How about the two games turned in by the Cornell Big Red this past weekend? Wow! Cornell actually played a big part in ruining my bracket, but it sure was hard not to be impressed by the way they played against Temple in the 1st round and Wisconsin in the 2nd. Steve Donahue’s team was never really threatened by Temple in the opening round game, and they flat out thrashed a Wisconsin team that is fairly difficult to humiliate the way Cornell did. Up next for the Big Red are the big, bad Wildcats from Kentucky, who also breezed by their first two opponents this weekend. It’s hard to imagine Cornell pulling off the upset, but I’ll tell you what – if they play as flawlessly as they did against Wisconsin, they may very well continue their march on to Indianapolis.
Donahue joined ESPN Radio Chicago to talk about his team’s outstanding play in the opening two rounds, on if he was upset by being seeded 12th, how he’s trying to keep his team focused, if he’s surprised by just how well they’ve played, and what he thinks it will take for his team to knock off the athletic Kentucky Wildcats.
On if he was disappointed Cornell was seeded 12th:
“In all honesty, I think the committee has an extremely difficult job, and it’s hard to judge if a team like Cornell is better than the 3rd team in the Big East, for instance. So I think our guys are a little motivated by that, but I think I’m a little more educated about what happens in those meetings, so I don’t feel that way.”
On where’s the line between soaking it in and playing to win?
“I think with this group, being mostly seniors and playing 120 games together and being through 3 NCAA Tournaments together, I think these guys get it. Even before the first round game against Temple, there was a very relaxed atmosphere in the locker room, and I could have jumped it if I had been a young coach, but I didn’t, I just let it go and run with it. I trust them, it’s a genuine confidence and comfort level that exists that when they need to go get it, they do. They back it up with a work ethic on and off the court in the weight room, and believe me, we wanna win the ballgame ad look back on this with a fond memory.”
On how being a senior laden team works in your favor:
“Well I think it is an advantage, and I think you’ll have to play the game to figure that out. I think these guys, when they were 17, could never have played a NCAA Tourney game against a high level team. But what we get are kids that develop late – that’s probably why they aren’t at a high major program. Ryan Wittman is as good a 2 guard in the country, Jeff Foote as good a center, and Lewis Dale as good a point guard, and they have had 120 games to compete and 3 years of really hard to work, and now they are smarter and bigger and stronger, and it bodes well for us. We’re going to have to play against some serious athleticism and obviously we’re going to have to do a great job to win the game.”
On if he was surprised how you won your first 2 games:
“Well I was in a sense that we were able to execute everything we wanted to do. I think what you see in the NCAA Tournament, once you get out of your league play, league play for everybody is a grind. Everybody knows everybody, so when you go back to neutral site games, people don’t really have the time to prepare for ya, and I think we’re dangerous that way. It’s difficult to change what you do all year, then to prepare for a Cornell. There’s not many teams like us in college basketball – We play very different – we utilize all 5 guys in a skilled manner, we change defenses, it’s just different. I think our league prepares us very well for this, actually, and then when you go out and have the freedom to go out and do what you do well, it creates great execution.”
Listen here to Donahue with Waddle & Silvy on ESPN Radio Chicago (interview begins at 9:45 mark)