Monday, December 29, 2008

GAMEDAY: Boston University vs. Cornell University

Following an eight-day layoff, the Terriers will play their final game of 2008 against a team they've never faced before -- Cornell University. The Big Red will be the third Ivy League team BU's faced this this year, but Cornell's markedly better than both Yale and Harvard (two teams the Terriers beat earlier in the season). After a disappointing loss to the University of Delaware before Christmas, tonight's matchup at the Newman Arena -- a place where the Big Red have won 10 consecutive games and is 4-0 this season -- marks a chance for both teams to turn it around.

Picked to win the Ivy league, the Big Red have struggled recently, dropping four of their last five contests -- though those four were against quality opponents: Indiana, Syracuse, Minnesota and St. Joseph's. All four of those losses were also on the road, as Cornell has been a very difficult team to play at home all season.

BU, on the other hand, is coming off what was arguably its worst loss of the season after such an encouraging loss against the University of Notre Dame in South Bend. Following the game, BU coach Dennis Wolff mentioned it was the first time he was disappointed in his team, so keep an eye on how much intensity and desire the Terriers begin the game with. As much as Cornell's been floundering, the Terriers have lost lost three of their last four games. This contest and one more non-conference game (against Holy Cross) remain before BU beings to take on America East foes, so it's now or never if the Terriers hope to establish a rhythm that will carry them through conference play.

First, however, they'll need to deal with a prolific scorer in Ryan Wittman, who's averaging 21.4 points per game, 4.0 rebounds per game and 3.0 assists per game. His season low in points is 11 as he's reached double digits in scoring in every game this season, with a season-high 33 on Dec. 3 against Syracuse. Sure, he's no Luke Harangody, but he's still, the 6-foot-6 forward extremely dangerous player who will present a tough matchup for whoever BU puts on him. John Holland and Matt Wolff will most likely spend the bulk of the time guarding Wittman, as forward Jake O'Brien will be busy with 7-foot center Jeff Foote, who's averaging 13.5 points per game and 6.6 rebounds per game. If, however, Cornell decides to keep Foote on O'Brien on the defensive end, it could work in BU's favor, as the freshman forward may draw Foote away from the interior and help the Terriers' rebounding cause.

That said, Cornell isn't particularly strong at rebounding, despite Foote's size, so if BU can hold its own on the boards, the game should be close. In addition, the Terriers will need to convert 3-pointers at more than a 23.3 percent rate as they did against the Blue Hens. BU is actually fifth in the nation in regard to 3-point shots taken to total shots taken -- 47.5 percent of all the BU's shots are from beyond the arc. Thankfully, for the Terriers, they've been a much better 3-point shooting team on the road than at home. At Case, BU's shooting 28 percent from beyond the arc. At Agganis, they're converting 39 percent of all 3-point shots, while on the road the Terriers are knocking down 41 percent of their shots from beyond the arc. If the Terriers hope to topple their toughest Ivy League foe to date and continue Wolff's 12-game winning streak against the Ivy's, the 3-point shot will no doubt hold the key to success.

Probable starting lineups:

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