JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After Wisconsin slipped by upset-minded Wofford on Friday, Badgers coach Bo Ryan received messages of congratulations from coaching colleagues and friends.
But some of them didn’t pat him on the back for winning a first-round tournament game for the fourth consecutive season. Instead, they offered words of warning.
“I got some messages from some coaching friends who said a coach’s worst nightmare is to prepare for this Cornell team in one day,” Ryan said. “So I guess you’ll have to wait until the game is over to find out if we’ve come up with some things.”
Temple tried to come up with ways to stop Cornell but couldn’t find the right answer. Like Wisconsin, the Owls were a tough defensive team, but the Big Red shredded Temple for 78 points by shooting a sizzling 56.3 percent from the field.
And that effort came from a coach (Fran Dunphy) who was Cornell coach Steve Donahue’s boss for 10 years.
Cornell has a veteran roster making its third consecutive tournament appearance. It can play a slow half-court game or speed up the tempo. It has four players who have shot at least 80 3-pointers while also converting at least 42 percent of them. It has a 7-foot center, Jeff Foote, who can hold his own down low. It runs its offense with a variety of screens and cuts to open things up for its dangerous shooters.
That’s a lot to take in, especially in a second-round tournament game.
Still, saying Wisconsin has only a day to prepare for Cornell isn’t entirely accurate. The Badgers have only a day to teach its players about Cornell. On Selection Sunday, Wisconsin assistant Howard Moore took on the assignment of collecting film and preparing a scouting report on Cornell. Other Badgers assistants scouted Wofford and Temple.
“You have to have your rules when you face a team like this,” Moore said. “We have defensive rules and principles we live by. We have to do them every day. It becomes a part of our DNA that way. We’re going to have to stick to those rules, talk about things and guard certain actions that will be familiar to our guys.”
While Cornell isn’t exactly like any team Wisconsin faced this season, Big Ten opponents Michigan and Northwestern share similar principles with Cornell – common roots in the Princeton offense, shuffle cuts and a plan to shoot 3-ponters.
Players can’t learn all the ins-and-outs in a day, but reminding them Cornell is “a little like Michigan” helps, Moore said. The Badgers were 4-0 against Michigan and Northwestern this season.
“We’ve seen similar actions to what they run in our league and we see it four times a year,” Moore said. “It gives us a look in our league even though it’s different personnel. There are similarities, but there are differences.”
While the country may just now be finding out about Cornell after its dismantling of Temple on Friday, Moore wasn’t surprised. After all, he’s been focused on Cornell for more than week.
What surprised Moore was what Temple threw at Cornell. In desperation, the Owls resorted to junk defenses in an attempt to slow down the Big Red.
“What Temple did or didn’t do – that surprised me more and how they defended the shooters a little differently than I would have expected,” Moore said. “I’m not surprised by the confidence and the success that [Cornell] has had.”
Wisconsin can’t afford to focus solely on Cornell. Though the Badgers won in the first round, they have some issues to address.
In their past two games (the other was a first-round loss to Illinois in the Big Ten tournament), the Badgers are minus-14 in rebounding despite their size. They also shot 28.6 percent against Illinois and 37 percent against Wofford.
In addition, Wisconsin had only two double-digit scorers, Trevon Hughes and Jon Leuer, in those games. The Badgers seem to be at their best when more players are scoring. Before the Big Ten tournament, Wisconsin had lost six consecutive games when it had fewer than three double-digit scorers.
“We’ve had two double-digit scorers and everyone else has dropped off,” Wisconsin guard Jordan Taylor said. “That’s the nature of our offense. There’s always open looks for a lot of different guys, and sometimes they fall and sometimes they don’t.”
If Wisconsin’s game against Cornell is anything like Temple’s, the Badgers will need shots to fall from players other than just Hughes and Leuer. They’ll need to get some stops, too.
“Their timing and how synchronized their offense is on their reads – it’s as good as any team I’ve seen,” Ryan said of Cornell. “And I’ve been around a couple years.”