Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas
Cornell came in to Madison Square Garden on December 21 and beat St. John’s of the Big East, 71-66, to win their first-ever Holiday Festival. The reaction in New York, focusing virtually only on St. John’s, a struggling team in recent years trying to regain their past glory, was “How can St. John’s be any good when they lost to Cornell?” One “expert” even said that, just when St. John’s was getting some votes as a top 25 team, they go and lose to Cornell. Cornell!!!” As if it was some kind of punch line.
CORNELL IS FOR REAL THIS SEASON
As often happens, people are slow to realize what’s happening. Especially in college basketball. In fact, St. John’s is making a comeback. They are better than they’ve been the last few seasons. The powers-that-be at St. John’s have been beyond patient with coach Norm Roberts in today’s world of you’d better win now. Hopefully, he holds on.
But whether anybody knows it or not, Cornell is for real this year.
While Penn and Princeton seemed to have won the Ivy League title every year for what seems like the last 30 years, unbeknownst to most, Cornell has been the Ivy League Champion the last two years. And their roster isn’t an Ivy League roster. They have a seven-foot center who can play. They have the son of an NBA player who can shoot the lights out. They have a point guard who was the Player of the Year in the Ivy League two years ago as a sophomore. And they have an excellent shooting sophomore who was the Ivy League Rookie of the Year last season.
While St. John’s was getting some top 25 votes last week, it says here that Cornell will be a top 25 team before the year is out.
THREE SENIORS WHO CAN REALLY PLAY
Senior Ryan Wittman has been getting most of the publicity for Cornell. The son of former NBA player Randy Wittman and already the second all-time leading scorer in Cornell history, Ryan Wittman lit up Davidson for 29 in the first round of the Holiday Festival at MSG, including a game-winning deep three at the buzzer to beat Davidson in overtime. While limited to 10 points in the final, Wittman is a deadly shooter who commands so much attention that it gives others open shots. Now averaging over 18 points a game and making plenty of big shots, he’s also commanding attention from NBA scouts. Whether he can make it at the next level is an open question, but you get the gist that he’s much more than just a good Ivy League player.
Senior Jeff Foote is the sleeper in the group, but he’s also now commanding the attention of the scouts who are showing up to watch Wittman. A seven-footer who can play, Foote is averaging 14 points and 9.5 rebounds a game. His coming out party might have been at the Garden, where he was the Holiday Festival Tournament MVP by averaging 17.5 points, 12.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.5 blocks per game in the tournament.
Senior Louis Dale is the point guard who runs the show for coach Steve Donahue. He was the Ivy League Player of the Year two years ago as a sophomore, no mean feat, even in the Ivy League. Dale is cool under pressure and scored the game-tying basket in the last second against Davidson in the first round of the Holiday Festival to send the game into overtime. Dale is solid all around, averaging just under 10 points, with just over five assists and three rebounds per game.
OTHERS HELP AS WELL
Sophomore Chris Wroblewski was the Ivy League Rookie of the Year last season. He shoots 94% from the foul line, is a good three-point threat and is averaging 10.9 points a game.
Senior Jon Jaques was the surprise star of the win over St. John’s, going 7-8 from the field (including 5-6 from three-point range) to lead Cornell with 20 in the Holiday Festival Final.
Cornell even has a senior, Mark Coury, who started for Kentucky two years ago and transferred to Cornell. Coury was 3-3 off the bench in the win over St. John’s.
WHO HAVE THEY BEATEN?
Coach Donahue has intelligently scheduled a bunch of road games early on this season. Cornell has answered the bell: they have a seven-game winning streak and have road wins at Alabama, UMass, Toledo, Drexel and Bucknell in addition to their two MSG wins. Ivy League teams just don’t do that. In addition, they have road games at La Salle and at Kansas (yes, Kansas) in the next two weeks.
Their two losses have been in the Carrier Dome against top team Syracuse and at home to a better-than-you-think Seton Hall squad.
NCAA TOURNAMENT FACTOR?
Well, Cornell probably has to win the Ivy to get the automatic bid because it’s hard to believe that the committee would give an at-large bid to an Ivy. Harvard is good this year and could give Cornell a run for its money.
But it says here that Cornell wins the Ivy, is ranked in the top 25, gets a higher than normal seed (for an Ivy) and beats somebody in the first round in March. Maybe two wins.
And the seniors go out in a blaze of glory.
We’ll see what happens.
© Copyright 2009 by Steve Kallas. All rights reserved.