College Basketball Nation: Cornell Big Red

Look back, look ahead: Ivy League

April, 23, 2014
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Harvard is no longer a one-year wonder, a trendy upset pick or a unique story in college basketball.

The Crimson have arrived as a regular.

[+] EnlargeTommy Amaker
Andrew Richardson/USA TODAY SportsTommy Amaker turned down jobs from power conferences to stay at Harvard.
Nothing can be taken for granted in the sport, but the Crimson are suddenly expected to produce winning teams that compete for the Ivy League title, get to the NCAA tournament and, yes, actually win a game once they get there.

The Crimson have won the automatic berth three years in a row, winning a tournament game the past two seasons as a 14-seed and a 12-seed, beating New Mexico and Cincinnati, respectively.

Harvard coach Tommy Amaker is in the renaissance of his career. He has transformed the sport on campus. He has made it cool to come to the games, to follow the team and alumni are relishing being able to travel to NCAA tournament games.

Amaker could have left for Boston College. Cal too, if he wanted the job. But the Crimson are working on a new contract and trying to take care of him. Harvard works at a glacial pace at this sort of thing, because it’s not used to competing for coaches the way in which it does for faculty. The commitment, however, is there. There are even plans to upgrade facilities.

And being the coach who put Harvard into the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1946 and kept it there has enchanted Amaker enough to stay in Cambridge for the foreseeable future.

The normalcy of being a double-digit seed that wins has even been overshadowed.

"People forget we were a 14- and a 12-seed," Amaker said. “And it was the first time in 30 years that a team had won games in the NCAA tournament from the Ivy in back-to-back years. I was stunned when I saw that."

But breaking down barriers for Harvard is nothing new on campus and now in the Ivy.

This is the new normal. And Harvard will be the favorite again.

What we saw this season: The Ivy League had its best postseason run in its 58-year history. Five teams went to the postseason with Harvard (NCAA), Princeton (CBI) and Brown, Columbia and Yale (CIT), and the league had eight postseason wins.

Putting multiple teams in the postseason occurred for the fourth time in five years.

The last team to win consecutive NCAA tournament games was Princeton in 1983 and ’84.

Harvard won a school-record 27 games and a school-high 13 games in the Ivy League as well as the first undefeated road record in the Ivy in the school’s history.

Yale made it to the CIT title game before losing to Murray State. It was the first time an Ivy League team played for a postseason title since 1975, when Princeton played for the NIT title.

These tournaments might not resonate nationally, especially the CIT, but the results matter. The Ivy League is showing dramatic improvement, and the stronger it gets, the more its champ gets challenged, giving it a legitimate shot to advance in the NCAAs.

"We're trying to be a top-10 league next year," Columbia coach Kyle Smith said. "Watch out WCC, Missouri Valley and Horizon.

"We had five postseason teams, an 8-5 postseason record, Kenpom had us as the 13th-best league, Columbia had a buzzer-beater at Valpo, Harvard and Columbia played a double-overtime game at Columbia which was the best game in 2014 and only 3,200 people witnessed."

[+] EnlargeArmani Cotton
AP Photo/Jessica HillWith Armani Cotton, left, returning, Yale could challenge Harvard for the Ivy League crown.
What to expect next season: Yale coach James Jones said next season could be the best the entire league has ever been. He said five teams could reach 20 wins.

Harvard will be picked as the favorite, even with the departure of Brandyn Curry, Kyle Casey and Laurent Rivard.

The Crimson return a strong core of Wesley Saunders, Siyani Chambers and Steve Moundou-Missi, with the likely emergence of Zena Edosomwan, Corbin Miller, Agunwa Okolie, Jonah Travis and a healthy Kenyatta Smith.

"Their inside game will be very formidable," Smith said of the Crimson. Chambers should be the top guard in the league, too.

Yale will likely be the No. 2 pick behind Harvard with the return of Justin Sears, Javier Duren, Armani Cotton, Brandon Sherrod, Nick Victor, Matt Townsend and Jack Montague.

Dismissing Princeton would be a mistake. Tigers coach Mitch Henderson said this team has something to prove, and seven returners, a strong finish to the season and a commitment to defense mean this team has a real shot to be a contender.

Smith said he envisions a bunched-up group in the middle of the pack with any number of teams emerging. Columbia and Brown are the most likely teams to pop out of this group with Alex Rosenberg, Maodo Lo, Cory Osetkowski, Steve Frankoski and Grant Mullins leading the Lions, while Cedric Kuakumensah and Rafael Maia should be the focus for Brown.

Dartmouth, Penn and Cornell are unknowns at this point, but the Quakers rarely stay down for long. The Ivy doesn’t have a postseason tournament, but Amaker has said it's a 14-game tournament with every game counting as much as the next. The chances of getting multiple bids in the NCAA tournament -- which has never happened -- rests solely on whether a second team can win quality nonconference games and push the Crimson to a playoff. It's not crazy to consider.

"Our league will be incredibly balanced and strong next year," Amaker said. "Our league will be very underrated."

Video: Duke 88, Cornell 47

December, 19, 2012
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Top-ranked Duke got 18 points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocks from Mason Plumlee as it blew out Cornell in the second half of its 88-47 victory.

ESPN.com's Ivy League preview

November, 2, 2012
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Before we get to the Blue Ribbon team-by-team previews for the Ivy League, here is Eamonn Brennan's quick wind sprint through the league:



Here are Blue Ribbon's in-depth previews of all eight Ivy teams: Insider

Brown
Columbia
Cornell
Dartmouth
Harvard
Penn Insider Free
Princeton
Yale

Highlights: Harvard 67, Cornell 63

March, 3, 2012
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Harvard defeats host Cornell 67-63, assuring the Crimson at least a share of the Ivy League championship.

ESPN.com's Ivy League preview

October, 18, 2011
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Before we get to the Blue Ribbon team-by-team previews for the Ivy League, here is Diamond Leung's one-minute wind sprint through the league:


Blue Ribbon breakdowns of all eight teams in the Ivy:

Brown
Columbia
Cornell
Dartmouth
Harvard
Pennsylvania InsiderFree
Princeton
Yale

More Ivy League content:
Remember when plucky runs to the Sweet 16 were enough to make you a darling? You'll forgive us if we're no longer so easily impressed. In 2011, Virginia Commonwealth and Butler shattered the very notion of Sweet 16 darlings, proving that anyone -- small school or large, from the shakiest bubble team to one that lost to Youngstown State on Feb. 3 -- could upend the traditional hoops hierarchy and beat the most talented and well-heeled programs in the country in the games that mattered most.

Still, the Big Red's run in 2010 was pretty cool. Unfortunately, Cornell met Kentucky in the Sweet 16, and as DeMarcus Cousins, one of the five Wildcats selected in the first round of the draft later that summer, famously put it: "We're here to play basketball. It's not a spelling bee." UK throttled Cornell, ending the Ivy League darling's run and (if only briefly) restoring college hoops' postseason pecking order.

So what are the Big Red up to these days? The New York Times caught up with them at the 92nd Street Y, where five former Cornell stars -- Jeff Foote, Ryan Wittman, Louis Dale, Jon Jaques and Aaron Osgoodwere -- were beginning what sounds like a rather awkward afternoon in the yoga studio:
There, the five former Cornell standouts — Foote, Ryan Wittman, Louis Dale, Jon Jaques and Aaron Osgood — settled on undersize mats in the front row of the dimly lighted class, staggering their positions to avoid hitting one another with their arms during the stretches. For the next 1 hour 25 minutes, the five labored through an intermediate yoga class of 13 women and 2 other men as the instructor rattled off instructions with the faint sound of music in the background.

“It’s a little difficult when you’re 7 feet tall versus 5-10 like Louis,” said Foote, who needed special attention from the instructor throughout the session. “We used to do it as a team a little at Cornell, but never quite like that.”

Wittman, the 2010 Ivy League player of the year, said: “We probably should be in a beginner’s class, but we decided to give it a try.” He added: “I’ve noticed a big difference since I began doing it this summer. It helps with flexibility, quickness and durability.”

Eventually, I'm going to get myself to a beginner's yoga class. Seriously. I'll swallow my pride if everyone I know that does yoga -- dudes included, but mostly females -- stops telling me how much better it makes you feel. Deal? Deal.

Anyway, the Cornell gents aren't just mucking around in Downward-Facing Dog for the fun of it. It's part of a summer workout regimen that includes "skill drills, two-on-two games and weight lifting as often as six days a week."

Why all the work? Because four of the five have either received or are entertaining various offers from overseas clubs. Wittman played summer league games with NBA teams and signed with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants last year -- home of the most terrifying mascot in all of sports -- before eventually making the trek to Italy. This year, Wittman's NBA dreams are even more unlikely, thanks to a lockout that has basically frozen any unsigned free agents and rookies out of roster contention until further notice.

In any case, the group sounds like a tight-knit one. Almost like the Entourage bros. I'm not sure where yoga at the 92nd Street Y lands on the spectrum of eternal bro-ness, but hey, whatever works, right?

Cornell's basketball coach gets unique title

May, 3, 2010
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At most places, the men's basketball coach is just that: "Head men's basketball coach." Or "head coach of the men's basketball team." Or, if he's especially well-entrenched, maybe "associate athletic director (men's basketball)." You get the point.

Not at Cornell. The Ivy League has lots of cool traditions -- or, depending on your perspective, lots of hoity-toity customs -- and the men's basketball position at Andy Bernard's alma mater is no different. At Cornell, the men's hoops coach is officially called the Robert E. Gallagher '44 men's basketball coach. To paraphrase Mr. Bernard, ever heard of it?

I hadn't actually, but that's the position filled by Bill Courtney, the newest men's basketball coach at Cornell. Courtney will replace Steve Donahue, who led the Big Red to their most successful season ever in 2009-10 before leaving to take the head men's position at Boston College. As far as I can tell, the Robert E. Gallagher '44 thing is a reference to the class of 1944, and Gallagher's contributions therein. If any Cornell grads want to come out of the woodwork in the comments and give us the whole story, please do. In the meantime, we love you, Ivy League. Your quirkiness -- or, again depending on your perspective, haughtiness -- never fails to entertain.

Speaking of the Ivy League, Cornell wasn't the only program to fill a vacant position this weekend. Columbia hired Saint Mary's assistant Kyle Smith to replace former coach Joe Jones, who left the school to join Donahue as an assistant at Boston College. The hire, like Courtney's, makes sense; Smith was a longtime assistant at a very successful small Division I program and will have a good handle on what it takes to win in a league that gives its coaches funny titles.
And hey, why should they? It was one of the most successful seasons in Ivy League history, let alone Cornell basketball history. That's the sort of season you want to remember in handy video montage format, which is exactly what the Cornell fans at The Cornell Basketball Blog have done.

Notable cameos -- besides Ryan Wittman, Jeff Foote, and the rest of the team, obviously -- include ESPN personalities like Jay Bilas and Dick Vitale. Naturally, there's also a little clip of Barack Obama giving the Big Red the presidential seal of approval in picking No. 12-seeded Cornell over No. 5 Temple, an upset that just about everyone except yours truly picked. Still a little sore about that.

In any case, if you hopped on the Cornell bandwagon a little late and wanted to see some of the team's early season highlights, this montage is for you. It's probably best to enjoy now, because repeating this season will be a tall task in 2010-11. Last year's was a senior-laden team -- Wittman, Foote, and guard Louis Dale are all graduating this spring, along with six other members of the team -- and with coach Steve Donahue leaving the school to take on a rebuilding project at Boston College in the wake of Al Skinner's departure, Cornell basketball might soon fade into its own transitional period. Remember 2010 well, Cornell fans. It was an awfully good one, and it might be a while before it happens again.

Kentucky defense derails Cornell

March, 26, 2010
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John WallRichard Mackson/US PresswireJohn Wall and Kentucky are one win away from reaching the Final Four.
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -– Watching John Wall get out on the break can be intoxicating.

Seeing DeMarcus Cousins control the paint at times can be intimidating.

When Kentucky has Eric Bledsoe finishing with a thunderous dunk or Patrick Patterson scoring inside or out, the Kentucky offense can be a machine.

What has been somewhat lost is just how dismantling the Wildcats’ defense has become this season.

But during a 62-45 win against Cornell on Thursday night at the Carrier Dome, you couldn’t help but be romanced by UK’s defense for a 15-minute stretch that was as stifling as any team has put on another at this level.

“They saw blood,’’ Cornell coach Steve Donahue said. “Give them credit. We lost our poise and we lost the game.’’

Cornell was doing everything it wanted for the first five minutes of the East Regional semifinal game. The Big Red had the crowd, a 10-2 lead and a national audience thinking the unthinkable.

And then something snapped.

It was as if a magician had just gone poof with some smoke and suddenly Cornell’s confidence, offensive execution and ability to win the game were gone in a flash.

Kentucky outscored Cornell 30-6 the rest of the half. The Wildcats would be up 38-30 with just over eight minutes left in the game before the offense finally unleashed for what was a never-very-easy win and a date with 2-seed West Virginia in Saturday’s Elite Eight.

“It was the best defense we’ve played all year,’’ said Patterson. “It was a total team effort. Coach Cal told us to shut down the 3-pointer shooters and make them take tough twos. We had to get our hands up every time they shot the ball.’’

Man, it was something to behold.

At the beginning of the season, Kentucky was a bit of a sieve on 3-point defense as teams like Sam Houston State and Miami (Ohio) had their way with 3s.

“We were awful,’’ Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “When you play prevent defense, you lose, it prevents you from winning. If you blitz, you win.’’

Donahue was pleased with how easily the Big Red were able to execute their offense in wins over Temple and Wisconsin in the first two rounds of this tournament. Against the Cats, Cornell couldn’t do much for that 15-minute stretch that signified the end of the game, even if the Big Red did cut the lead to six at one point late. The message was clear for that stretch that Kentucky could change the outcome by tightening its defense.

The difference for Donahue was seeing Cousins live.

Throughout the season, Cornell’s 7-foot center Jeff Foote could get the ball in the post and then see if he could score. Thursday that didn’t happen after the first few possessions.

“(Cousins) doesn’t look like he’s that flexible but he is,’’ Donahue said. “He’s way more impressive in person as an athlete. He doesn’t look like he can move quick but he can. He’s got good hands and a sense on how to play. He could probably play harder for longer. But he does everything else. He’s incredible.’’

Foote finished going just 3-of-8 for eight points and two turnovers. Cousins made 7 of 8 shots and did have four turnovers, but he also forced four with four steals.

“It was team defense,’’ Calipari said. “Our five-man helped. Our four-man helped. We made them take tough shots. It takes discipline and early our young guys didn’t have that. We’re 37 games in now.’’

Darius Miller said Kentucky hadn’t figured out how to defend early in the season. Teams were knocking down 3s and “breaking records on us. We’ve come a long way.’’

Calipari doesn’t get the credit of being a defensive-minded coach. But he has made the Wildcats defend. Why do you think Kentucky looks so fantastic on the break? It’s because the Wildcats are forcing turnovers.

“At the beginning of the season, none of us knew how to guard screens and guard the 3,’’ Wall said. “You can’t stop. You have to keep chasing and not let them get an open look.’’

Kentucky had a few lapses again later in the second half, but the Big Red’s 5-of-21 shooting on 3s was no fluke. Sure, Donahue said the Big Red did get some good looks that didn’t go down but they were mostly contested.

“They took the challenge of seeing how we executed last week and took us out of our stuff,’’ Donahue said. “I was disappointed in our guys that we didn’t give it another 10 seconds (during the possessions). We lost our poise and that hasn't happened for a long, long time.’’

Kentucky has been perceived at times as having plenty of flash and not enough substance. That’s simply wrong. The Wildcats defend as well as any team in the country when they apply themselves. Teams like Butler get credit for the low field-goal percentages and scores. But UK needs to get credit for how tough it defends. Cornell couldn’t figure it out.

And if Kentucky is locked in defensively for three more games, no one else will be able to either.

Denis ClementeAP Photo/Paul Sakuma Denis Clemente (21) and Kansas State celebrated a double-overtime victory over Xavier on Thursday.
OK. Deep breaths.

The first night of the Sweet 16 is officially in the books, and it was officially awesome. Four games, one upset, one truly dominating performance by the tournament's new prohibitive favorite, and this year's best postseason game -- a Gus Johnson-narrated double-overtime thriller you can expect to see replayed more than once in the coming years. Let's see: Yep. That pretty much sums it up.

Alongside West Virginia's easy, ugly win over Washington, Butler's unlikely victory over heavily favored No. 1-seed Syracuse led the night off. That was a pretty fantastic start. But if you thought that was as good as the night was going to get -- this was not an unreasonable stance -- you were wrong. That's when Xavier-Kansas State happened.

Where to start? At the beginning, I suppose: Kansas State rushed out to an early lead, and for the first 12 minutes it looked like the Wildcats would handle X easily. But the Musketeers, led by Jordan Crawford, came storming back, drawing the game even at the half. Things didn't separate much after that, leading to a final sequence that would baffle even the most hardened of college basketball watchers. Up by three with a few seconds left, Kansas State tried to foul Xavier point guard Terrell Holloway. By the time the referees called the foul, Holloway was in the act of shooting, giving him -- yes, this was as unbelievable as it sounds -- three free throws to tie the game and send it into overtime. He made all three.

In overtime things got even crazier. Down three with 10 seconds left, Crawford made an absolutely nuts 35-foot 3-pointer to tie the game. Denis Clemente's speed drove him to a great look at the buzzer, which missed, sending the game to another overtime -- the first 2OT game in the Sweet 16 since 1997. XU guard Dante Jackson had a chance to tie the game late before Kansas State finally pulled away thanks to two clutch Jacob Pullen 3s and a couple of key defensive stops. Just like that, the best game of the tournament was over.

The statistical wreckage: 83 possessions each. Offensive efficiency ratings of 119.1 and 118 for Xavier and K-State, respectively. Thirty-two points for Crawford; 26 for Holloway. Twenty-eight points for Pullen; 25 for Clemente; 21 for Curtis Kelly, whose low-post efficiency kept the Wildcats alive in the first overtime. All together, one very special win for Frank Martin and his team, who will advance to face the aforementioned Butler Bulldogs on Saturday night.

[+] EnlargeJohn Wall
Richard Mackson/US PresswireJohn Wall had eight points and eight assists in Thursday's win.
OK. More deep breaths. Does that about cover it? Barely.

Then there was Kentucky-Cornell, which was, despite the gulf in final score, entertaining in its own way. The Big Red, buoyed by a rowdy crowd just 50 or so miles down the road from their home in Ithaca, N.Y., opened up a 10-2 lead in the first five minutes against the heavily favored Wildcats. For just a few minutes, it looked like Cornell could do to Kentucky what it did to Wisconsin and Temple before them.

Then reality set in. The reality was that Kentucky was ready for Cornell, ready for the Big Red's perimeter-reliant offensive attack. UK hedged every screen high, overplayed on every shooter, and was so much more athletic than Cornell that it could recover and prevent interior shots and drives even after playing the Big Red out to 30 feet. In 20 minutes of first-half basketball, Cornell scored 16 points, the victims of a 30-6 Kentucky run to close the half. Cornell finished with 45 points, the third-lowest total in the Sweet 16 since expansion in 1985. It was one of the best and most complete defensive performances you'll ever see, and it wasn't just thanks to athleticism and talent. The Cats were prepared. They executed a gameplan. They were much more than an amalgamation of talent. They were a team.

Tonight's late results mean a few things going forward. First among them: No. 1 Kentucky will play No. 2 West Virginia in the Carrier Dome Saturday night. Kentucky will have to finish much better against West Virginia, and it won't be able to get away with shooting 16-of-26 from the stripe. Likewise, WVU will have to clean up its turnovers. The Mountaineers are the first team since 1970 to win a game in the round of 16 or later despite committing at least 20 turnovers and shooting 40 percent or less from the field. It was a testament to Washington's own sloppy play that West Virginia wasn't challenged more Thursday night. That won't happen Saturday.

Of course, there's also the Kansas State-Butler matchup, which will be as great a contrast in styles as we've seen in the tournament so far. Butler prefers to slog it out; Kansas State loves to get up and down. It'll be a good one.

While we're here, a quick lament: Tonight's loss means we have to bid a fond tournament farewell to Crawford, who -- had his team won -- might have locked up tournament MVP honors after just three games. Crawford scored 28, 27, and 32 points, making big shot after big shot and beautiful play after beautiful play. What's more, Crawford's style is as freewheeling and fun to watch as any player's in the country. You never know what you're going to get -- a pretty pass, an icy old-school finger roll, or an double-onions-order 30-foot 3 to tie the game in overtime. Losing Crawford is a major blow for the sublime enjoyment of this tournament. It's a shame.

The good news? We get to keep Pullen. And Gordon Hayward. And John Wall. And Da'Sean Butler. And we have another night to do it all over again Friday.

Who needs deep breaths? Not me.

I don't know about you, but I'm ready for another lap.

Photoblog: Kentucky dominating Cornell

March, 25, 2010
3/25/10
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Kentucky WildcatsRichard Mackson/US PresswireKentucky's Darius Miller (left) and John Wall block Cornell's Ryan Wittman during the first half of their Sweet 16 matchup.
At the risk of overplaying the whole "Cornell is a smart school, Kentucky is a basketball school" aspect of today's clash between the East's No. 12 and No. 1 seeds, DeMarcus Cousins would like to remind all of you that the task at hand is not about which Wall Street firm is going to pay which Cornell players after graduation. Rather, the task is basketball. Mr. Cousins, take it away:
"I'm not getting into all that," Cousins said. "They're ballplayers and they're here for a reason. They earned their way into the Sweet 16 ... I'm not getting into smart kids, dumb kids. ... They run their stuff, no matter what," he said. "They can play ball, bottom line. We're not out there reading books, we're out there playing basketball."

Coury agrees:

"It’s not like we’re running the chess club or a book club. We’re still the basketball team."

Of course, the irony in all this is that Cousins delivered his quote looking rather like a bookish nerd. The scene kids reading Tao Lin at my local free trade coffee shop want their faux-Wayfarers back, DeMarcus.

In any case, this is the last post about Cornell being "smart kids" and Kentucky being "dumb kids," as Cousins so elegantly put it. Hipster DeMarcus has set us straight. From now on, basketball.

(OK, OK, one last thing: Ithaca, N.Y. has been celebrating Cornell's run to the tournament with "nerd discounts." Hold on just one minute here. Since when does being smart make you a nerd? These are exactly the kinds of stereotypes we non-nerdy smart kids have spent decades tearing down. Words mean something, Ithaca. Words hurt.)
Just the other day, The New York Times wrote about Mark Coury, who left his starting spot at Kentucky to go to Cornell, where he could play basketball and pursue a degree in finance. This struck me as a particularly wise decision. If you're not going to go pro, and you're smart enough to hang in the Ivy League, why wouldn't you get Ivy League business degree?

Turns out, Coury's decision paid off. From Bloomberg News:
Mark Coury, a backup forward who averages 2.5 points and 2.4 rebounds for the Big Red, landed an internship in sales and trading at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. this summer, and may try to score a full-time job there after he completes his finance degree in 2011.

Coury won’t be the first Cornell basketball player to spend his summer in New York at Goldman Sachs. Current teammate Louis Dale and former teammates Khaliq Gant and Jason Battle also held internships at the investment bank. Battle now is a securities analyst at Goldman Sachs.

In other words, if Cornell loses Friday, don't feel too bad. The Big Red aren't your average good-in-college-but-not-good-enough-for-the-NBA tournament team. At most schools, former college basketball players go overseas, or try to get into broadcasting, or use their connections to start the long, thankless slog of an assistant coaching career. Some sell used cars. Mark Coury will be supporting his superiors in the buying and selling of companies for the most successful bank on Wall Street. By the time he turns 25, wherever he lands, he'll probably have enough money to buy, oh, I don't know, a Range Rover, if that's his thing. This is not your normal underdog story.

Still, though, didn't I say this was a good strategy? I should have been a guidance counselor.

(Hat tip: SB Nation)
Three Things To Watch is a quick preview of the NCAA tournament's second weekend. It is exactly what it says it is.

Thursday's games in Syracuse, N.Y.: No. 11 Washington vs. No. 2 West Virginia, 7:27 p.m. ET and No. 12 Cornell vs. No. 1 Kentucky, 9:57 p.m. ET

Thing One: Box out, Huskies. Box out hard. In my little daily Saddle Up previews throughout the regular season, one thing was always certain: If West Virginia was playing, we'd be talking about offensive rebounds. The postseason has long since rendered Saddle Up obsolete, but the Mountaineers' still revolve their entire existence around their ability to rebound their relatively frequent misses. West Virginia grabs almost 42 percent of their possible offensive rebounds, the second-best mark in the country. (No. 1, Old Dominion, has since been sent packing.) Devin Ebanks, Wellington Smith and Kevin Jones make it difficult for any team to truly protect their defensive glass.

That trio ought to be doubly scary to Washington, though. The Huskies are No. 96 in the country on the defensive boards. If Washington can miraculously find a way to prevent West Virginia from doing what it's done to pretty much every team the Mountaineers have encountered this year, Washington has a chance. But if those numbers pan out? It doesn't look good.

Thing Two: Turnovers. Despite the whole "no true point guard" thing, West Virginia has been pretty careful with the ball for much of the season. In case you haven't heard, though -- and I'm guessing you have -- putative point guard Darryl Bryant is out for the rest of the season with a broken foot. That leaves Joe Mazzulla, who came up big in West Virginia's second round win over Missouri, to, ahem, handle much of the point guard responsibilities. Can Washington turn Mazzulla over? If so, they could negate one of West Virginia's main strengths and get more than a few buckets in transition.

Thing Three: Oh, yeah, that other game. Is it too easy to just say "watch Cornell and Kentucky, because that game's going to be awesome?" Maybe. But that's pretty much all you need to know. Kentucky treated its first two tournament opponents -- one of whom was a middle-of-the-road ACC team -- like No. 16 seeds. Cornell has put on the tournament's best shooting performance and downed two of the nation's best defensive teams in the process. Both teams are eminently enjoyable to watch, one for its sheer athletic talent, the other for its sublime offensive skill. It's going to be a good one.

And it should be pretty easy to figure out: If Cornell can shoot well over Kentucky's athletic and thoroughly underrated perimeter defense -- and manage to keep Patrick Patterson and DeMarcus Cousins from dominating the offensive glass -- this could go either way. No team shooting as well as the Big Red should ever be discounted, even against a team like Kentucky. This thing could happen. And it should be a really awesome watch.

Bonus bold East Region prediction!: Cornell stays hot, pushes Kentucky to the wire, and the Cats miss a series of key free throws down the stretch to fall in what many will consider one of the biggest Sweet 16 upsets of all-time. John Calipari is forced to answer semi-unfair free throw-related questions for yet another year. He is decidedly displeased about this fact. Eamonndamus has spoken!

Here's something you may or may not know: Media moderators and NCAA officials at tournament regionals insist on calling college basketball players "student athletes." Like, insist on it. For example, it's not: "Does anyone have any questions for the Ohio State players?" It's: "Does anyone have questions for the Ohio State student-athletes?" In NCAA-land, "players" is practically a dirty word.

[+] EnlargeMark Coury
Jeff Moffett/Icon SMICornell's Mark Coury used to be a starter for the Kentucky Wildcats.
This isn't a big deal, but it is somewhat ironic, given the way the modern college basketball player barely qualifies as a student-athlete. The best one-and-done guys are under no obligation to attend class. Many of those who stay past that first year would jump at the first chance to go to the NBA, degree be damned, and just as many fulfill their academic obligations in the most cursory way possible. At the highest levels of this sport, the endgame is not a degree. It's the NBA. Anything less is considered a disappointment. Everyone knows this. It's the way the system works.

For the record, I'm not complaining. NCAA student-athletes have the right to do whatever they want to do academically, and if that means majoring in tourism, taking bowling classes for four years, and doing the bare minimum to preserve their eligibility and keep Coach off their backs, well, more power to them.

Maybe it's romantic, but it is refreshing to encounter a player who breaks this mold, a player who not only takes his schoolwork seriously but actively makes collegiate decisions based on education. In other words: a student-athlete. For example, Cornell's Mark Coury, who's gone from starter at the biggest, richest basketball program in the land (Kentucky) to a bench-warmer on a team (Cornell) whose conference (the Ivy League) last found itself in the Sweet 16 in 1979. As Pete Thamel chronicled today, that's been Coury's journey. Why would a baller give Kentucky up for Cornell (besides the all-too-eager alumni, of course)? Business school, actually:
“They have a very good business school, one of the tops in the nation,” Coury said of Cornell. “That’s the reason that I wanted to come here. I wanted to choose Cornell because they had both, they had good academics and I saw that they had all these good sophomores.” [...] Coury’s recruitment to Cornell was not much of a recruitment. His father had contacted the admissions office to see if his son, a 4.0 student, could transfer there. Coury’s father, Jerry, had seen Cornell and Kentucky play at the same N.C.A.A. tournament site in Anaheim, Calif., in 2008. The combination of Cornell’s talent and his son’s academic proclivity piqued the family’s interest.

Cornell Coach Steve Donahue said the athletic liaison for admissions at Cornell, Scott Campbell, called him about Coury and told him he was 6-9 and had started at Kentucky. He asked Donahue if he was interested. “Um, yeah, I’m interested,” Donahue recalled with a laugh.

Coury described playing at Kentucky as "being on a pedestal, it's like a big pedestal on a hill," and said he had no regrets, except that he wished Cornell had a "$3 million practice facility right next to our house." Kentucky's practice facility is located across the street from the player dorms and is nicer than most of the actual gyms in the Ivy League.

But Coury is a student-athlete. When he graduates, he'll be doing so with a finance degree from Cornell, which should prove to be a valuable piece of paper when Coury decides to pursue a job moving different pieces of paper around for places that will probably pay him way too much money to do so.

(A quick aside: This is a great strategy for good-but-not-NBA-bound athletes, by the way. If you have the grades in high school, and the chances of playing your sport professionally are slim -- think of a sport like, say, wrestling -- why wouldn't you use that athletic talent to sneak into an elite Ivy League school you might otherwise not have been able to attend? Take notes, marginal but intelligent high school athletes. This is some great advice I'm giving out here.)

In any case, Coury will get a shot at his former team when the Big Red try to upset the Wildcats at the Carrier Dome Thursday. It will be a challenge to say the least; Cornell is as hot as any team in the tournament, but Kentucky's batch of NBA-bound talent appears to be peaking at its most devastating time. Even if (when?) the Big Red lose, though, it's hard not to think Mark Coury -- who was never going to the NBA anyway, and who actually deserves the insistent term "student-athlete" -- got the last laugh.

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