell has the ability to shoot the light outs. If they get hot, it won’t matter what Kentucky does to defend them.
Cornell has an uncanny ability to control the pace of the game. They like to push on offense and play an aggressive and sometimes confusing style of defense that forces their opponent to push as well. They run the floor extremely well and position themselves on the floor nearly perfectly on both offense and defense.
I know what you’re thinking. Kentucky loves to push too. However, there is one stat you need to consider, turnovers.
The Wildcats averaged 14.4 turnovers per game, second most in the SEC. In fact, they’ve conceded more turnovers this season than they collected. Cornell on the other hand has averaged just 12.2 turnovers per game this season, best in the Ivy League.
Both teams like to push the pace, but the Big Red do a better job of protecting the ball in the process, and turnovers have more of an effect on the outcome of a game than any other statistic.
How many teams do you know that boast two Conference Players of the Year? The answer is one, the Cornell Big Red.
Leading scorer Ryan Wittman was named this season’s Ivy League Player of the Year, while senior leader and point guard Louis Dale (11.9 ppg and 4.8 apg) won the award in 2007-2008.
In addition to the seven-footer Foote, sophomore Chris Wroblewski (8.9 ppg and 3.2 apg) and senior Jon Jacques (6.9 ppg and 2.7 rpg) provide punch for the Big Red, and of course both are lethal from behind the arc.
In addition to their impressive balance, the Big Red are extremely deep. They have nine players who average over 10 minutes per game, and each of the nine subscribes to the hard-nosed, team-first style of play that gives Cornell a legit chance to upset Kentucky in the Sweet 16.
Cornell’s upcoming clash with Kentucky certainly represents a tall task for the Big Red. However, don’t send Cinderella home before she has one more chance to dance, because Ryan Wittman, Louis Dale, Jeff Foote and company may just dance right into the Elite Eight.