Okay Brown fans, I have avoided this for too long. I tried to hold off writing about the Bears until there was something encouraging to say. It’s certainly been a tough opening month in Providence after boundless optimism ran wild this summer. This seemed like it would be the season Coach Jesse Agel’s squad turned the corner and challenged for the top half of the league with highly touted Brazilian recruit Rafael Maia taking over the frontcourt and a young, talented team growing a year older. With McGonagill commanding the point, sharpshooting Toledo transfer Stephen Albrecht finally getting on the court and knockdown shooter Matt Sullivan sharing minutes, the backcourt was supposed to be able to challenge anyone’s. Tucker Halpern was going to pick up exactly where he left off on the wing, looking to consistently replicate the 29 points he dropped on Harvard last year. Maia and Dockery Walker/Andrew McCarthy were going to fill up the paint with their length and bring a focus on defense back to the Pizzitola.
Unfortunately, things haven’t gone the way Brown had hoped.
First, Maia was ruled ineligible. While he is still practicing with the team, the 6’9” big man’s absence has been a real blow to the Bears. Tyler Ponticelli, who was merely a bit player last year, has actually done a nice job of stepping up and filling the void at the 5. TyPo’s impressive passing ability has been on display, as the center is averaging nearly five assists per game. Nevertheless, Ponticelli is undersized on the defensive end and nowhere near the scorer that Maia is.
At the four, Agel can’t seem to decide what he wants. Dockery Walker has the sort of athleticism that you rarely see in the Ivy League. When he is dialed in, he is capable of pulling down double-digit rebounds every game. For Walker though, the problem has been showing up night in and night out. When he brings it, he’s a real asset for the Bears; when he’s coasting around, making unnecessary fouls, and jacking up ill-advised, off-balance shots, he’s more of a liability. Meanwhile, Andrew McCarthy bulked up in the offseason and dominated in the Hartford game, going for 13 points and 14 rebounds. Agel, though, seems to have little patience for mistakes from McCarthy, having played him a mere four minutes in the previous contest against Manhattan. Most recently, Walker and McCarthy have shared time and neither has been able to get into a groove.
Tucker Halpern remains out with mono, and the team has suffered offensively without his production on the wing. Matt Sullivan has played more minutes in his absence and has shot the ball pretty well. Shooting, on the whole, is the only thing that these Bears seem be excelling at, having knocked down 38% of their three point attempts and 48% from the field.
If there’s one thing to be optimistic about, it’s the backcourt. Steve Albrecht seems to be finding his range after shaking off the rust in the first few games. Albrecht has scored 22 and 23 points respectively in the team’s last two games, knocking down six threes against Sacred Heart and single-handedly leading his team back into the game, a game they eventually lost 77-64. With Halpern back, Albrecht could do even more damage, as teams are forced to tend to another Brown weapon.
Sean McGonagill continues to impress as the point man for the Bears. While the sophomore has succeeded in finding the open man around the hoop, racking up nearly six assists per game, McGonagill has also been caught taking chances more this season, averaging 4.2 turnovers through the first seven games. That’s a number he’ll need to bring down when conference play rolls around since the Bears are not doing anything to earn extra possessions.
This team has plenty of offensive problems, most evident in the fact that 46% of the Bears’ shots are threes (Agel’s version of the Princeton offense, in the name of brevity, is simply not working), but it’s on the boards and on the defensive end where things most urgently need to get a whole lot better if Brown wants to stay out of the cellar in Ivy play.
Brown ranks 333rd of 345 Division I teams in offensive rebounding percentage. This would be okay if the Bears were refraining from crashing the boards in favor of playing tenacious, disruptive defense, but Agel’s troops are certainly not doing that either. A mere 11% of opponents’ possessions result in blocks or steals by the Bears, numbers that place them outside of the Top 300 teams. In comparison, the average D-I team blocks or steals the ball nearly 20% of their opponents’ possessions. Something needs to change with those rebounding and defensive numbers or the Bears are in for a long Ivy season.
If you are seeing this team through Brown-rimmed glasses and thinking that they’re doing all right with a 3-4 record through seven games, consider this: Brown’s three victories have come against a D-III squad and two 0-6 teams (both by single digit margins). The Bears are in serious trouble, especially if they don’t get Halpern back soon.
The road ahead won’t be getting any easier as the Bears take on URI, Iowa and Providence in the next eight days.