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Know! Your! Foe! - Cornell.

A first time guest for this week's installment of the site's Know! Your! Foe! series - please welcome Ithaca Journal Sports Editor and top shelf Ivy scribe Brian Delaney from the Ithaca Journal to our corner of the Internet. We exchanged emails about Princeton's opponent this Saturday night - the Cornell Big Red.

Cornell has lost a crazy number of close games this season (nine of their 15 defeats are by five points or less). Is there any common thread here? What has been the difference?

There’s been a series of issues at the heart of Cornell’s 5-15 record, though not all have been impactful in the last five minutes of the close games they’ve lost: too much fouling, giving opponents too many free throw attempts; poor defensive rebounding, prolonged scoring droughts and inconsistent bench production.

There was a real snowball effect, I think, that began with the second half collapse at Binghamton. Cornell played fantastic in the first half, built a double-digit lead, then had two key players (Adam Wire, Errick Peck) get in foul trouble immediately in the second half. The bottom fell out, and Binghamton held on to win by a point after Cornell missed four quality looks inside 15 feet on the game’s final possession. That day should have ended a five-game losing streak against mostly tough teams (St. Bonaventure, Lehigh, BU, Syracuse, Minnesota), but instead five became eight with subsequent losses to Bucknell and New Hampshire.

Injuries have also been a storyline for the Big Red. 20 games in, how healthy are they?

They’re still not at full strength, and aren’t expected to be through the end of the season. Senior center Aaron Osgood missed last weekend with a knee injury. His status for Penn/Princeton will become clearer as the week goes on. Freshmen Dwight Tarwater (mono), a 6-6 small forward, and Dominic Scelfo (knee), a 6-1 point guard, are out for the year. Scelfo’s injury came in the preseason. Chris Wroblewski is playing through a hip injury that will heal only with rest. Surgery in the offseason hasn’t been ruled out.

While they don't lead the nation like they did in 2009-10, Cornell shoots the ball well from the perimeter (and take a lot of threes - 43.1% of their shots and 40.8% of their total points) but are 329th nationally inside the arc. How much of this is due to the lack of a consistent inside presence in a post-Jeff Foote world?

The absence of a consistent scoring presence in the post is Cornell’s biggest issue, without question. Mark Coury is a tenacious defender and rebounder, but he’s limited offensively. He’s also probably closer to 6-7 than 6-9, and doesn’t have great lift. Osgood has been up and down — injuries have played a part, but so has game inexperience and confidence. He’s not expected to play this weekend, and missed both games last weekend. He didn’t play much, if at all, in his first three years, and the lack of game experience has shown at times. Teams have been able to defend Cornell outside-in, with success.

Cornell has also missed a Lou Dale-type penetrating presence. Wroblewski is as pure a shooter as there is in the league, but he’s not getting many catch-and-shoot type looks. He’s taking a lot of stuff off the dribble. Cornell lacks an effective penetrating point guard whose quickness scares opposing coaches.

How difficult has it been for junior guard Chris Wroblewski to go from a supporting role to a primary offensive option?

Tough, although to his credit he’s handled this season with a tremendous amount of class. If Cornell had a more consistent scoring option inside, he’d be an excellent Ivy League player. But his game is built on craft, savvy, and intelligence; he’s not the type that can just blow by a defender on any possession and get any look he wants. The hip has only further limited him.

He’s had some brilliant moments, for sure: 25 in a 2-point loss to Bonaventure, 21 and 12 assists against Wofford, 29 on 13 shot attempts against Stony Brook.

In what ways does first year head man Bill Courtney differ as a coach from Steve Donahue? In what respects are they similar?

First, Bill doesn’t whistle every possession from the sideline (a Donahue trademark). Beyond that though, last season was Steve’s 10th as a head coach at Cornell. This is Bill’s first. As with any line of work, that matters. He’s figuring out how to win with the Ivy student-athlete, learning on the fly how to prepare for the Ivy weekend grind; how to work the refs; how to manage a staff, all that. He’s doing all things better now than at the beginning of the season, and has spoke openly about how much different it is to be a head coach versus a top assistant. There’s been a learning curve there for him.

Bill and Steve share a lot of similarities. Both are outgoing, liked by players/parents/alums/media and able to connect with 17-21 year olds. They want to play up-tempo, they want offensive balance and they want to utilize the three-point shot. Both coaches have success in getting their teams to play hard on pretty every night.

Has interest in the Big Red returned locally to where it stood prior to home games featuring Louis Dale and Ryan Wittman?

Not quite that far. There’s been a regression, without question. Folks here have options, which has been detrimental to the collective interest in basketball. Cornell men’s hockey is No. 1 here, and this winter the women’s hockey team is No. 2, and the wrestling team is No. 1. Both are strong draws.

The attendance figures over winter break, when students were gone, were comparable to 09-10. The first Columbia game was a little less, but classes had not yet started. This weekend will be the first Friday-Saturday with classes in session. These two crowds will give me a better idea of where the interest stands. A large crowd is expected Saturday night for Princeton, regardless, because it’s employee night.

Cornell beats Princeton for the fifth consecutive meeting in Ithaca if...

Cornell plays its most complete game of the season AND Princeton doesn’t shoot a high percentage. CU will need to attack offensively, with consistent production, because Princeton will take the 3 away. It needs to take care of the defensive glass, and it wouldn’t hurt to put Maddox/Mavraides/Hummer/Princeton’s top 7 in foul trouble.

Sydney Johnson wins in Newman Arena for the first time as a coach if...

His team plays like it’s capable. The Tigers’ personnel and experience present several matchup problems for Cornell.

You're one of the last (and on the podium in the medal ceremony for the best) beat writers covering Ivy League basketball today. Now that you've enjoyed my compliment, use the space below to plug what you do and where you do it.

I’m now in my sixth season covering college basketball at the Ithaca Journal, where I’ve spent the last three-plus as Sports Editor. Basketball consumes my winters; lacrosse consumes my springs; sprinkled in between are all the other sports. It’s been a wild ride here. I enjoy the Ivy League banter, and the people, so find me on Twitter at Jon, thanks for this opportunity. You do great work.

Thanks for joining us, Brian. I appreciate your time.

If you cover a team the Tigers will face down the line, let us know. We'd love to talk with you.

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