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Big Red Basketball

Photo by Matt Hintsa.

Cornell's a hockey school. We know. But with the hockey team failing to assert themselves at a national level over the last two years, it is hard not to turn our attention over to the high quality squeakball being played next door at Newman Arena.

The Carnelian and White are leading the Ivy League half way through the season with a 7-0 record, two games ahead of second place Brown. And while they aren't nearly as close to capturing a national title as recent hockey, wrestling, or lacrosse teams, what's notable is that for the first time in twenty years it looks like a team other than Penn or Princeton will capture the Ivy Title. The last team other than the Ps to win it? That would be Cornell in 1988.

With such a young team (two of Cornell's best players, Louis Dale and Ryan "son of an NBA coach" Wittman are sophomores) all signs indicate a sea change occurring in Ivy Basketball these days, as Penn and Princeton will no longer hold all of the recruiting prowess in the league.

So without putting the cart before the horse, there's a possibility that us alums will be able to bet on the Big Red in our office pools come March Madness. And some mid-season polls have speculated that Cornell might even be able to capture an improbable 13 seed.

With this possibility comes student interest -- Cornell students have dubbed themselves the "Newman Nation" to parallel the "Lynah Faithful", as well as national media attention -- the Ivy League winners always getting national press due to the philosophy of putting the "student" back into "student-athlete". Cornell already garnered attention when they put up a fight against No. 2 Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium in January. But now, the NYTimes is following the team this weekend in a rather enjoyable series of blog posts.

Here's an excerpt about Cornell's stunning 72-71 come from behind victory over Harvard last night:

CAMBRIDGE, Mass — Cornell Coach Steve Donahue asked his team a question in a heated halftime talk during his team’s game with Harvard on Friday night: “Did you not expect a hard game?”

That’s exactly what the Big Red got, as they pulled out a stunning victory in beating Harvard, 72-71. Harvard led by 5 points with just over 30 seconds remaining, but melted down in the waning moments of what was one of the best finishes in a basketball game all season.

“That was as good a college basketball game you can have,” a relieved Randy Wittman said in the stands after the game. “I don’t care what the level is.”

Wittman is the coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves and his son Ryan is Cornell’s top player.

For those interested in following the team through the rest of Ivy play, and hopefully beyond, we recommend The Cornell Basketball Blog, a nice supplement to the mostly hockey-oriented eLynah.

Finally, we would be amiss if we didn't mention the women's team, which after a blasting of Harvard last night also finds itself alone atop of the Ivy League. The Cornell women's team has never won an Ivy Championship in basketball. They play against second-place Dartmouth tonight in hopes of cementing their lead in the conference.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on February 16, 2008 (#)

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