The Cornell Big Red are no doubt the sweetheart of the 2010 NCAA Tournament. After all, who doesn't want to see a bunch of smarty-pantses from the lowly Ivy League beat up on a Big Ten Wisconsin squad? The sharpshooting Big Red are the first Ivy League school to advance in the tourney from the Ivy League in over a decade. Plus, they're a No. 12 seed. How's that for a Cinderella?
The next task for Cornell is as tall as a task as anyone will see in the tournament. Beat Kentucky ! There is a chance for Cornell to pull this one out if they stick to a strict game plan. Here are the keys for the Big Red if they want to slay the mighty Wildcats:
1. Hit the Three Pointers : Cornell is the top three point shooting team in the country. They will need the long ball to help them against a team as talented and hot as Kentucky is. If their 3s are not dropping, they'll have to work the inside game against a formidable duo of Demarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson. The ideal stat from distance would be in the 12-18 range.
2. Keep the Big Three Out of Trouble : The Cornell Big Three, Louis Dale, Ryan Wittman, and Jeff Foote must remain in the game for at least 30 minutes apiece. Dale or Wittman get into foul trouble, the perimeter game will take a major blow, along with a loss in the senior leadership department. In regards to 7-footer Jeff Foote, they need him to body up to Demarcus Cousins. After Foote, the only true big man that the Red Storm could put on the floor is former Kentucky player Mark Coury. If the three remain in the game, the Big Red should be able to keep pace with the Wildcats.
3. Play Back On the Perimeter : I know this is not what the tournament calls for, but this is key for Cornell. Kentucky has some of the best drivers in the country in John Wall and Eric Bledsoe. They can flat-out get to the hoop. The three ball has been the Achilles heal for the Wildcats all season. If Cornell allows Wall or Bledsoe to penetrate, it's pretty much a score for UK. If the Big Red challenge Kentucky to shoot, they will miss more times than not.
4. Work the Ball Around : Cornell must take their time and take good shots throughout the game. They must use as much of the 35 as they need to get that shot. If they slow the game down, it will give John Wall and Kentucky less opportunity to play that run n' gun style that they love. The Big Red must be patient and use some baseline screens to get open shots for Ryan Wittman. Efficient possessions are key against a team who can score like Kentucky. They can afford no wasted possessions.
5. Keep the Score in the 60's : Kentucky has a 34-2 record coming into this game. If you look at both of their losses, there is a theme that can be seen. They scored in the 60s in both. Cornell must realize that the 'Cats love when the scoreboard reads a number above 70. They run and get plenty in transition all game long. As stated earlier, the Big Red must be patient and wait for the shot that they're looking for, or else Kentucky will grab those defensive boards and score on fast breaks all day.
Key Defensive matchup: Demarcus Cousins VS. Jeff Foote - The reason why Kentucky is so good is because of their balance in the paint and on the perimeter. If you shut down John Wall, the Wildcats will feed it to Cousins and score down low. Therefore, it is crucial that Jeff Foote takes advantage of his size. He has to body up against Cousins and keep him grounded. If Foote controls the paint, Kentucky will be forced to be more one-dimensional, which will play into Cornell's favor. If not, the Big Red will really be shooting themselves in the foot (and yes, that pun was intended).
Key Offensive matchup: Jon Jaques vs. Patrick Patterson - We all know the offense runs through Ryan Wittman and Louis Dale, but neither of them are the X-Factor on the offensive side of the ball. Jon Jaques gives up height and strength to Patrick Patterson. The thing that Jaques has the Patterson does not is range. If Jaques can get out on the perimeter and hit his mid-range shots, the paint will be more of an opening for a drive or feed to Jeff Foote. This matchup could pose problems for Kentucky if it is executed well by Cornell.
If the Big Red can control the tempo from the get-go and remain patient, they could pull this one out and stun the 'Cats. They pose problems for Kentucky with their lights out shooting and overwhelming experience. This is more than winnable for Cornell if they just keep to the game plan mentioned above.