Back to that vaunted Cornell team
Unfortunately as it relates to competing against a team like Cornell, Harvard doesn’t and didn’t have anyone else with the smallish-stocky or longish-quick blueprint — see the last few paragraphs of the previous post — against Cornell. Nor did they have anyone posing a threat down low (usually this would be Keith Wright or Kyle Casey), or nailing shots outside (Oliver McNally, Christian Webster, Dee Giger, or Andrew Van Nest).
The Cornell defense was just too intense and smothering. They can be that way and scramble-and-gamble on the defensive perimeter because Jeff Foote can protect the rim. It’s like in high school when your varsity squad scrimmaged the JV kids. The varsity guys would risk — and most likely win — every overplay on the perimeter, knowing that they had a physically superior team.
Likewise, on offense they can run a series of picks up top but still with Foote planted down low. This creates a quite simple but effective attack of (a) dumping it to Foote or (b) setting enough perimeter picks combined with looks at Foote, that eventually a Cornell outside threat will get the ball. That night, it was John Jaques who answered the call, hitting trey after trey.
Cornell also has a solid ballhandler in Louis Dale, a diminutive point guard who was hitting his opportunistic shots and cutting up Harvard’s confused man-to-man. Dale often looked like Chris Paul out there, but his numbers won’t attract a lot of NBA scouts. This is because Dale has sacrificed his game for the success of the program. Bobby Knight would love this kid.
Sometimes that’s what happens in the dynamics between the NCAA and NBA. I’ve often called it a “holy war”, although there are certainly guys on both sides of the fence. In this context of Cornell, my point is this: Dale is probably not on any NBA scout’s radar (and Ryan Wittman may be only because of his dad, Randy Wittman of Minnesota Timberwolves fame). Dale doesn’t have the numbers to justify a scout’s time. His numbers have actually decreased as the team around him has gotten better. As a result, his impending pro career will start with him very, very far from the pole position. That is the price he pays for being on a great team and winning with a storied program like Cornell. A great many future pro basketball prospects go through these dynamics every year. It’s one of the many profound things I’ve learned while following the career of Jeremy Lin.
So, Cornell’s a pretty scary, balanced team. Even if Harvard pulls off the Ivy miracle (i.e., beats Cornell in a few weeks, then beats them again in a one-game playoff as a tiebreaker to decide the conference champion), I think Cornell gets an at-large bid and wins the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, no matter who they play.
If I were a European billionaire, I’d consider starting a new franchise in some Euroleague B division and drafting all four starting Cornell seniors. With a few more professional pieces, you’ve got a solid team with incredible chemistry that could last for years. Of course, Wittman and Foote need to pursue the NBA, so even if I were a European magnate, keeping this team together past Cornell graduation would be impossible.
It should come as no surprise that all five Cornell starters scored in double-figures against Harvard. They made Harvard blink, early, and strangled them from there.
Jeremy Lin, warrior
The other thing that needs to be put out there in terms of Jeremy is that it’s his defense that sparks his offense.
It’s almost appalling that we tend to consistently overlook this, isn’t it? But time and time again, defense is the foundation of the Jeremy Lin Show.
That night, Cornell’s bulletproof offense, with Foote anchoring the attack, afforded Jeremy few opportunities to spark his offense. From that perspective, Jeremy was really amazing as he tried to create something out of nothing from the halfcourt set in the second half.
Jeremy wound up scoring 15 of his 19 points against Cornell in the final twenty minutes, courageously penetrating into the teeth of Cornell’s defense which was anchored by “Big Foote” and a Charles Oakley-esque bruiser teammate (6′5″ 222-lb Adam Wire) who made sure Jeremy felt pain when hard-fouled.
There was even one play where Foote seemed to have slapped Jeremy’s wrist as Jeremy was challenging for a layup, but there was no call, to the dismay of us thirty or so fans tucked in behind Harvard’s bench who clearly heard the slap.
To jeering taunts of “over-rated” from the devout Cornell crowd, Jeremy managed to hit 7 of 8 free throws, while continuing his astonishing shooting percentage from the field at 6-for-9.
We Harvard fans were surrounded by elder Cornell alumnae and even they were appreciative of Jeremy’s play in the second half, nodding in agreement that his “and-one” was a good move, or that his spin on the right baseline to split two Cornell defenders, stopped by a foul, was impressive.
I know, he had 8 turnovers. I understand, that’s not a good stat to have. But I’ve seen other NBA hopefuls rack up turnovers as well. More on this later, as I will write an in-depth study of Jeremy’s potential draft peers, but I have a feeling what I will find is that turnovers don’t rank that far behind personal fouls in terms of possible irrelevancy in NBA draft-speak. Sure, when a shooting guard commits a bevy of turnovers — think Caron Butler this past week — that’s kind of glaring. A playmaker like Jeremy (remember, in Part 2 I declared that Jeremy is not a “shooter”) who is trying to get that X to cut to the hole to create a little something past two O’s is not the same thing as a stop-and-pop shooting guard dribbling through traffic when he’s supposed to let the point guard do that, but is unfortunately measured by the same archaic stat.
On the court, I’m no longer (as) surprised by what he can do. The double-spin move on Columbia? Haven’t seen his spin all that much, but I knew he had it in him. A courageous effort against Cornell’s “Terminator” defense, fearlessly challenging Foote to meet him at the rim? Can’t be more proud of him, but I knew he had it in him.
What I hadn’t yet seen came post-game at both the Columbia and Cornell games.
Part 4 will post tomorrow, as Harvard gets back on its feet to host Princeton and Penn this weekend.
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