It's been roughly three years since Cornell squared up against Syracuse. Just ask Big Red head coach Bill Courtney about the matchup -- he remembers it all too well.
The then newly minted head coach back in 2010 remembers the tough challenge his team went up against that night at the Carrier Dome.
"I don't think anyone anticipates how long and active they are in the zone defense," Courtney recalls. "That is what makes them so effective."
The length of Fab Melo, Rick Jackson and Kris Joseph gave Courtney's team fits that year. Syracuse's defense forced Cornell to six-of-25 shooting from the field, including a one-for-12 performance from behind the arc in the first half.
"It's an extremely long team that (Jim Boeheim) has this year," Courtney said. "I think that will be our No. 1 challenge in the zone and on the defensive backboards."
For Friday night's game, Courtney will rely on sophomore Nolan Cressler and junior Devin Cherry to catch fire and hopefully find the back of the net during the early stages of the game.
"I think it's important that we feel good about ourselves early," he said. "If we miss a lot of shots, it will be a very difficult challenge for our guys. I think if all of our guys can get a comfort level playing in the Dome that will certainly be helpful.
"Nolan is very important for what we do," Courtney said. "He will probably take the most shots. Hopefully, he can get off to a good start."
Cressler led the team in three-pointers made last year, shooting roughly 40 percent. The then freshman got valuable time (21 minutes per game) on the court and will be one of the go-to players for Cornell come game time.
Cherry will also be in the mix when it comes to touching the rock, too. Courtney said this is the first year that the junior has gotten significant time and that he has been "thrusted into a leadership role." The Big Red will also look to senior Dwight Tarwater for veteran leadership as well in the absence of Shonn Miller. The junior has been sidelined, recovering and rehabbing from offseason shoulder surgery.
"He is one of our best players," Courtney notes. "Probably one of the best players in the Ivy League. What he says carries a lot of weight in the locker room. He has been terrific even though he hasn't been on the court."
Youth will no doubt play a huge part for Cornell. The team lost four starters last year and is still battling through injuries and player attrition. Playing at the Dome alone will pose a few minor road blocks, according to Courtney.
"You're going to shot a lot of jump shots (playing against a zone)," he said. "Your depth perception is a little bit different with the big backdrop and the crowd is a factor when you have 30,000-plus of fans cheering. I think a lot of those challenges are very difficult for us with all the freshmen and sophomores that haven't played yet."
However, Cornell is always ready for a chance to challenge itself.
"When we made the schedule we had a lot more guys," Courtney said laughing. "What I like and what our players and recruits like is the fact that we try and play the best. There are roughly four, five Hall of Fame basketball coaches and we've played three of them in Duke, Louisville and Syracuse. We like to challenge ourselves. Our guys get fired up for it, Cornell University gets fired up for the game...we like doing it."
A tall order
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