Here is part two of my interview with Cornell reserve forward Aaron Osgood and starting shooting guard Chris Wroblewski. In this excerpt we talked about how Cornell has been able to separate itself from the rest of the Ivy League over the past three years, and their formula for success against traditional powers like Temple and Wisconsin.
HoopSpeak: This is your third year in a row playing in the tournament. When you guys had the Ivy League locked up and knew you were going to the tournament again, what sort of things did you talk about to ensure you would be ready mentally to play and not get knocked out in the first round?
A.O.: We had to realize there’s a big difference between the Ivy League opponents we had been playing the past seven weeks and the teams we’re going to face in the tournament. We had a real tough preseason schedule and we really started practicing more on different things, we would scout differently.
With the Ivy League you deal with a lot of smart basketball players who are kind of crafty, whereas with these high major teams we knew we would be playing there’s a lot more one-on-one, a lot more dependence on athletic ability, getting to the rim type of thing. It’s two different types of play and we definitely focused more on the preseason type of game rather than the Ivy League.
HoopSpeak: You guys got to play against Syracuse, and their coach Jim Boeheim was really complimentary of you guys. What was it like to see that 2-3 zone in person?
A.O.: It’s surprising. We’ve played Syracuse three times in a row, and this year they were definitely the best. Two years before this year they were a lot slower, but this year they are really quick, really quick to close out on the shooters.
You would think there would be a lot of open shots and stuff but really we didn’t get a lot of good looks from three. The threes that we made were highly contested and good shots, but [the zone] definitely moves really quick and they have a great front line with [Brandon] Triche and [Andy] Rautins and the backline of course with [Arinze] Onuaku holding down the middle, its real tough to get into.
HoopSpeak: You guys are down 1, on Thursday, you’ve got the ball, 20 seconds lefts, shot clock is off. What play is Donahue drawing up in the huddle?
A.O.: It’s something for Wittman, for sure. Anything to get Wittman the ball. Probably run him off a couple staggered screens, maybe get a hand off from Jeff Foote. Something like that to get a good look. Jeff Foote is a great screener, he just swallows guys up, and I think definitely something like that for Wittman.
HoopSpeak: Is that how you see it going down?
C.W.: That definitely wouldn’t be a bad play. I think a luxury about this team is we have a few guys who you would trust with the ball in that situation. I think that we would maybe do a high pick-and-roll with [Jeff] Foote and Lou [Dale] up top and maybe some sort of down screen for Witt while that’s going on. So, you know, Lou if he can get something off the screen, he can take that, or if Foote winds up being open on the roll, or, you know, Witt coming up top, open for a shot. Anything that involves those three we would be fine in that situation.
HoopSpeak: So in that play are you just standing in the corner waiting to get the kick?
C.W.: In that situation I will act as a decoy (laughs). No really, the other two guys on the court would probably be shooters and I would probably be standing in the corner as the fourth of fifth option.
HoopSpeak: What makes Wittman such a difficult guy to cover?
A.O.: He’s real strong. He can get guys off him really well. In practice he’s always shoving us, you know, he’s surprisingly strong. He’s got a very quick release, so you think you are in on him and he can get off shots that you’re not really ready for.
Also he’s a real smart guy, he sets things up. He’s not just coming off the screen every time, he’s going to fake back door, something like that, to keep the defender guessing. And that helps him get open.
HoopSpeak.com: As you know, I went to Penn. That game at Penn was the last game that you guys lost. My friend sent me a text saying, “I wonder what it looks like to see 25 people storm the court.” What did you guys learn or what did you talk about in the few days after that game that’s helped you go on this tear in the last nine?
A.O.: I think a big part of that game was that we didn’t play with a passion. Coach was saying we kind of were sloppy and soft in that game and just didn’t have that fire. And I think that after that loss it really showed us that you have to play with that certain amount of fire.
When you’re between the lines you want to get every loose ball. We kind of have to have that hatred for the other team. And obviously hatred is kind of a strong word, but you know, you want to beat them. And I think against Penn we didn’t really have that passion, and that ever since then we’ve played extremely hard and with that fire and that’s been a big part. It was a good learning experience, definitely.
HoopSpeak: There’s been talk in this tournament about parity, you know, anyone can beat anyone, and it seems to be truer than ever this year. But the Ivy League, besides you guys and Harvard and times when Lin was able to get off, has really struggled against higher competition. Is there something that you can pinpoint that is holding the Ivy League back?
A.O.: You know I would say, you know this [from being at Penn], the athleticism in the Ivy League is not like in the A-10. You know the Ivy League is a different type of basketball. It’s a lot of smarter players who play the game differently.
We’ve been successful because we’ve been able to have a mix of both [types of players]. We have a great inside presence and great shooters, while the other Ivy League teams might be a bunch of pretty good shooters with no real inside threat. Even a Big East center can’t stop what we have in Jeff Foote. So I think why we’ve been so successful is that we have a real balanced attack whereas other Ivy League teams can be more easily shut down.
HoopSpeak: You guys have really played lights out against two defenses that do a really good job of just making it really difficult to do what you want to do, get the ball inside, score. Be as technical as you want, what about your offense makes it so difficult to take away? I know you guys have a lot of options but is there a certain pattern of movement that you think is particularly difficult to defend or is it just how you run it?
C.W.: I think it’s a combination. One: we have the luxury, again, of having four guys on the floor who can really extend the defense. I mean we have a four man that has stepped up this year, Jon Jaques, who I think might be top ten in the country in three point field goal percentage. Having a four guy who handles the ball like a guard and has the quickness of a guard but is still 6’8,’’ 6’7,’’ I think that’s tough for some of the higher level teams that have more traditional power forward and center match ups. Also I think we bring Foote out on the perimeter a lot for screens or dribble handoffs and he can really swallow guys up and open up lanes for either Louis or myself to get to the hoop or kick out to another shooter.
I also think it benefits us that we rely on our discipline and our skill level and so we execute really well. We cut hard every possession and we take care of the ball. And some of the teams that big schools play get into running matches and turn over the ball a little more, and rely on talent in things like pick-and-rolls, and I think we execute a little better.
There you have it! Team basketball, precision execution and oh yeah, serious skill and talent have made Cornell the toast of the Ancient Eight and one of the top programs in the country. Stay tuned for the conclusion of our interview, in which the boys breakdown their Sweet 16 match up with Kentucky.