JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Can a team put on a clinic during an NCAA tournament game? Is it possible?
The way Cornell played Sunday, they should have charged all in attendance an extra fee for what they watched.
They should sell that tape to high school teams and kids growing up. That's how good it was. Title: Playing the Perfect Basketball Game While Carving Up an Opponent.
There's no other way to describe what I watched here Sunday. Cornell, the 12th seed in the East Regional, ran and passed and shot, especially shot, the fourth-seeded Wisconsin Badgers out of the Jacksonville Veterans Coliseum. Cornell beat Wisconsin 87-69 to advance to the Sweet 16, where they will face top-seeded Kentucky.
The Big Red can worry about that game in a day or two -- and believe me they better worry -- because Sunday was a time for reflecting on what they accomplished, which was becoming the first Ivy League team to advance to the Round of 16 since Penn did it in 1979.
"I couldn't imagine that we could have played that well," Cornell coach Steve Donahue said.
Who could have?
The Big Red shot a blistering 61.1 percent from the field, including 8 for 15 from beyond the 3-point line. They only turned it over eight times, out-rebounded the Badgers 29-21 and basically owned the game. The 87 points were the most given up by Wisconsin this year.
Now Cornell is going home. The Big Red will play Kentucky in Syracuse, about an hour from Cornell's campus.
"Sadly at Cornell we're on spring break next week," center Jeff Foote said. "That kind of sucks."
The Big Red need not worry. They will have a nation rooting for them. Aside from those in Kentucky blue and not named Ashley Judd, you can bet the underdog from the Ivy League will be the darling of the fans.
But make no mistake about it: This is a dog with bite.
They have a guard in Louis Dale who can handle it, get to the basket and shoot it. He had 24 points against Wisconsin.
They have a forward who can flat out shoot it in Ryan Wittman, the Ivy League Player of the Year. He had 24 points on 10-of-15 shooting, including 3 of 5 from beyond the arc.
Wittman was so hot that one of his apparent lobs to Jeff Foote actually went into the basket.
"That was a shot, no matter how ugly it looked," Wittman said.
The son of former NBA player Randy Wittman, Ryan Wittman's only Big Ten offer was as a walk-on at Minnesota, which made sticking it in the eyes of the Badgers even more fun.
|Ryan Wittman knocks down 10 of 15 shots for 24 points in the win. (Getty Images)|
"At times, yeah," he said.
Like throwing a pea in the garbage. How can you miss?
With a father known as a sharp shooter, it was only natural that Wittman learned how to do it too.
So who beat who, pops or the kid?
"He's a little too old for that stuff now," Wittman said. "He won his fair share. He could definitely shoot. He never played me one on one. He said his knees were too bad."
I might put my money on the kid right now.
After the game, the Big Red players gathered near the baseline before going to the locker room and thanked their fans. It was a celebration that seemed unlikely four days ago.
But this close-knit team, with 14 players living in the same house, can play. Beating a non-athletic Wisconsin team is one thing, but taking on Kentucky with its speed and size is another.
"We've played teams like Kentucky before," Foote said.
He'll need the extra 50 pounds he's added since coming to Cornell. Kentucky is huge up front.
The Big Red played Kansas tough early in the season, so that will help.
"We're all confident in what we can do," Dale said.
Dale comes from SEC country. He is from Alabama and nobody in that league wanted him.
Now he gets to match up with John Wall, the nation's best point guard.
"I feel I can play on any level," Dale said.
Cornell proved it could Sunday. If the Big Red play the perfect game again next week, you never know.
It's not likely, but we've seen the formula for success play out so far in this tournament.
Mid-majors with seniors, shooters and one big man can play with the big boys.
St Mary's, Northern Iowa and Cornell are all going to the Sweet 16 with that formula.
"I think a lot of teams are sleeping on the mid-majors this year," Foote said.
When Cornell puts on clinics during games, that's not a wise thing to do. Wisconsin learned that the hard way.