Cornell Showing Mixed Results in 2016-17, But Still Reason for Optimism

Matt Morgan (10) scored 34 points in Cornell's first win of the season, an 82-75 decision over Lafayette.
Matt Morgan (10) scored 34 points in Cornell’s second win of the season, an 80-77 decision over Northeastern.

In this year of transition for the Cornell Big Red, the young team has produced mixed results thus far.

With the semester’s finals week upon them, the players have reached the quarter point of their season. Inconsistent play has been the team’s Achilles heel and has limited them to a 2-5 start.

An out-of-the-blue, 28-point effort from Donovan Wright helped the Big Red pull out their first win of the season against the Lafayette Leopards.

The team’s second win was a nail-biter against the Northeastern Huskies, one that came down to the wire. Fellow guard Matt Morgan netted a career-high 34 points, including the game-winning layup. In between the team’s two wins lies the worst loss of the season, a 30-point hammering at the hands of the Houston Cougars.

We have seen two sides to this young Cornell team. In wins, the team has shot over 50% from the floor and its capable ball movement has led to over 18 assists.

Losses, however, have been filled with streaky shooting at best, copious perimeter shots after thwarted attacks, and far fewer assists.  

Big men, Stone Gettings and freshman Josh Warren, have done a nice job when on the floor. They each are averaging 20-24 minutes per game.  Gettings is a 6’9” forward who can shoot the three and get to the basket. While foul trouble has really hurt his minutes, it has had the unintended consequence of carving out a nice role for Warren, who has had success in the paint and on the defensive end.

Although Matt Morgan has picked it up as of late, the guards as a group have been fairly consistent in yielding turnovers or heaving attempted threes.

In fact, each guard averages about one turnover a game.

However, when senior point guard Robert Hatter is able to get into driving lanes he becomes a legitimate weapon as a scorer and a facilitator. In fact, this latter contribution is underscored by Hatter’s top team ranking for assists.  More of his dominant stretches will be needed moving forward.

At a team level, there are some things more effort can’t buy.  The most notable deficiency is size.  That Houston game made this point abundantly clear, with few shots and rebounds from the most contested floor planks.

The team’s biggest man, David Onuorah, apparently fell ill after the season’s first game, in which he scored 5 points in his 20 minutes.  However, we have not seen him on the floor since.

But, there are certainly refinements that are within the power of the team and coaches to make, especially those which can lead to better drive coordination.  More than once, Cornell’s ball has been retrieved from the stands after teammates’ mind-reading mishaps, and games with single-digit assist totals betray room for confident, under-pressure collaboration.

In sum, the team must look more fluid and cohesive if they want to have a chance against high-major teams. Games against the USC Trojans, Syracuse Orange, and Wyoming Cowboys are all coming this month and should provide rigorous proving grounds for all the tweaks that Cornell can apply in upcoming conference play.

– M. Roitman