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Shonn Miller and Big Red’s Resurgence in the Ivy League
When a team’s best player goes down, it’s never easy to pick up the pieces. Late in the 2012-2013 season, Cornell’s star forward Shonn Miller (a sophomore at the time) went down with a shoulder injury and ended up missing the final four games of the season. With hopes of returning for the 2013-2014 season, Miller had the summer months to get healthier, but when early November rolled by, his shoulder injury still prevented him from playing the entire year. Cornell suffered, winning only 7.1% of their games with the record 2-26. It certainly was a let-down year and a note Miller didn’t want to end on. He continued to work until he was healthy, so when this 2014-2015 season arrived, Miller was determined to make sure people remembered his name and how dominant of a player he truly is. Remember… this is a player that, as an underclassman, led the Ivy League in block percentage, steals per game, and was second in player efficiency rating, blocks, and defensive rebounding percentage. Shonn Miller is a proven monster on the court and his affect on his Big Red hasn’t gone unnoticed.
With sixteen games under their belt, the Big Red stand at 8-8 overall against their non-conference schedule before heading into their stretch of Ivy League conference matchups to end the season. How will they fare? Time will tell, but let’s take a look at how much of a difference Shonn Miller has made this season, statistically. They say defense wins championships, and if Cornell wants any shot of snagging this year’s Ivy League title, they’re going to have to keep up their superior defensive play. Since Miller’s return, it’s become evident that Cornell’s defense is their strong suit. The Big Red are allowing opponents a mere 62.2 points per game – for some perspective on Miller’s defensive presence, their opponents scored 78.4 points per game last year. That’s a very significant difference; so, how is Miller doing it? Through being an absolute stat machine, elevating the play of his teammates, and overall just being a nightmare as a defensive matchup. The 6’7” forward is averaging nearly 2 blocks per game and is currently second in the Ivy League with a defensive rating of 86.5 (defensive rating describes an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions). On top of this impressive stat, Miller is currently first in the Ivy League in defensive win shares with 1.4 (this statistic describes an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player due to his defense). To say that Miller’s defense has earned Cornell nearly 2 wins through 16 games is pretty extraordinary, and certainly cannot be overlooked.
In addition to his outstanding defense, Miller is also a top-notch offensive weapon and rebounder – his current stat line is 17.2 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 1.4 APG, all while shooting an efficient 47.2% from the field (his effective field goal percentage, which adjusts for 3-pt FGs, is closer to 50%). Might I add that he leads the Ivy League in points, free throws, free throw percentage, and is second in points produced per game. All signs point to the fact that Miller is a powerhouse for the Big Red, but at this point, it feels like I’m rattling off a bunch of impressive stats, which definitely is the case, but Miller is so much more than a stat-stuffer, who, by the way, currently has the second best player efficiency rating in the Ivy League at 26.4 and is sitting at an impressive 1.5 offensive win shares – making him worth about 3 wins through 16 games… just wow! That really is incredible considering the season isn’t even halfway over, but where Miller’s value lies especially is in his ability to elevate the play of his teammates. Since returning to the floor this year, many of Cornell’s roster has seen improved play. Guard, Robert Hatter, started for the Big Red last year gathering the second-most minutes on the team – he ended the season with an 11 PER and averaged 9 PPG/1.6 RPG/2.1 APG on 40.6% shooting – this year, with Miller healthy on the court, his stock has risen as he is now sitting at an 18.6 PER averaging 12.4/2.5 RPG/0.7 APG on 40.4% shooting. This is only one example, but the trend is quite evident across many other teammates. Another angle we can take a look at is team statistics; here’s a quick breakdown of the 2013-2014 season compared to the 2014-2015 season:
|2013-2014||TEAM STATS||OPP STATS||DIFFERENCE|
|3pt FG %||31.8||40.9||-9.1|
|2014-2015||TEAM STATS||OPP STATS||DIFFERENCE|
|3pt FG %||34.3||32||2.3|
It’s easy to see how much better this team has gotten with the return of Miller – these stats paint a vivid picture of how much of a difference one player can make, but then again, I have yet to mention the steady play of guard Galal Cancer, another senior who missed the entire season last year – Cancer’s play has been quite impressive putting up terrific numbers as well and contributing 1.3 win shares so far this season.
There are a lot of good things going for Big Red basketball right now, especially after coming off an astronomical 107-29 win over Alfred State before conference play begins. Momentum is on Cornell’s side as they’re sitting at 3rd place in the Ivy League. A couple of big time wins over Harvard and Yale may lead to another tournament appearance for the Big Red, as long as Miller stays healthy and keeps dominating the competition. Fans should be excited for the rest of the season, and even more excited just to watch this man destroy anyone in his path.