Men’s Basketball: Season Preview
Coming off a 10-18 year, the sixth consecutive losing season under Bill Courtney, Cornell decided to cut ties with the former coach. With his departure, former Princeton Assistant Coach Brian Earl is now tasked with leading the Big Red to an Ivy League title, a feat that Cornell hasn’t accomplished since its famed Sweet 16 run in 2009-10.
Although this will be Earl’s first stint at the helm of a program, he previously coached in the Ivy League for nine years and also played at Princeton, finishing his collegiate career fifth on the Tigers’ all-time scoring list and currently holds the record for most wins by any player in Princeton history. Therefore, he is quite familiar with the Big Red and the rest of the Ancient Eight.
“I don’t have any specific goals in terms of wins and losses,” Earl said. “However, I am looking for our team to play the right way, such as taking good shots and playing good defense.”
He will be aided by the fact that Cornell will return all five of last season’s starters, and 11 varsity players overall.
“We have almost everyone back from last year, and certainly everyone’s goal is to win the coveted Ivy League championship,” senior guard Robert Hatter said. “We are just trying to improve everyday, so that when the Ivy League schedule comes around, we will be playing our best.”
In order to acquaint himself with the team, Earl and company took a trip to Spain at the end of the summer. The Big Red won all three games played in Barcelona, Madrid, and Valencia.
“We were able to play against some good competition, and we figured out where some of the holes were on the court,” Earl said. “It also helped with getting to know the guys and them getting to know us. It was nice to get the three wins and, ultimately, to get a jump on the season.”
This year, the team will be led by the experienced, volume scoring backcourt of Hatter and sophomore Matt Morgan. Over the three games in Spain, Morgan averaged 14 points per game and seven rebounds, while Hatter added 13.3 points per game and almost seven rebounds as well.
“It is tremendous sharing a backcourt with him,” Hatter said. “It relieves a lot of pressure on me as both a point guard and a scorer. He makes me better, and I think that I make him better as well. Honestly, he is like a little brother to me.”
After the time in Europe and a full preseason of practices, the media is still skeptical about how successful this experienced team will fare in the difficult Ivy League. In fact, Cornell was selected to finish in seventh place in the conference. However, in each of the past two seasons, the Big Red has fared better than its preseason projections.
Last year, Cornell was very inefficient in terms of scoring the basketball, averaging a lowly 34.1% on three pointers, 42% on field goals, and an astonishing 65.1% on free throws, which ranked 320 of 351 Division I teams. The Big Red relied heavily on Morgan and Hatter offensively, with the two combining to average 36 points per game and taking nearly half of Cornell’s total field goal attempts on the season.
Defensively, the team is anchored by senior center David Onuorah, who started all 28 games last year and led the squad in both blocks and rebounds by a large margin.
“I expect to perform at a high level and to make my last year here my best year,” Onuorah said. “This is the last time that I will be able to wear the Cornell jersey, and I am not taking any days for granted at this point. I am trying to maximize my days, and I am trying to make sure that I enjoy the process of my final go-around.”
Earl will be looking for help on both ends of the floor from sophomore forwards Stone Gettings and Donovan Wright, both of whom rarely saw the court last season under Courtney.
The Big Red will open its season this Friday when the team travels to Binghamton. Last year, Cornell defeated the Bearcats 76-59 at home. The squad will then begin its 11-game home slate when the Big Red hosts Colgate next Wednesday, November 16th. Cornell defeated the Raiders 101-98 in double-overtime in last season’s matchup.
“You never know what to expect in the first few games, so we are going to roll with the punches at the beginning, and we will try to stick to our strengths,” Earl said.