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The Big Red Machine

Tonight the #16 Syracuse Orange (7-0) take on a 4-3 Cornell squad. That record is a little confusing at first, considering the Big Red are coming off an Ivy League title and are favorites to win it again. When in doubt when it comes to the Big Red, you have to turn to The Cornell Basketball Blog for the answers.

So I did.

First off...refresh my memory but Cornell had a bit of a good season last year, didn't they? Something about an Ivy League Title and NCAA Tournament?

Cornell had a very special season a year ago. The Big Red finished with a school-record for wins (22-6 overall), a perfect 14-0 Ivy League slate and rode a 16 game win streak headed into the NCAA Tournament. In fact, Cornell's two losses during its last 18 games a year ago were to Duke and Stanford.

So far the Big Red are 4-3. Is that more about new players adjusting or is it more to do with the early-season schedule?

Well, Cornell is pretty banged up at the moment. The Big Red returned four All-Ivy League players from a year ago, but the starting backcourt has yet to play a game. Junior point guard, Louis Dale, the reigning Ivy League Player of the Year and a candidate for the Bob Cousy award (along with Jonny Flynn), has struggled with a nagging hamstring injury. While he is listed as a "day to day gametime decision" the Cornell coaching staff does not want to rush him back. They want to wait until he is 110% healthy. The reasoning? In a one-bid conference without a conference tournament, it is crucial Cornell not lose Dale for the Ivy games. So, with extreme caution in mind, Cornell has kept him out of the line-up thus far. Maybe we see him at Syracuse, but it is doubtful.

Last Friday was the first full practice Dale participated in since the preseason.

If losing Dale was not bad enough for the Big Red, Cornell also suffered a setback when senior guard Adam Gore tore his ACL during preseason workouts. Gore was a Second Team All Ivy League selection in 2007-2008. This is the second ACL tear for Gore. He is participating in an expedited physical therapy and they are hoping to have him back for most of the Ivy slate. He will be in street clothing against Syracuse.

With a banged up roster, Cornell has played a fairly challenging schedule. The Big Red are 4-3 with losses to St. John's, Siena, and Indiana, all on the road. In addition to Syracuse, Cornell has other tough non-conference games coming up against Minnesota, St. Joseph's (Pa) and La Salle. This schedule was designed to prepare Cornell for the NCAA Tournament.

Who is the one player who will strike fear into the hearts of SU fans?

Well, the most recognizable name on the Cornell roster is Ryan Wittman, son of Minnesota Timberwolves Head Coach, Randy Wittman. A 6'6" wing with one of the prettiest jump shots in the country, he has NBA shooting range. Wittman averaged 15.4 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game a year ago and hit 47% from the floor, 46% beyond the arc and 87% at the free throw line.

With Gore and Dale out of the line-up, defenses have really focussed on him and his shooting numbers have fallen off a bit. But he has still managed a way to get his points. He rang up 28 at Indiana the other night and had 25 against St. John's in the Preseason NIT.

What does the season look like for Cornell? Another conference title in the cards?

For Cornell, the season could come down to health issues. If the Big Red can get Dale and Gore back, Cornell can definitely make a run for another undefeated season in the Ivy League. But in the face of the adversity with all of the injuries, most Cornell fans have been quite pleased with this squad thus far as they are playing above .500 basketball.

Any predictions for the Cornell-SU game?

For Cornell to win, this one will likely come down to defense, tempo, turnovers and Cornell's outside shooting. First, Cornell needs to avoid giving up easy baskets. They want to make Syracuse work for their points. If the Big Red play solid defense, knock down their 3-pointers, take care of the basketball, keep the pace down and limit the Orange's ability to get out in transition, this could be a good game. If not, Syracuse could blow this one wide open.

Thanks to The Cornell Basketball Blog, keep an eye over there for any info on the Big Red and tomorrow's game.

Image Credit: TCBB