College Basketball Nation: Jeff Foote

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?
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
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.

Final: Kentucky 62, Cornell 45

March, 26, 2010
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Well, that wasn't what was expected.

If Kentucky was going to win this game, which it did 62-45, I was convinced it would be in a rout, not a game played at an Ivy League speed and score from one of Cornell's rivals like Princeton.

Kentucky's defense in the first half was as impressive as I've seen this season -- maybe even more so than their dismantling of Wake Forest in the second round.

The Wildcats completely took Cornell out of what it wanted to run in the first half after an initial 10-2 lead by the Big Red. The 30-6 run to close out the half was something to observe.

But the Big Red never quit. Kentucky's offense went stagnant and Cornell found away to claw back into the game to get within six on a Louis Dale 3-pointer. But as much as Cornell was on the verge of making it a historic upset, Kentucky still kept the Big Red at arm's length. There was still too much DeMarcus Cousins and Cornell could not keep him out of the lane.

Kentucky survived the Cornell surge to move onto the Elite Eight. But that's hardly unexpected for a Wildcat team formed under John Calipari. The goal has always been a trip back to the Final Four for the first time since 1998.

Kentucky will now face West Virginia Saturday at 7 p.m. ET in the Elite Eight. It will end up being the only No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in the bracket in an upset-filled tournament. Neither teams played a complete game but both found a way to win Thursday. They were the most consistent, the most talented and the two teams that seemed destined to meet here in Syracuse.

Let's see if the game can live up to the advance billing.

Halftime: Kentucky 32, Cornell 16

March, 25, 2010
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- What were your thoughts when Cornell opened up a 10-2 lead? Well, mine were that this is a good start but it almost seemed surreal. Jeff Foote was playing well by controlling the early post play. Ryan Wittman hit a 3-pointer. All looked good.

Until DeMarcus Cousins started to re-assert control of the post and the pressure got amped up to another level as the Wildcats started to force turnovers.
  • And then it was off to the races. How can you not like Kentucky's fast break? Cornell simply got run over by a truck.
  • Kentucky was taking high-percentage shots, making 14-of-28, a lot of them layups. When you're streaking out on the break it doesn't matter that the Wildcats only made two 3s.
  • Cornell can't win by making only a pair of 3s.
  • You have to credit Kentucky's ability to share the basketball. The Wildcats did a tremendous job of complementing each other with 11 assists on 14 field goals.
  • The crowd was rocking early when Cornell had the lead. But the Kentucky faithful were loudest when the Wildcats went on that menacing 30-6 run to close out the half.
  • In an NCAA tournament full of upsets we might actually get a chalk Elite Eight in Syracuse with Kentucky vs. West Virginia in a 1 vs. 2 matchup.
  • If you watch the Wildcats, do you start to think at times of UNLV from the early '90s? Sometimes it's hard not to think that the Wildcats look the part.

Red-hot Big Red keeps on rolling

March, 21, 2010
Kim Klement/US PresswireLouis Dale's 26 points keyed a Big Red attack Sunday that tore up what had been a stingy Wisconsin defense.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- As he headed back to his jubilant locker room, Cornell point guard Louis Dale stopped to sign a hat from a fan. It was a University of Alabama cap, sure, but at least it had the right red-and-white colors, and Alabama is Dale's home state.

Then another fan dropped a hat for Dale to sign. This one was blue.

"A Kentucky hat?" Dale said, incredulously eyeing the UK logo before throwing the hat back into the stands. "You've got to be kidding me. Get that out of here."

We are not kidding about this: Kentucky had better watch out for Cornell in the Sweet 16 on Thursday. After the way the 12th-seeded Big Red played this weekend in Jacksonville -- especially in Sunday's 87-69 dismantling of Wisconsin -- they must be considered as much of a threat as anyone left in the NCAA Tournament.

Temple and Wisconsin owned two of the best defenses in the country this season, according to the stats. Yet here is what Cornell did to those defenses: shot a combined 58.8 percent from the floor and 44.7 percent on three-pointers while averaging 82.5 points.

Wisconsin had allowed 70 points only three times all year, two of those coming in overtime games. Yet Bo Ryan's defense got sliced like a machete through warm gouda. Cornell shot 61.1 percent, the highest percentage by any team against the Badgers in the Ryan era.

"In our half-court defense, we thought we did some pretty good things," Ryan said. "But that's how good they are. ... I'm not sure if three or four days' [preparation] would have stopped what they do, because they just do it well."

When you think of Ivy League teams, you probably envision those old Princeton teams that worked the ball around, running backdoor screen after backdoor screen. But Cornell is far more diverse than that.

Yes, it can make a back cut with the best of them. But against Wisconsin, the Big Red scored on give-and-gos, alley oops, tear-drop floaters and in transition. Ryan Wittman (24 points) can create his own shot at 6-foot-7, and Dale (26 points) can get in the lane against anybody, as he proved repeatedly against the Badgers' all-Big Ten defensive team performer Trevon Hughes. Then there's seven-footer Jeff Foote, who eats up space on screens and is a deft passer.

"We have a lot of players who can score in a variety of ways," Foote said. "Ryan and Louis did their thing today, and when they do that, we're tough to stop."

Foote predicted at the start of the season that his team would make the Sweet 16, and Cornell became the first Ivy League school since Penn made the Final Four in 1979 to advance to the second weekend. No one on the team seems all that surprised by the development.

"It really doesn't matter who we're playing," forward Jon Jacques said. "We're confident in ourselves. Our confidence is definitely growing each game."

So is their goofiness. The players have been joking around all weekend, displaying the comfort of a group making its third straight trip to March Madness. The team watched "Friday Night Lights" on Saturday night and told Dale he had to work a quote from the movie into his postgame press conference. Dale pulled it off, while his teammates erupted with laughter while watching him on a TV in the locker room.

Does that kind of stuff happen a lot?

"Well, we don't usually have many press conferences," Dale said.

Coach Steve Donahue said his team likes to have fun but knows when to get serious. It showed in their preparations this weekend, as they got off to strong starts in both games and trailed for a total of 2:43, all at the beginning in the Temple game. Donahue called Cornell's offensive execution against Wisconsin the best he'd ever seen as a coach.

Next comes perhaps the biggest David vs. Goliath matchup in the history of the Sweet 16: Cornell against top-seeded Kentucky. A program whose first two NCAA Tournament wins came this weekend vs. one with seven NCAA titles. A school that doesn't give athletic scholarships vs. one that has four likely lottery picks. Unrecruited seniors vs. blue-chip freshmen. Big Red vs. Big Blue.

And it will take place in Syracuse, N.Y., about 55 miles from Cornell's campus.

"It's an amazing story, " said Mark Coury, who started 29 games at Kentucky before transferring to Cornell, where he comes off the bench. "We won our last two games by a lot of points, but obviously Kentucky is a whole different level. But if we run our offense efficiently and play good defense, I think we'll have a chance."

Kentucky had better be prepared. Or else the Wildcats will become the latest team to have their hats handed to them by Cornell.

Final: Cornell 87, Wisconsin 69

March, 21, 2010
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Brain Train keeps chugging along.

Cornell didn't just win two games here in Jacksonville this weekend; it dominated them both. After a 13-point win over Temple on Friday, the 12th-seeded Ivy Leaguers destroyed No. 4 seed Wisconsin 87-69 Sunday to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history.

Cornell scored the first eight points, led by 12 at halftime and blew the doors open early in the second half. The Big Red scored more points against Wisconsin in regulation than any of the Badgers' opponents this year. They shot a sizzling 61 percent and probably could have scored 100 had they not called off the dogs late in the game.

Ryan Wittman and Louis Dale each had 24 points, while Jeff Foote and Chris Wroblewski added 12 each.

The Badgers looked dazed and confused throughout the second half, as if they couldn't believe anyone, let alone an Ivy League school, could so thoroughly dissect their defense like that. Bo Ryan even earned a technical foul during the half.

Like most people, I expected the Big Red to be good. But the level of their performance this weekend was simply astounding, and it's not crazy to suggest that they can beat No. 1 seed Kentucky in the next round.

If they play the way they did in Jacksonville this weekend, the Brain Train is going to be tough for anyone to stop.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Quick impressions of the first half here at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena, where 12th-seeded Cornell leads No. 4 Wisconsin, 43-31:

  • Can't say this result is all that surprising, since Cornell was the most impressive team here Friday outside of maybe Duke. After shooting 57 percent in a first-round win over Temple, the Big Red connected on 59.3 percent in the first half against Wisconsin. This is a Badgers team that only allows 56 points per game, and Cornell is 13 points away from that figure already. The reason? Steve Donahue's team runs crisp, offensive sets, and his guys just don't miss open looks. The Big Red also look like the quicker and more athletic team, and they've hustled to keep many balls alive. Emblematic of that was a play late in the half, when Jeff Foote tipped out an offensive rebound to Chris Wroblewski, who drained a three from the top of the key. Cornell has scored 21 points off turnovers or offensive rebounds, or almost half its points so far.
  • Jon Leuer scored Wisconsin's first 12 points, and for a while it looked like he might have to carry the entire load. But Jason Bohannon chipped in seven first-half points, breaking out of a prolonged shooting slump. When he hit his first three-pointer, the Badgers fan section erupted. They know how important he is to this team as a bona fide third scoring option behind Leuer and Trevon Hughes.
  • Hughes, though, has struggled. He has five points but also five turnovers. Wisconsin as a team had only four turnovers against Wofford on Friday. Louis Dale has done a great job of slowing down Hughes's penetration, and Dale has scored eight points on the other end.
  • Like they did against Temple, the Big Red aren't getting a ton of stops, as Wisconsin shot 52.2 percent in the half. But as long as they keep making the Badgers have to score every time down to keep pace, they'll be just fine. Bo Ryan needs his team to get back to its patented suffocating defense in the second half to make a rally.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Some big men arrived pre-packaged. They dominated high school competition, made a pit stop in college and then headed off to the pros.

You won't find that with Wisconsin and Cornell on Sunday. Each features a late-blooming big guy whose performances likely will decide which team advances to the Sweet 16.

Cornell's Jeff Foote is the rarest of occurrences. He's a legitimate 7-foot, 265-pound banger in the Ivy League, though he took a roundabout way to get there.

Bob Donnan/US PresswireFoote developed into a legitimate force in the post -- he grabbed seven rebounds and scored 16 points against Temple.
Foote -- who grew up about 30 minutes south of Cornell's campus -- shot up from 6-foot-4 to 6-9 in the summer between his sophomore and junior year of high school, then sprouted another two inches before his senior year. Trouble was, he didn't know how to use his newfound height.

"I was very uncoordinated," he said. "Lanky. Awkward. I didn't have a lot of basketball skills."

A guy that tall has to be awfully ungainly to not attract any college interest. Foote was. Cornell coach Steve Donahue scouted Foote during his senior year and took a pass.

"I was sitting with a couple of Division III guys, and he was probably 170 [pounds]," Donahue said. "It was hard to imagine him being a college basketball player at any level."

Foote went to St. Bonaventure on an academic scholarship and walked on to the team, where teammates bullied him in practice. He realized then that he needed to get much stronger to have any future in the game.

While he focused on strength, his mother, Wanda, hatched a plan to get him somewhere better than St. Bonaventure, which is still recovering from the academic scandal that decimated the program earlier this decade. Wanda worked as a nurse at the hospital where injured Cornell player Khaliq Gant was recuperating from two dislocated vertebrae in his neck. She loved how the Big Red players and coaches constantly visited Gant. She wanted her son at a place that cared about each other that much.

Big Red guard Ryan Wittman remembers seeing Foote when he toured the school as a potential transfer. Foote, he said, wore a baggy T-shirt and might have been 205 pounds soaking wet. Point guard Louis Dale didn't think much of Foote after his first practice with the team.

"He couldn't dunk that well," Dale said. "I was like, 'He's seven feet tall and I can't even throw him an alley-oop.'"

But Foote kept developing his game and more importantly, hitting the weight room hard. By last summer, he had bulked up to 265 pounds.

"We'd play pickup games, and all our big guys were complaining about how much stronger he was," Wittman said. "Nobody could guard him, nobody could stop him."

That was the case all year in the Ivy League and even against top competition, as Foote more than held his own against Kansas center Cole Aldrich in January. He had 16 points, seven rebounds and two blocks in a first-round win over Temple.

His challenge will increase Sunday against Wisconsin's own nontraditional big man, Jon Leuer.

[+] EnlargeJon Leuer
Bob Donnan/US PresswireLeuer had 20 points and eight rebounds against Wofford during the first round of the tournament.
Like Foote, the Orono, Minn., native went through his own rapid vertical surge. Leuer was a 6-foot guard as a high school freshman. By his senior year, he stood 6-10. He handled the change a little more easily than Foote, though.

"I guess I lost some mobility, but at the same time I didn't have growing pains and stuff like that," Leuer said. "It was definitely a transition from being able to play on perimeter to being able to play in the post."

Donahue remembers trying to recruit Leuer to Cornell as a junior in high school, but Leuer became a coveted prospect the next year because of his enhanced height. Still, Leuer came to Wisconsin as a 200-pound string bean and spent much of his first two years hanging out on the wings. He's put on 30 pounds since then and now can play inside as well as out.

That makes him one of the more versatile frontcourt players in the Big Ten, as Leuer maintained his guard skills while gaining a center's body. He showed that in Friday's win over Wofford, knocking down the go-ahead 17-foot jumper with 17 seconds left, then helping poke the ball away from Terriers guard Cameron Rundles on the other end to preserve the victory.

"He's got a unique, diverse skill set," Badgers forward Keaton Nankivil said. "Now it's to the point where he's kind of a terror matchup for anybody he goes against, just because he can do so many different things. He has all the tools to really attack anybody."

Foote says Leuer is "like an Ivy League player, but more skilled." Leuer says he'll need to keep Foote from getting good position down low and using his bulk for easy baskets. Leuer would like to pull Foote outside on defense, but Donahue say Foote is athletic enough to guard the perimeter.

They may be late bloomers, but prospects for both are now booming.

Cornell smashes perceptions

March, 19, 2010

Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesCornell guard Ryan Wittman and the rest of his Big Red teammates are moving into the second round.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Cornell guard Ryan Wittman started to spout the old one-game-at-a-time cliché when asked about his team's NCAA tournament future Thursday afternoon. Then he started chuckling.

The oddness of the answer must have struck him. When was the last time an Ivy League school had to guard against looking ahead in March?

We may need to rethink a lot of preconceived conceptions if the Big Red are going to play like they did in a thoroughly impressive 78-65 undressing of No. 5 seed Temple on Thursday.

"To the rest of the world, this might have been an upset," center Jeff Foote said. "But not to us."

You paid attention to Cornell this year when it cracked the Top 25 and when it battled Kansas to the wire in Lawrence in January. But did you know it was actually this good?

Temple is no slouch. The Owls went 29-5, won the Atlantic 10 regular season and conference titles and beat Villanova this season. Many people thought they deserved better than a No. 5 seed.

Yet Cornell controlled the game from the opening tip, first by pounding the ball in to the 7-foot Foote and driving to the basket as Temple concentrated on stopping the 3-point shot. That's why the Big Red shot a sizzling 68.4 percent in the first half en route to taking a 37-29 lead into intermission.

When Temple tried to adjust in the second half, Cornell banged home seven 3-pointers, including three in a row in one crucial early stretch. Cornell ran the dribble handoff to perfection with Foote most of the game. When the Owls stretched out their defense, Foote found cutters for layups. When they stayed underneath Foote, Louis Dale (21 points) and Wittman (20) drilled 3s.

"They looked great out there running their offense," Temple coach Fran Dunphy said in admiration.

Cornell led by as many as 19 points in the second half, and even Wittman admitted that margin surprised him. The result, however, was not unexpected for a team playing in the NCAA tournament for the third straight time.

"That's the difference between the last few years and this year," said Dale, whose team lost to Stanford by 24 points in 2008 and by 19 to Missouri last March. "We came into this game confident, and we expected to win."

Not just confident, but loose. Players joked around during Thursday's media session, not at all in awe of the environment. When they hit the court early for warm-ups Friday and were told by NCAA officials that they couldn't touch the basketballs yet, they teasingly went through some phantom layup drills.

This group is extremely comfortable around one another. Most were barely recruited -- Foote began his career as a walk-on at St. Bonaventure, and Dale personally delivered his highlight tape to coach Steve Donahue after no one else showed interest. Thirteen players -- including all the seniors -- and a team manager share a 14-bedroom house just off campus.

"I may never coach a group this special again," Donahue said. "And one that can compete on the national stage."

Still, the Ivy League is supposed to dominate debate contests, presidential races and job searches, not NCAA tournament games. The Ancient Eight's last March Madness moment in the sun was Princeton's upset of UCLA in 1996 on the most famous backdoor pass ever delivered. Since then, the Ivy had lost in the first round 11 straight years, the longest active losing streak by any conference coming into Friday.

Cornell needed no Princeton-style late heroics. In the locker room after the game, Donahue told the players they should be excited about the moment, but that it's not over yet.

"He wants more," Wittman said.

More than one win from an Ivy League team? It's time to consider that as a real possibility.

Final: Cornell 78, Temple 65

March, 19, 2010
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Cornell is for real.

The 12th-seeded Big Red didn't just beat fifth-seeded Temple. They controlled the game from start to finish, leading by as many as 19 points in the second half. There was never any question of which team was better in all facets.

Cornell shot 56 percent for the game and was over the 60 percent mark until missing some meaningless shots late. After making just two 3-pointers in the first half, the Big Red buried seven treys in the second half.

Louis Dale (21), Ryan Wittman (20 points) and Jeff Foote (16) all had big scoring days and were a combined 19-of-32 from the floor.

Temple didn't play that poorly, shooting 51.9 percent itself. But Cornell simply outplayed the Atlantic-10 regular-season and tournament champions. It's the first win for the Ivy League since Princeton in 1998.

But it's clear that the Big Red aren't just some Ivy League curiosity. They're for real, and they'll be tough to handle in the second round.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Quick halftime thoughts from Jacksonville Memorial Arena, where 12th-seeded Cornell leads fifth-seeded Temple 37-29:

  • This is no fluke. Cornell has been the better team on both ends, making more decisive cuts, playing solid defense and getting to loose balls. The Big Red are known for their three-point shooting, but they spread Temple out and drove to the basket. Cornell was just 2-for-7 behind the arc but made 11 of its 12 two-point attempts, most from point-blank range.
  • Temple rarely turns the ball over, but the Owls have been flustered against Cornell's defense. They have nine turnovers at halftime, nearly matching their season average already. That gave the Big Red some run-out opportunities and pushed the game's pace in favor of the Ivy Leaguers, who've scored 15 points off those miscues. Temple's deliberate style is not really built for big comebacks.
  • Jeff Foote is the best big man on the floor. Cornell's 7-footer is being used as a highly effective screener and passer, and he's scored nine points already, to go along with two blocks and a steal. Foote played near the top of a zone defense at times during the first half and disrupted Temple's passing lanes with his long arms.
  • Lots of empty seats here in this first session, but Cornell has more fans and is clearly the rooting interest of choice for the non-partisans in the building.

Photoblog: Clash of the titans

March, 19, 2010
Michael Eric (50) has his shot blocked by Jeff FooteBob Donnan/US PresswireOwls center Michael Eric has his shot blocked by Cornell center Jeff Foote.

Cornell a cool, confident bunch

March, 18, 2010
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Mark Coury began his career as a walk-on at Kentucky, earning a starting job his sophomore year before transferring to Cornell.

The differences between the college basketball elite and the Ivy League require little explanation, from the facilities to the food to the travel. For example, Coury said the only time Kentucky ever bused to a game was when it played at Louisville; Cornell took a motor coach to every road stop this season except when it flew to Kansas -- and from there the team bused to South Dakota State.

[+] EnlargeCoury
Jeff Moffett/Icon SMIMark Coury and the Big Red are looking forward to their matchup with Temple.
It's the similarities between the two worlds, not the differences, that are interesting. While the Big Red will never match the Big Blue in most things, Cornell is a wise-guy NCAA tournament pick after going 27-4 this season.

"Coming to Cornell, I learned what it's like to be an upstart," Coury said. "It's not going to be at the Kentucky level, but it's getting to where we're more respected."

This is the Big Red's third straight year in the tournament, and they're a senior-dominated team that's no longer awestruck by the environment or the pressure of the moment.

"Our goal that first year was just winning the [Ivy] championship and getting to the NCAA tournament, and anything after that would be gravy," leading scorer Ryan Wittman said. "We've got different goals this year. Our expectations are about winning some games here as well."

Many believe they can do just that. Cornell owns wins this season over Alabama, UMass and St. John's, and nearly knocked off Kansas in Lawrence before falling 71-66. It led the nation in 3-point shooting this season at 43.4 percent, but this is more than just a collection of shooters. What sets them apart from other Ivy Leaguers of the past is a legitimate inside game with 7-foot, 265-pound center Jeff Foote, who's a deft passer as well as a strong rebounder and shot blocker.

Loads of people, including bracketologist-in-chief Barack Obama, are picking the No. 12 seed to upset No. 5 Temple on Friday. ESPN's Jay Bilas even penciled Cornell into the Elite Eight.

"That's pretty cool, but it doesn't make our jobs any easier," Wittman said. "We played a tough nonconference schedule that prepared us for these types of games. In the past, we didn't really know how well we'd play against these types of teams, but I think this year is different."

The players certainly seemed loose during their meeting with the media on Thursday. Foote lost a shooting bet in practice with guard Louis Dale, so he had to answer the first question of the news conference with a complete non-sequitur as his teammates on the dais giggled.

Here's an unexpected statement that's no joke: an Ivy League team is a serious threat in this year's tournament.

"I don't know if we're the underdog, but we're 100 percent focused on getting that first NCAA win," Coury said. "Having played at Kentucky, I'm not intimidated by anything, and I know the rest of these guys feel basically the same way."

Cornell finds a way to pass the time

February, 24, 2010
In an age when Rick Majerus finds flying commercial to be the ultimate in inconvenience, college basketball teams don't spend too much time rolling around on buses anymore. They certainly don't take too many seven-hour bus trips. Most journeys that long would take place aboard chartered jets, with caviar, champagne, and Beatz by Dre. (OK, so maybe not the first two.)

Not in the Ivy League, and not at Cornell. The Big Red had a seven-hour bus trip back from their wins at Dartmouth and Harvard this weekend. How did the victors pass the time? Duh, you guys! With truth or dare! Ugh, Mom, GET OUT OF MY ROOM I HAVE FRIENDS OVER:

Like a bunch of teenage girls at a slumber party, we began to play Truth or Dare on Jeff Foote’s iPhone. [...] Truths were revealing, as always, but the Dares proved to be the most entertaining.

Geoff Reeves was picked on early and often: he was dared to simultaneously wear an article of clothing from each participating player until his next turn, then one turn later was required to give himself a toothpaste mustache. I was dared to let a blindfolded Ryan Wittman draw a highlighter mustache on my face. He didn’t do a terrible job either. (The color was green, if you were curious.) The game got old pretty fast, however, and the bus ride sailed along smoothly until we literally hit a bump in the road.

Truth or dare managed to get boring, so the players decided to build a fort with bed sheets -- no boys allowed, and that means you too, Dad, gosh -- and watched "Scream" and "Scream 2" because those movies are, like, totes the scariest. LOL. Then they stayed up way past their bedtime and talked about boys at school. OMG you guys. Best. Slumber party. Ever.

OK, not really; Cornell's bus driver encountered a family of deer, one of which found its run-in with a large charter bus to be fatal. Then Cornell went home, having built its record to 23-4 and retained its commanding lead in the race for the Ivy League regular season crown. Truth or dare? Truth: The Big Red are looking pretty good.