But today we come not to criticize (anymore than we already just did), but to praise. For the coaches poll has finally jumped on a bandwagon The Dagger has been touting since October. In this week's rankings, the coaches slotted Cornell at No. 25. A weekend win over its only real Ivy League competition, Harvard, puts the Big Red on track for an NCAA tournament bid and a seed as high as No. 7.
In our 64-team preseason countdown of the most interesting teams in college basketball, we ranked Cornell at No. 52. As it turned out, that was too low, just like our expectations:
In fact, [Cornell is] a near lock to win the league and earn the school's sixth bid to the NCAA tournament. Don't be surprised if they pull out a W as well, particularly if they draw a younger, undisciplined big-time school.
Wins over Massachusetts, Alabama and St. John's gave the Big Red national cred, but the team's best result actually came in a loss. Last month Cornell went to Lawrence and led Kansas for much of the game before Sherron Collins willed the top-ranked Jayhawks to victory. It's one of three losses on the season for Cornell, two of which came to top five teams (KU and Syracuse).
It seemed natural that Cornell's rep would diminish a bit once Ivy League play started, and for good reason. Five of the conference's eight teams are in the bottom quarter of the Pomeroy Ratings and only Harvard is in the top 125. But since that Kansas game, Cornell has steadily gained more votes in both polls. As the major conference teams trudge their way through the season, Cornell's gaudy record looks better and better. One loss would likely drop the team from consideration for good, but as long as it keeps winning, expect a rise in the polls.
The only downside for Cornell is that it won't have the element of surprise in its favor come March. The victories over BCS teams, the scare at Kansas, the hype behind sharpshooter Ryan Wittman and the likely perfect Ivy record will ensure that whichever team the Big Red draws in the tournament will know what's coming. The good news for Cornell is that it shouldn't matter. This team is good enough to hang with any team in the country. It's only just now that everyone is starting to realize it.