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Thursday, January 7, 2010
Don't forget the mighty Big Red

By Eamonn Brennan

Wednesday night was Cornell's moment in the sun. You know this formula: Tiny Ivy League [or insert mid-major conference of your choice here] team plays to the wire with [dominant, historic program here], but how? Skill? Pshaw. Not skill. Not ability. Not the cold, mathematical reality of efficient hoops. No, it must have been something magic, something inspirational, something about the underdogs having great heart and the will to persevere and just enough luck to, for one night only, go toe-to-toe with the nation's best. It must have been something ... intangible. Was Norman Dale on the sideline?

Nonsense, says The Mid-Majority's Damon Lewis (who, if you can't tell by the name, has turned his obsessive interest in mid-majors into a one-man cottage industry). Lewis says many will jump off the Cornell bandwagon in a few days. Many will forget. After all, they've already forgotten about College Of Charleston, who beat North Carolina just a few days ago. But Cornell is far better than the bandwagon-jumpers deserve:

How this team could stroll into Allen Fieldhouse with such moxie will be "mind-boggling." Honestly, is there that much difference between 16,000 fans in Lawrence, and 10,000 fans in Tuscaloosa? We know better, Hoops Nation. We know better. You'll be told in some spaces how Cornell could make a case for an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament. The real question, however, is how many writers will make that case if the Big Red slip up just once (and it's bound to happen) in the Ivy League? I'd imagine you know the answer.

Remember last night, and how you felt as you watched this game play out. Remember the highs and lows, and embrace them. It's a good dress rehearsal for March. Remember too, that the Big Red didn't arrive last night. A close loss against Kansas doesn't make any team magically better than they were the day before. They've been a very good basketball team for a long time, they know it, and that's why they were able to thrill the masses last night.

All of which is not to say that Cornell is as good as Kansas; obviously, it isn't. Kansas is really, really good. The Jayhawks exist almost on a separate plane from Big Red in regards to funding, recruiting, talent, all of it. But if there's one thing we've learned from the past, oh, 10 years of basketball, it's that the gap between the Kansases and the Cornells of the world is closing more rapidly by the season.

We seem to forget this little piece of information every year. Maybe we like to be pleasantly surprised by the flurry of upsets every March, so we temporarily, unconsciously convince ourselves that upsets don't happen, that the "best" team always wins. (It doesn't hurt this illusion when No. 1 seeds keep going to Final Fours, as in the past two seasons.) And then, with every March upset, we relearn the pleasant fact all over again: Cornell is here, and it didn't show up for fun. Thank goodness for that.