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Could Cornell be this year's Cinderella?
CAMBRIDGE, Mass.This isn't the same Cornell team that lost to Missouri in the first round of the NCAA tournament a year ago.
"We're light years ahead of last year," Big Red coach Steve Donahue said.
Cornell coach Steve Donahue has the experience and talent to turn Cornell into a Cinderella team come March.
That was clear after watching Cornell hit shot after shot to knock off Harvard, 79-70, in front of a sold-out crowd of 2,195 crammed into Lavietes Pavillion.
Seven-footer Jeff Foote has changed his body and is now able to score in the post.
Point guard Louis Dale is healthy and pushing all the right buttons after battling injuries though much of last season.
Ryan Wittman has improved his all-around game and isn't nearly as one-dimensional of a scorer.
The emergence of Chris Wroblewski has allowed Donahue to move Geoff Reeves into a valuable reserve role, and Jon Jacques has developed into the best power forward he's had in his 10 years at the helm in Ithaca.
No one is going to want to play Cornell come March.
Just ask Kansas coach Bill Self or Sherron Collins.
"He told us about how dangerous Cornell was, but I didn't expect that," Collins said after a five-point win over the Big Red on Jan. 6 in Lawrence.
Just about everyone on the team is capable of making shots. In fact, five players make more than 40 percent of their threes.
Against Harvard, the Big Red made 12-of-23 from beyond the arc. Randy Wittman's kid, Ryan, was 6-for-12 from long distance, and Dale, not exactly known as one of the team's top perimeter marksmen, was 4-for-6 from deep and made three consecutive 3-pointers midway through the second half that basically sealed the outcome.
"They don't miss," added Harvard's talented freshman Kyle Casey.
If you decide to get out and focus on the perimeter shooters, Foote, who is averaging 12.6 points per game and making 61 percent of his shots from the field, will hurt you in the paint.
"He makes us a different team," Wittman said of his 7-foot teammate. "I've never seen a 7-footer be able to pass like him. He's also so different from last year because he takes his time and doesn't rush."
There were questions whether there was a chink in the armor after Penn, a team with just three victories all year, pulled a shocking upset against Cornell a few weeks back.
Maybe Harvard, which sat just a game back from Cornell entering Friday night's matchup, could get revenge for the 86-50 Big Red rout in Ithaca on Jan. 30 and turn the Ivy League title into a virtual toss-up.
"This game was huge for us. No doubt," admitted Donahue. "With no conference tournament, it was without question the most important game I've had in my 10 years here. We couldn't afford to lose."
And they didn't.
Cornell point guard Louis Dale is finally healthy after battling through injuries all of last season.
Kevin C. Cox
Now, Cornell has taken back command of the Ivy League despite the fact the Big Red are just 1/2-game in front of Princeton. Cornell has already beaten Princeton on the road and will play the Tigers again on Jan. 26 on its home floor.
"They don't have any holes," Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said of Cornell after the game.
Dale seemingly makes all the correct decisions, he and his teammates move and share the ball and the Big Red boasts four senior starters with plenty of experience.
The issue in the loss to Penn was a lackluster defensive effort, but that wasn't the case against a Harvard team that featured one of the nation's top guards in Jeremy Lin and also one of the league's rising stars in Casey.
"The key for us is defense," Dale said. "We've got to be able to defend because I think we have a lot of weapons offensively."
Despite Lin finishing with 24 points, the Big Red did a nice job swarming him when he got into the lane and making life difficult for him in the half-court.
Cornell improved to 22-4 with the win and two of the four setbacks came to a pair of potential No. 1 seeds: Kansas and Syracuse. There was also a home loss to Seton Hall and the stunner against Penn.
"I think the loss to Penn kind of woke us up," Dale said.
Dale and his teammates were certainly up to the task on Friday night, and it would be a shock if the Big Red doesn't win the Ivy.
It also wouldn't be much of a surprise if Donahue's team pulls a first-round upset the first weekend of the Big Dance.
"We've got senior leadership and a lot more confidence," Wittman said. "But we've got to make the tournament first."
"They are capable of making a Davidson-like run," Amaker said while referring to Stephen Curry and Davidson nearly knocking off Kansas two years ago in the Elite Eight. "We're not ready to beat those guys, but not many are."
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