Go to HoopSpeak.com to read parts one and two of this interview!
Most people think that when Cornell takes the court tomorrow, they will have 40 minutes to pull off one of the biggest upsets in the history of the NCAA tournament, and maybe the universe. Watch out, MonStars!
The SLAM Magazine cover says it all: Cornell is an outstanding college basketball team, but Kentucky will come loaded with four future NBA studs.
It will be the ultimate test of Cornell’s disciplined, the-whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts style of basketball.
But don’t let the SATs fool you. Cornell was one of the only teams in the country that played multiple No. 1 seeds heading into this year’s tournament. Trust me, Kentucky is going to have its hands full guarding the four shooters orbiting around Jeff Foote. Just how brightly Foote shines may determine the winner.
Then again, is there a game plan for this guy?
We’ll find out Thursday night.
Without further ado, here is what Cornell’s players are expecting going into the biggest game of their lives.
HoopSpeak: You guys are a senior-loaded team. You’re going up against Kentucky, with of course the headline freshmen and then Patrick Patterson. How do you think that your experience as a group and as a group playing together will benefit you in this game?
Aaron Osgood: I think that with the senior group we have, I think we are going to stay real poised. A game against Kentucky can really get out of hand quick. We could start turning the ball over and they can get buckets in transition, and then we’re really, you know, playing from behind. And that’s what we don’t want to happen. I think with this experienced group we can stay poised and stick to our game plan and not fall into theirs.
HoopSpeak: Is there any team you’ve seen this year or maybe in the last couple years that kind of gives you an idea of what to expect? I think Kentucky is kind of the epitome of that high major school that is going to have the dribble drive and kick offense. They really want get after you on defense and get a lot of one-on-one out of their sets. Is there a team you’ve seen recently that you guys have talked about to kind of prepare?
A.O.: I guess off the top of my head the only team that really wanted to dribble drive against us was UMass who we played this fall [and beat 74-61], early in the season. And we did well because we really focused on team defense rather than just playing one-on-one, and I think that helped us. And obviously this Kentucky team is a step above UMass, but I think our defensive plan is pretty solid. You really have to dig in against those guys.
HoopSpeak: You are going to be matching up with one of the very quickest backcourts in the country. What are your thoughts on that prospect, and have you seen some players in AAU or coming out of high school that give you an idea of what to expect?
Chris Wroblewski: Definitely. Even with teams this year, and Syracuse who we played last year, we’ve played some really talented guards. We played Sherron Collins down in Kansas who is such an explosive point guard with his size and quickness, and I played Jonny Flynn last year.
So those are guys who probably have similar quickness to John Wall and Eric Bledsoe, but I don’t think anything can really compare to what I’m going to be seeing Thursday night. I don’t think one guy is the answer to stopping either of those guys, so I think we are really going to have to play good team defense.
HoopSpeak: Did you watch the mix tapes of him in high school? Were you thinking then, “I might catch this guy one day in the tournament”?
C.W.: You know what? I was never one of those guys who was looking at the YouTube videos of all these great prospects, so I never really saw the highlight tapes. You know of course I heard about him. And did I think I would be playing in the Sweet 16 against Kentucky? A team with potentially four or five guys who are going to be in the NBA? A few of them probably going have great careers there? No, definitely not.
But I look at it from the perspective that it’s a dream come true. When I first committed to Cornell, I never thought I’d be playing in this kind of venue and environment, rather than that I’m awestruck by the great talent I am going to be seeing. It’s a great opportunity, and we’re going to see who can seize it.
HoopSpeak: I won't ask you about anyone you could see until the final game, but on the other side of the bracket is there anyone you’ve seen that makes you say, “Wow, that team is a lot of trouble?”
C.W.: Well, you know I’m not going to make any predictions, you know we have the toughest test; we’re going to play probably the best team left in the tournament. I’m going to focus on this game.
But, if I was going to predict something as a college basketball fan, I think I would love to see Northern Iowa advance. I think they play a similar style of team basketball, like us, and it’s great to see that [style of play] progress. I also think the Syracuse-Kansas State matchup would be a very fun game to watch, as a fan.
HoopSpeak: Has Mark Coury been telling you about some of the guys he knows on the Cats? Has he been able to give you any useful information? I know they have a new coach and all those freshmen, but is it nice knowing you have someone who’s been on the other side?
C.W.: Well, I think you touched on it a little bit right there. There’s a new coach, it’s really a new team they have down there.
I think when I talked to Mark about it, he said when he was a sophomore Patrick Patterson was a freshman and there might have been one other walk-on [who is still on the team]. So those were really the only two guys who are a constant from the two teams, so don’t think [Coury having knowledge of both teams] adds any kind of benefit there for us.
But I know the coaches have definitely been looking at all the games this season and hours upon hours of film, so I think we’ll be prepared.
HoopSpeak: What do you expect Kentucky, with their personnel, will try to do to disrupt your offense?
C.W.: Well, they are definitely going to try to pressure us. They’re very talented, very athletic, very long. So, I would assume they would really try to pressure us, get us out of the flow of our offense, and maybe do some sort of trapping or something to speed us up and get us out of our plays—maybe make us improvise a little more.
HoopSpeak: What do you expect to be the key to how this game goes down? I thought that in the Northern Iowa-KU game, KU made a big mistake by not full-court pressing more. It looked like at the end of the game they could have used that energy from the press more throughout the game. Is there something along those lines that you see as a key, turning this game one way or the other?
C.W.: To be honest, I think we’ve demonstrated in the first two games that if we play like we have against Temple and Wisconsin, I think we’re going to be very tough to beat. If we’re shooting the ball like that, and running our offense, and taking care of the ball like that, I think it’s going to be a very competitive game.
When talking with these players, I was struck by the number of times they used the exact same phrasing. Talk about a team on the same page. This is a team that plays, thinks, and even speaks as one. How can you avoid rooting for a living, dribbling example of how men can achieve greatness by uniting behind principles of trust, commitment, and shooting the long ball? I’m not going to even try.