Kentucky vs. Cornell -- contrasts are as different as blue and red
Kentucky has won 100 NCAA games, seven titles; Cornell has two tourney wins
Kentucky spends $8.6 million on program; Cornell doesn't give scholarships
The gap in talent is massive, but the Big Red have a chance to ruin UK's dreams
When the buzzer sounded on Cornell's 87-69 second-round NCAA tournament win over Wisconsin on Sunday, the comparisons began between the Big Red and their Sweet 16 nemesis, Kentucky.
"Seriously, Kentucky-Cornell would be fascinating," SI.com colleague Stewart Mandel wrote on Twitter. "Three future lottery picks vs. their future financial advisers."
Cornell's roster may be far superior to that of the average Ivy League champ, and the Big Red may play more like Goliath than David, but a side-by-side comparison of the two programs reveals just how monumental an upset it would be if Cornell could beat John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and the rest of John Calipari's band of all-stars.
Consider these facts:
Before winning the past three Ivy League titles, Cornell -- like most of the other Ivy programs -- served as cannon fodder for Princeton and Penn. Either the Tigers or Quakers won or shared the previous 19 Ivy League titles before Cornell's run. Prior to the Big Red's recent success, Cornell had won one Ivy title (1987-88) since 1956.
Since 1926, Kentucky has won or tied for the SEC regular-season title 49 times. Since the SEC began holding a tournament again in 1979, the Wildcats have won the title 13 times. Kentucky is playing in its 50th NCAA tournament. The Wildcats have won 100 tournament games and seven NCAA titles. Cornell has won two NCAA tournament games.
Kentucky has produced 47 All-Americas, including 15 consensus first-teamers. Cornell has produced seven All-Americas, with zero consensus first-teamers.
Kentucky has sent scores of players to the NBA, including Pat Riley, Kenny Walker, Jamal Mashburn, Antoine Walker and Tayshaun Prince. It likely will send more this summer, assuming Wall, Cousins and Patrick Patterson turn pro. Cornell's greatest contribution to the NBA is Toronto Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo, the 1987 graduate who was named executive of the year in 2005.
Of course, those Kentucky players all received athletic scholarships. The Ivy League doesn't offer athletic scholarships. While players at Kentucky -- and nearly every non-Ivy Division I school -- receive a scholarship that pays for tuition, room and board, most Cornell players use a mixture of grants, federal loans and work-study programs to pay the $54,676 annual cost of attendance.
Cornell plays its home games in Newman Arena (capacity: 4,473), which is named after F.R. Newman, a 1912 graduate who, according to an old Cornell media guide, was considered "one of the nation's foremost experts in industrial fuel-oil marketing." Kentucky plays in Rupp Arena (capacity: 23,000), which is named after Adolph Rupp, who coached a little basketball.
Between Big Blue Madness (24,000-plus), the Blue-White Scrimmage (14,060) and Kentucky's first exhibition against Campbellsville (21,384) the Wildcats surpassed Cornell's entire home attendance for the season (43,897).
The Kentucky media guide is a glossy treasure trove of photos and information that could easily exceed its 208 pages if that weren't the NCAA maximum. If so inclined, fans can purchase the guide on the school's Web site for $20. Cornell couldn't afford to print media guides this year. The 2008-09 guide was 84 pages.
According to figures submitted by Kentucky to the U.S. Department of Education, the Wildcats' men's basketball program spent $8.6 million during the 2008-09 school year. During the same span, the program made $14.8 million, and that number probably would be higher if Kentucky counted every booster dollar donated during that year by people who became fans of Kentucky's athletic program because of the basketball team. Cornell, meanwhile, spent $925,269 on its men's basketball program in 2008-09. According to the figures Cornell submitted, the program generated the same amount in revenue.
Cornell's locker room is housed in Bartels Hall, which is home to several Big Red teams. Basketball players lift weights along with the rest of the Big Red's 900 athletes in the $2 million Friedman Center, an 8,000-foot facility that opened in 1997. That sounds nice, and the photos in older media guides show a weight room any fitness freak would envy ...
... unless said fitness freak knew that Kentucky practices in the $30 million Joe Craft Center, which opened in 2007 and features spacious coaches offices and a circular locker room that, according to the media guide, "provides each player with plenty of space while promoting team unity." Kentucky players train in a basketball-only weight room that features equipment specially designed for taller athletes.
The differences aren't limited to numbers and brick-and-mortar structures. The expectation gap is as wide as 7-foot Cornell center Jeff Foote's wingspan. Kentucky fans and administrators expect their team to make the Final Four every season, and rightfully so. Cornell hopes to compete for the Ivy League title every season, but even that is a relatively new development.
Cornell coach Steve Donahue went 12-42 his first two seasons at Cornell, finishing seventh (out of eight teams) in the Ivy League both years. Donahue's teams steadily improved, matching or exceeding the previous season's win total every year until the Big Red finally won the Ivy League with a 14-0 conference record in 2007-08.
At Kentucky, Billy Gillispie compiled a record 40-27 in his first two seasons. In his second season, Gillispie committed the cardinal sin of missing the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats had played in 17 consecutive tournaments -- dating back to when Rick Pitino shepherded the Unforgettables through a dark period of NCAA sanctions and led them to the Elite Eight in 1992. The ignominy of playing in the NIT was simply too much to bear, so Gillispie was fired.
Want to explain the power of Kentucky basketball in two sentences? Use these: The Wildcats missed the NCAA tournament last year, so they fired their coach. After hiring Calipari, Kentucky didn't only make the Big Dance, it went in as a No. 1 seed.
For all the differences in the programs, the current editions of the Wildcats and Big Red are much more similar than most people think. Cornell isn't as athletic as Kentucky -- Who is? -- but it speaks volumes that forward Mark Coury started 29 games for Kentucky two years ago and now comes off the bench for Cornell. Coury wouldn't start for the Wildcats anymore, either, but the fact that a former SEC starter didn't automatically win a job suggests that this is not a typical Ivy League roster. Cornell has athletes, too. And the Big Red like to push the tempo. They don't push as hard as the Wildcats, but they pushed hard enough this past weekend to drag Temple and Wisconsin into shootouts neither could handle.
Can Cornell keep up with Kentucky? If the Big Red can hit their shots and lure the Wildcats' big men into foul trouble, they absolutely can. And if they are within a few points in the final 10 minutes, anything could happen.
But even if Kentucky blows the doors off the Big Red, this team certainly has given Cornell its $925,269 worth.
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