Basketball season’s first games are done for most teams.
Aand first game performances build excitement or fear across the land. But one game against one opponent is not a whole season.
One performance does not define a year; at least that’s what Kentucky (who lost to the high-speed Virginia Military Institute) needs to remember.
Similarly, tough-to-watch performances by St. John’s, Oregon, and Rutgers might just mean that the players were amped and the shots didn’t fall.
Or, those single performances could be the beginning of an ominous season for the teams who will fall short of expectations, and the start of something surprising for other squads. 6 months of hindsight breeds clarity more than one day. But we still take what we can from our favorite teams’ flaws and hope that a practice or two will help iron those flaws out.
This Monday is the beginning of the preseason NIT. Not all of the games are on television, so fans of the Cornell Big Red and the St. John’s Red Storm will not be able to watch their squads match up on television. One day, the Red Storm will be must-see TV again. But for now, radio will have to do as the teams face off for the first time at Boston College’s Conte Forum.
Cornell Big Red (Ivy League)
Ah, Cornell.The largest of all the Ivies, and the one with state funded schools.
I have a lot of affection for Cornell. My uncle came from his home country to be a Cornell man in the ‘50s, and envisioned me following him (I did not).
My crew of (guy) friends from high school ended up going to Cornell in a group. Ithaca was surprisingly enjoyable, except for being subjected to too much vegan food, bad drumming, and dark dorm rooms (the architecture school was kind of cool, though). And Ithaca is "gorges."
Now that all that’s out of the way, the basketball team is pretty good as well. The Big Red went undefeated in the Ivy League last year behind sharp playmaking from Cousy Award nominee Louis Dale and crisp, no-turnover scoring from Adam Gore and Ryan Wittman (son of embattled Minnesota Timberwolves coach Randy Wittman).
They are excellent from beyond the arc and the free throw line, and don’t turn the ball over much. The Big Red has a 7-footer named Jeff Foote, a transfer from St. Bonaventure, and he can rebound and block shots well. 4/5 ths of the starting five is back, and the beating against Stanford’s Lopez brothers notwithstanding, they pose a tough foe for opposing defenses. And backup forward Jon Jacques has been blogging for the New York Times' the Quad blog.
As a whole, they didn’t go to the offensive glass last year, preferring to get back and defend their own glass. They played a fairly quick pace, and look for their shot; they take a good amount of three pointers as a percentage of their field goal attempts.
If Louis Dale can play, he will be a force to be reckoned with, and Malik Boothe will have to check him. If not, Reeves, Battle, and freshman Chris Wroblewski will be the ball handlers. Wroblewski comes to the Ivy League with a little bit of pub… the kind of unknown who can really make his mark on a game against an opponent who doesn’t know the team. The Big Red is not deep right now, with two of their stalwarts out with injury.
All stats from Friday vs South Dakota
1 C Jeff Foote 7’0" 245 lbs/ Senior/ 6 pts, 5 reb, 4 blk, 4 ast
15 Geoff Reeves 6’4" 180 lbs/ Junior/ 21 pts (47% fg, 63% 3-pt)
20 F Ryan Wittman 6’6" 215 lbs/ Junior/ 25 pts (47% fg, 28% 3-pt, 7-8 FT), 7 reb, 5 ast
33 F/C Alex Tyler 6’7" 235 lbs/ Junior/ 8 pts, 10 reb, 4-4 FT
5 G/F Jason Battle 6’5" 200 lbs/ Senior/ 4 pts, 3 reb
St. John’s Red Storm
St. John’s saw solid performances from F/C Sean Evans and G/F DJ Kennedy, who found gaps in defenses to score and rebound. Kennedy, in particular, was aggressive as he was before Mason came back to the team last year, slashing to the hoop and playing the passing lanes. And his dribble (as well as Evans’) seems to have improved. Justin Burrell was good, except for foul trouble and an inability of the team to get the ball inside to him, which they would concentrate on more.
Anthony Mason Jr. had a rough opening night, and will hopefully get his shooting legs underneath him; his jump shot will be needed in the next game. And Malik Boothe was sharp, when not in foul trouble; he needs to stay on the court at all times, judging by the performance of the backup ball handlers. TyShwan Edmondson and to a lesser extent Quincy Roberts need some more work and practice to get comfortable in the backup point guard role. One hopes that at the very least they will become shoot-first options (if they can shoot) at the point for a few breather minutes. But for now, it is obvious that the team is better with Malik in charge.
The turnover-free performance will have to be repeated and improved upon for the Strom to have success; and an improvement on the shooting and shot selection would help as well.
all stats from Friday vs. LIU
3 PG Malik Boothe 5’9" 180 lbs/ Sophomore/ 6 pts, 6 reb, 5 ast, 3 stl, 3 TO, 40% FG, 25% 3 pt
1 G/F DJ Kennedy 6’6" 210 lbs/ Sophomore/ 23 pts, 7 reb, 2 stl, 57% FG, 33% 3 pt
2 SF Anthony Mason 6’7" 210 lbs/ Senior/ 6 pts, 3 TO, 18% FG, 7 reb, 3 blk
24 F Justin Burrell 6’8" 240 lbs / Sophomore/ 14 pts, 4 reb, 50% FG, 0-2 3 pt, 3 TO, 3 ast
5 F Sean Evans 6’8" 250 lbs/ Sophomore/ 13 pts, 11 reb, 2 stl, 50% FG, 50% FT
Five Points/ Keys to the Game:
Start with the Middle. While the movement and shot selection looked better this year than last, there were not enough touches by Justin Burrell. And he was looking to make plays, passing from double teams, and passing in general. He has to be the focus; he can be a force on offense that way that Sean Evans and his finishing skills are not. But Evans handled himself very well around the basket. The Red Storm needs to look for the easy shot and not just the open shot; especially since an Ivy League team isn’t going to have the interior depth that other squads will.
Do Some Harm. While the fouling in Friday’s game gave all viewers pause, it’s important for St. John’s to make games look a little like wrestling matches instead of H-O-R-S-E contests, because in a pure jump shooting game, the Storm would likely fail at this point in the season. The defense has to be aggressive, physical, and make the turnover-free Big Red struggle to get into sets, and struggle to get the ball to the shooters in the right places. Seeing Coker bang on Cornell 7-footer Jeff Foote and forward Alex Tyler for more than the 8 minutes he logged on Friday would be nice as well.
Judicious Use of the Jump Shot. Anthony was an aptly named (brick) Mason on Friday; and he showed that he can do better and snake into the lane. Some of the shots that were taken on Friday were caused by the sagging man defense, and the size advantage. Just because the defender is playing off the shooters doesn’t mean those offensive players have to play into their hands. That same defense will happen again and again. Move the ball, and use the deep jumper as a final option.
Star Focus. This team will go as far as Justin Burrell and Anthony Mason’s scoring will take them. Point blank, Burrell has to get some more opportunities (and rebounds), and Mason has to get into the lane, and his jump shot has to fall. If not, it’s a long, long season.
Defend Wittman. This goes almost without saying. The forward is the focal point of the offense with teammates Gore and Dale out of action, and St. John’s certainly has the size and talent to harass him. Expect Mason (who showed a dedication to defense) and Kennedy to check the Ancient Eight sharpshooter, and stick to him like… Big Red gum.