JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP)—Cornell’s locker room was crowded and messy Saturday, just like the Dog Pound back home.
The Big Red, who have 13 players and a team manager living under the same roof in Ithaca, N.Y., have become NCAA tournament darlings. The Ivy League champions have garnered more attention than fellow Jacksonville survivors Duke, Wisconsin and California.
It extends well beyond housing arrangements, too.
No. 12 seed Cornell (28-4) dominated defensive-minded Temple in the opening round Friday and few who have seen the Big Red play will be surprised if they do the same to fourth-seeded Wisconsin (24-8) in the second round Sunday.
“I don’t have Facebook or Twitter … or anything else, but 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,” Badgers coach Bo Ryan said.
The Big Red have eight seniors with three years of NCAA tournament experience. They lead the nation in 3-point shooting and have five regulars who shoot better than 42 percent from behind the arc. They have a dynamic point guard (Louis Dale), a capable big man (Jeff Foote) and the kind of depth that would make some higher seeds jealous.
Cornell gave the Ivy League its first NCAA tournament victory since 1998 and justified all that talk about being seeded too low.
“We’re just getting started,” Foote said. “We have a really special team and we’re capable of a special run. I don’t think the mission is accomplished at all.”
Cornell’s chemistry might be even more important to their success.
It starts with the Dog Pound, the nickname given to their upstate New York home. Every upperclassman on the team lives in the three-story, off-campus house that doesn’t have enough bathrooms but promotes the kind of bonding that can go a long way on the court.
“It’s a pretty big factor,” Foote said. “One of the keys to winning is liking the guys on your team. I love all these guys. We’re all like brothers. It helps with our chemistry. It helps with little issues. It’s hard to not cheer for your best friend to go out and score 30.”
They host “Lost” parties, play table tennis and have countless conversations about basketball and upcoming opponents. They insist there are few arguments, although guys often toss a video game controller during a heated game of Super Smash Bros. on Nintendo 64.
Yes, Nintendo 64. That’s old school, much like the way they play.
Backdoor cuts, hard screens and crisp, accurate passes are an integral part of Cornell’s game.
The Big Red embarrassed Temple’s vaunted defense in a 78-65 victory that Cornell controlled all the way. When the Owls sagged under perimeter screens, they got burned from the 3-point line. When the Owls tried to get aggressive, they got beat to the basket.
The Badgers, who turned in a strong defensive effort to edge Wofford 53-49, don’t want to make the same errors.
“We saw a couple of mistakes Temple made,” guard Trevon Hughes said. “We can’t give them easy looks. We want to chase them off the 3-point line and make them make plays inside the perimeter.”
Hughes makes it sound easy.
The Big Red consider it a more difficult challenge.
“I don’t think they’re used to guarding teams that cut really hard and pass well and have five really skilled players on the floor at one time,” Cornell guard Chris Wroblewski said. “We can have four shooters on the floor, so I think they’re going to have to adjust to that.”
It’s not just any four shooters, either. It’s guys who live together, eat together, study together and socialize together.
“We’ve come a long way since we’ve been here,” Foote said.
- Phil Martelli isn't as worried as most about possible ban on July recruiting
- Gonzaga's Mark Few after reaching Final Four at last: 'Might as well win it all'
- Xavier's J.P. Macura hits 80-foot shot that is ultimately waved off during wild 30-second stretch
- Gonzaga's Mark Few doesn't feel he needs a Final Four to validate his legacy
- How De'Aaron Fox ended Lonzo Ball's college career and lifted Kentucky to the brink of another Final Four