Wake-up calls are not usually met with jubilation. From the one that starts your workday, to Goldilocks’s encounter with the three bears, to Odysseus’s battle with the Cyclops, they are met with a grimace.
But Cornell lacrosse’s is a good thing. It would be unfair to say the Big Red underperformed or underachieved during a 12-2 regular season in which its two losses were a snow-delayed game and a one goal loss to the eventual top seed in the NCAA Tournament. However, it is fair to say Cornell did not reach its full potential.
So when did the wakeup call come? What happened between the regular season and Cornell’s 16-8 doubling up of reigning national runner-up Maryland and the double-digit 16-6 win over three seed Ohio State?
It was a disappointed bunch that walked off Schoellkopf Field on Friday May 3, having lost to Princeton 14-13 in overtime in the Ivy League semifinals. The loss meant no opportunity to play at Schoellkopf again in the Ivy League Championship game that Sunday. It also likely meant no opportunity to play a home game in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. That Sunday night, Cornell players and coaches learned a team still ranked second in both national polls, would be unseeded in the NCAA Tournament, and play all of its games away from Ithaca. Fifth year senior attacker Rob Pannell joined Matt Schultz and me on Between the Lines the next day, and said it was disappointing to realize he had already played in his final game at Schoellkopf. He said that feeling led to him realizing that he could also be about to play his final game as a member of the Big Red.
“Your coaches say it from the time you’re a freshman through your senior year, to play each game like it’s your last, you never know when it’s going to be your last game, and that moment is actually here now, the fact that this weekend could be my last collegiate game is tough,” Pannell said. “The time is here, that after this weekend, I could never put on a Cornell uniform again, but I’m going to do my best to make sure that’s not the case.”
From watching Cornell’s dominant wins against Maryland and Ohio State, it is clear that Pannell’s mindset was shared by the other 15 members of the senior class. Cornell’s upperclassmen realized if they didn’t play together at an elite level at Maryland, their season would be over. The same went for against Ohio State. They woke up. And got caffeinated. Cornell outscored their two opponents a combined 32-14. Ithaca native, senior goalie A.J. Fiore stopped 22 of the 36 shots he faced, a remarkable 61% save percentage. Senior attacker Steve Mock tallied seven goals, in the first half against Ohio State, alone. Pannell totaled six goals and nine assists in the two games. Overall, the senior class, which also has received big contributions from defenseman Jason Noble, midfielder Max Van Bourgondien, and long stick midfielder Thomas Keith, has been outstanding during this NCAA Tournament run.
Cornell celebrates after defeating Ohio State to advance to the Final Four
“Our experiences as a whole, I think are starting to build momentum and come to ahead,” Cornell Head Coach Ben DeLuca said after the toppling of OSU. “I think we’re playing our best lacrosse right now. I know we can still play better, but I’m excited about where we are. I give all the credit in the world to our senior class…they continue to impress me. We’re excited that we have another week to practice together and be together and make a run at our ultimate goal.”
The ultimate goal is a national championship. Pannell tasted it as a freshman in 2009, when he notched a goal and an assist in Cornell’s overtime loss to Syracuse in the national championship game. He and DeLuca (then an assistant) are the only remaining members of that team that are on the current Cornell roster and coaching staff. The rest of Pannell’s senior class entered the program in the fall of 2009, with the goal of getting to be part of a run like that. They have already reached the Final Four, where the Big Red will take on Duke Saturday. If this Cornell group continues to play with the same intensity and elite level of play it did its last two games, it will defeat Duke, followed by either Syracuse or Denver on Monday, to win a national title.
When you are still half asleep, it is easy to press “snooze” on your alarm. But once you are already woken up? It is hard to fall back asleep. Cornell has been wide awake and energized the past two weeks. Can it keep it up through Memorial Day?
From second in the nation to unseeded. That was the first thought going through my head Sunday night after learning Cornell was selected to be unseeded and play at six seed Maryland in the first round of the 2013 Men’s Lacrosse NCAA Tournament. The initial reaction by the Big Red players sitting next to me at Cornell’s Selection Sunday viewing party was cheering and excitement when they saw their name on ESPNU. Without a guaranteed tournament bid after failing to win the Ivy League Tournament, Cornell was at the mercy of the selection committee to receive an at-large bid. Although in all likelihood they were going to receive one, it was relieving for the team to know for certain they were in the tournament. However, the excitement turned to silence when they saw they would be traveling south to face last year’s national championship runner-up, Maryland.
Cornell reacts to selection announcement
In both of the prior week’s coaches’ and media polls, the Big Red had been ranked second in the nation. It had been ranked in the top eight in the nation every single week the entire season in both polls. So how was it possible that Cornell dropped below the eight seeded teams to become unseeded, and have to play on the road in the first round of the NCAA Tournament?
Well, the selection committee looked at Cornell’s schedule and results. The Big Red had just one win against a 2013 NCAA Tournament team, its 12-10 win at Yale in March. After losing in the Ivy League Tournament semifinals, Cornell was going to need more than one resume win to propel itself to a higher seed. Going into the season, it looked like the Big Red was going to have many opportunities to earn resume wins. Head Coach Ben DeLuca’s non-conference schedule included visiting a preseason top-10 Virginia team and a Colgate squad which advanced to the 2012 NCAA Tournament quarterfinals and featured reigning Tewaaraton winner Peter Baum. While Cornell defeated both Virginia and Colgate this past season, wins against them were not worth nearly as much as originally anticipated.
All three of Cornell’s losses were by one goal, falling to Bucknell and Syracuse during the regular season and Princeton in the Ivy League Tournament semifinal, with the latter two in overtime. The Bucknell loss featured a lengthy snow delay which disrupted Cornell’s rhythm, the Syracuse loss was against the eventual top seed in the NCAA Tournament, and the Princeton loss was against a team which it beat handily the week before at the Big City Classic at MetLife Stadium. However, all three were losses. That’s what the Selection Committee pays most attention to.
On Selection Day, the committee examined a Big Red team with the 15th best strength of schedule in the nation and the eighth best RPI. The two teams with worse RPI than Cornell that were seeded higher were Duke (12th RPI, seven seed) and Penn State (eighth RPI, eight seed). While Duke finished with five losses, hurting its RPI, it had more resume wins than Cornell, defeating tournament teams North Carolina, Towson, and defending national champion Loyola. Penn State’s resume was very similar to Cornell’s. It lost two one-goal games to great teams in Notre Dame and Ohio State. However, one of its two wins over a tournament bound team (Denver) was of higher quality than Cornell’s (Yale). The other win was over Towson, a team it later lost to in its conference championship. Cornell had similarly beaten a good Princeton team, but lost to the Tigers in its conference tournament semifinals rematch, and Princeton ended up losing in the championship and missed the NCAA Tournament.
Cornell was ranked second in the country entering conference tournament play, mainly based off it being given the benefit of the doubt that its results on the field would eventually mirror its talented and experienced roster. However, it ran out of opportunities to garner enough quality wins to show it is an elite team. A second win over Princeton might have been just enough for it to earn a seed, and with an Ivy League Championship it would have been one of the top seeds if not the top seed overall.
Certainly, the NCAA Lacrosse Tournament Selection Committee is far from perfect, and there are other variables that come into play when creating brackets in this non-revenue sport, including geography and travel costs. Cornell could have been given a seed over Duke or Penn State, or given a less difficult matchup than Maryland, and it could have been argued that was the correct decision. But by looking at Cornell’s resume, it is understandable that the Selection Committee decided to award them an unseeded bid and a first round matchup at Maryland. While Cornell's resume did not demonstrate it is an elite team, it has the talent, experience, and coaching expertise to demonstrate during its NCAA Tournament run that it is an elite team. This Cornell team could be bounced by Maryland in the first round or it could win a national title. There is that much parity and uncertainty in college lacrosse this year. One in which a team could be ranked second in the nation one week, and then unseeded in the NCAA Tournament the next week.
“The Six Overtime Game. I was there.” That is all I have to say to invoke jealousy among Syracuse fans, college basketball fans, and even the casual sports fan. There have been many more meaningful Syracuse games over the past five years. NCAA Tournament basketball games. Football bowl games. Even lacrosse national championships. While it was just a Big East Tournament Quarterfinal featuring two teams that were heading to the NCAA Tournament regardless, the Syracuse – Connecticut game was special. And as the Orange prepares to tipoff its final Big East Tournament Tuesday, The Six Overtime Game is my favorite memory of the conference’s annual takeover of New York City.
For Syracuse fans, there is a lot to remember. Jonny Flynn’s dazzling performance that helped launch him to a 1stround pick in the 2009 NBA draft. Eric Devendorf hitting the game winner at the end of regulation and jumping on the scorers’ table, only for it to be ruled the shot was released after the buzzer. Four SU players fouling out resulting in walk-on Justin Thomas seeing the court. The excitement when UConn’s inside force Hasheem Thabeet fouled out toward the end of the fourth overtime. Looking up at the scoreboard at the end of the sixth overtime, in disbelief it was finally over and Syracuse won, and then looking at your watch to see it was the next day.
I was in disbelief after Syracuse finally beat UConn - in six overtimes
I was lucky enough to be at Madison Square Garden that Thursday evening/morning. A few weeks prior, I received permission from my TA to miss my “Religion and Sports” morning class (luckily he was understanding, after all the word “Sports” was in the class title) to camp out at the Carrier Dome to be one of the lucky sixty Syracuse University students to receive student section tickets to the Big East Tournament.
Sure, I was incredibly grateful to be at The Garden for The Six Overtime Game, part of a loud, passionate orange sea of sixty SU students and its band, located left of the basket behind the baseline. But every member of Orange Nation was part of that night. The fans in the arena, those watching nearby at local New York City establishments, folks sitting in their living room, etc.
We all shared a magical night. Maybe Syracuse has another magical performance left in it, as it begins its final Big East Tournament run Tuesday. Maybe it will be as simple as getting the last laugh in the Georgetown rivalry, after losing to the Hoyas in both the Orange’s final Big East game in the Dome and its final Big East regular season game. Or it could be a dazzling week for an SU player like it was for Gerry McNamara in 2006 and it has been for countless other Big Easters over the years who have shined in March on the Madison Square Garden floor. Or you never know, maybe there will be a seven overtime game.
I look forward to the final Big East Tournament as we know it, before all conference realignment craziness takes into full effect and Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame leave for the ACC this summer with Louisville joining them in a year, Rutgers departing for the Big 10, and the Big East leftovers of Connecticut, Southern Florida, and Cincinnati joining forces with schools plucked from Conference USA and smaller conferences to form a league that should simply be called “The John Marinatto Conference.” What will be left are the Catholic 7, who will hold on to the Big East name and the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden. And I could not think of a more deserving group. It will include four Big East originals in Georgetown, St. John’s, Providence, and Seton Hall, a near original in Villanova, and a successful program in Marquette (and DePaul will be there too). This collection of schools is what the Big East has been about since it was founded; elite basketball. And Butler, Xavier, and Creighton very well could join them next year.
It will be sad next March to not see Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Louisville, Rutgers, Connecticut, Southern Florida, and Cincinnati on basketball’s biggest stage at Madison Square Garden. But it would have been even sadder to have seen Houston, Southern Methodist, Central Florida, Memphis, and Temple on the court and Tulane a year later. That would not have been the Big East at all. It would have been a collection of schools that happened to play the revenue generating sport of football, which to a less important extent also happened to play basketball.
The Big East Tournament will still be great next year, which is great for college basketball. But for Syracuse fans, it will be strange to not be a part of it. So Orange Nation, enjoy one last run of it this week. At the very least, SU could have one more chance to beat Georgetown.
Two hours before tip-off, the cars started to roll up to Cornell’s Crescent Parking Lot for Tuesday evening’s basketball game. An hour before tip-off, fans were filing into long, zig-zaggy lines stretched throughout the athletic complex’s interior corridor in front of Newman Arena. By 7 p.m., Newman was a packed house.
The 3,000+ fans in attendance did not know who any of the players were, had no allegiances to either team, and knew the game’s victor before it even began.
But this was not a Cornell basketball game and not even exactly a game at all. It was the Harlem Globetrotters.
It was my first Globetrotters experience. The closest I had ever come to seeing them before last night was their cameos on Scooby-Doo.
I somewhat knew what to expect last night. A Globetrotters “World Championship” win (this time over the Global Select), trick plays, skills showcasing, comical antics, and humorously playful trash talking.
The event started with a Cee Lo Green look-alike hosting the game’s lengthy introductions, filled with random characters doing random things including their mascot Globie in an Elvis costume, resembling a “What’s Up With That” sketch from Saturday Night Live.
Cee Lo Green look-alike host and the Globetrotters Globie and two Globetrotter dancers. A few of the many pregame characters
But once the game began, what pleasantly surprised me were the heartwarming and amusing interactions with the fans, particularly young children. Many of the Globetrotters on-the-court antics, led by player Big Easy, were right in the middle of the action. Big Easy would interrupt play, go into the stands, and bring folks out on the floor to be part of the festivities. This included helping a young girl to spin a basketball on a finger, a young boy make a foul shot while players on both teams cheered him on, and an adult woman slow dance with Big Easy mid-court while he complimented her. Big Easy, who was mic’d up all game, was infectiously charismatic with the fans he brought onto the court, as well as the fans in the stands.
Young Fan Tries to Sink a Foul Shot, with support from the Globetrotters and Select
By the end of the night, it was clear to me that it is those interactions that draw over 3,000 people to Newman Arena for a Harlem Globetrotters game. The crowd was predominantly filled with families, most of which had small children. Many young kids don’t care about the score, players, or teams; they just want to be entertained.
Most of the faces in the packed crowd would be absent at a Big Red basketball game. Some probably show up for the “Kids’ Days,” like Cornell had against Old Westbury last month, which featured bounce houses and face painting. However, Tuesday was likely the only trip to Newman this year for many of the families in attendance.
What more can Cornell do? At a professional or collegiate game, whether it is the NBA, minor league baseball, or college basketball, the game counts and while action is going on, there is no place for shenanigans. Sure, you can provide entertainment away from the court and during stoppages in play. But only with an event like the Harlem Globetrotters, can the action frequently stop all of a sudden for some entertaining interaction with the fans. It is what makes the Harlem Globetrotters a special event, in a unique fan-friendly way that no one else but maybe staged professional wrestling can touch.
Yet, whether it was a real game or not, some exciting basketball was displayed at Newman last night. There was some electric dunking, breathtaking shooting, and dazzling dribbling and passing. I am hoping some of the youngsters in the stands were not just delighted by the event’s fanfare, but also the play on the court. Maybe a kid in the stands who watched basketball at Newman for the first time Tuesday said at the end of the night, “Mommy, Daddy, I like basketball!” With the Globetrotters in town just once a year, maybe Mommy and Daddy take their son and daughter back to Newman for a Cornell game. Because even without the bells and whistles of the Globetrotters, Big Red hoops is still pretty fun to watch.
1 of the night's many Globetrotter dunks
Bonus Point: My Between the Lines Co-Host Matt Schultz and I discussed at the game which Syracuse or Cornell alum would make the best Globetrotter. We agreed it would be 2012 Syracuse alum Antonio “Scoop” Jardine. He already goes by his nickname, is entertaining to watch, loves to yap, and is looking to continue his basketball career. “Scoop” the Harlem Globetrotter would be perfect.
There very well could be a walk-on on the court for Syracuse against Pittsburgh during crucial moments of the game. The Orange enters Saturday with only seven active scholarships players, as senior swingman James Southerland remains ineligible to play and freshman big man Dajuan Coleman is out after knee surgery. That means 6-5 forward walk-on Matt Lyde-Cajuste, who received one of the team’s vacant scholarships for his senior year, could see more action than just garbage time if any of his teammates get into foul trouble or get injured.
When we think of Division 1 college basketball players, there are two classes of players. “Scholarship players” and “walk-ons". It is less of a first and second class distinction, than it is first class and steerage. In D-1 hoops, scholarship student-athletes are treated by the fans like superstars. Walk-ons are treated like Rudy. There is less of a distinction at scholarship-free Ivy League schools in which the only real difference between recruited players and walk-ons, is recruited players were promised a spot on the team, and the talent differential is often blurred (see Cornell’s Johnathan Gray).
At Syracuse basketball games at the Dome, when the Orange has an unrelinquishable lead heading into the game’s final minutes, you’ll hear the fans start to cheer “We Want Walk-ons!” Any time a walk-on makes a shot, the Dome erupts like it was a buzzer-beating game winner. I never liked that. The fans might think they are inspiring the hopeless underdog, but what they are really doing is patronizing legitimate college basketball players.
In my four years up in Syracuse, the most beloved walk-on was point guard Brandon Reese. 5-11, baby-faced Brandon Reese. He might have looked like an adorable child compared to the 6-11 guys surrounding him, but the man could hoop. He and every single one of his fellow walk-ons could school me and just about everyone else in Central New York in 1-on-1. And if you recall, he did look very impressive most of the time during the limited, game-just-about-over minutes he saw in his time on the hill.
Do you doubt a walk-on can play meaningful minutes? Remember that “Six Overtime Game” Syracuse beat UConn in during the 2009 Big East Tournament? Orange walk-on senior Justin Thomas played in the final two overtimes, contributing great defense in helping SU to the legendary victory. He passed the torch of “best walk-on option” to Reese, who after graduating in 2012 passed it along to Lyde-Cajuste.
These are not random Syracuse students Jim Boeheim charitably asked to join his team to make them feel good. Boeheim also does not have a walk-on quota to fill. He only adds guys to the team that he knows can help his team win, who play a high enough level of basketball to practice with and play with his scholarship athletes. And it’s a level that’s pretty high.
There is no way to calculate the exact talent differential between a recruited scholarship player and a walk-on. There are some scholarship players who go on to the NBA, but there are also some who underachieve and only play at the end of blowouts with the walk-on's (see Mookie Jones). If Lyde-Cajuste plays meaningful minutes for Syracuse tomorrow, will he stick out like a sore thumb among recruited scholarship players? That remains to be seen. But he deserves to be treated by the SU fans making the trip to Pittsburgh, both positively and negatively, like every other player out there. Maybe in one of these games with Southerland and Coleman out, he’ll have the opportunity to remind Syracuse fans something they forgot since the Six Overtime Game; walk-ons are not always inferior. Sometimes they can hoop with the best of them.
Watching the Syracuse football team this past week waltz around New York City in preparation for Saturday’s Pinstripe Bowl gave me quite the serious case of Déjà vu. After all, they did this already, and not too long ago. Just two years ago, in 2010, the Orange played in the inaugural Pinstripe Bowl, defeating Kansas State. But my feelings about the state of the program could not be further from where they were two years ago.
Two years ago, Syracuse had just completed a regular season that seemed like a true breakthrough for the program. Just a year removed from Greg Robinson as its head coach, whose failures in leading, disciplining, and coaching led to a 10-37 record over four years and his dismissal, SU was playing in a bowl game. I remember standing on the Rutgers Stadium field after the Orange defeated the Scarlet Knights to clinch bowl eligibility, witnessing Syracuse players bowl their helmets with tears dripping down their grinning faces. That same euphoria among the team was there after the win over Kansas State in the 2010 Pinstripe Bowl. Talking with players after the game, I got the sense that they were proud of how far they had come since the trying G-Rob years, but more so, how much they were looking forward to the future.
Me at Yankee Stadium after Syracuse's victory in the 2010 Pinstripe Bowl
After the 2010 Pinstripe Bowl victory, there was shared optimism among Syracuse players, coaches, fans, and even media. Yes, it was cautious optimism, as the Orange won a bowl game in just the second year of its rebuilding process. But the general thought was that it would slowly build on that season every season after, starting with 2011.
Instead, Syracuse dropped its final five games of the 2011 season, falling one win short of clinching bowl eligibility. After the loss to Pittsburgh in the season finale, ensuring SU would not play in a bowl game, Doug Marrone said the season was not a step backward, but definitely not a step forward.
However, 2011 could easily be evaluated as a step backward. This 2012 season, which will conclude with Saturday’s Pinstripe Bowl, is definitely a step forward from 2011. But by how much? Syracuse took advantage of a very lackluster Big East, one that had so much parity of a mediocre variety, that half its conference (including SU) won a share of its title. Winning its final three games, including knocking off undefeated Louisville and beating Missouri on the road, was impressive. And if Syracuse can top Geno Smith and the high octane West Virginia offense Saturday, it would be impressive as well. Regardless, the Orange will take a step forward from last season. But will it take a step forward from its last appearance in the Pinstripe Bowl? And if so, by how much?
From a recruiting and branding standpoint, it is good that Syracuse is back in the Pinstripe Bowl, as opposed to some other non-BCS games, especially the BBVA Compass Bowl right in the middle of the BCS bowl schedule that Pittsburgh was sentenced to. However, it feels as Syracuse takes the same Yankee Stadium field it took in 2010, two years later, it is at the same place as a program. And with the move next season to a tougher ACC, the steps it faces are harder than the ones it did two years ago. There are also a lot of question marks, including who replaces the graduating Ryan Nassib at quarterback next season. And in a college football landscape that seems to become increasingly more demanding of head coaches every year, how long does Athletic Director Daryl Gross give Doug Marrone to continue his efforts in righting the ship? Would a couple of bad years in the ACC lead to Gross starting over again?
There are seldom cases where the sequel is better than the original. On the field, the 2012 Pinstripe Bowl featuring Syracuse could be better than its 2010 version. However, I do not see Orange fans sharing the same euphoria and optimism, post-game, that they did two years ago. Instead, some cautious optimism, uncertainty, and buried fear that playing in non-BCS games like the Pinstripe Bowl is essentially the plateau for the program at this point.