Season Preview: Brown Bears

Several question marks surround this Bears team in Mike Martin”s first year at the helm in Providence.

In 2011-12: 8-23, 2-12, 7th place

A Look Back:

At the start of last season, the Bears had plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Point guard Sean McGonagill was coming off a freshman season in which he was named Rookie of the Year, ranking 4th in the league with 5.4 assists per game and showing he could really fill up the stat sheet with a 39-point explosion against Columbia. Forward Tucker Halpern was primed for a breakout year, having earned an All-Ivy honorable mention as a sophomore after averaging around 12 and 5. McGonagill and Halpern were

also set to receive help in the middle from highly-touted 6-9 Brazilian newcomer Rafael Maia, who was expected to provide a much-needed defensive presence in the middle, as well as some scoring on the block.

Before the season even began, though, Brown caught some horrible breaks: Halpern went down with an illness that would keep him out all year, and Maia was ruled ineligible by the NCAA. With a decimated frontcourt, the Bears had to rely largely on McGonagill, combo guard Matt Sullivan, and sharpshooter Stephen Albrecht, a Toledo transfer, to carry the load offensively. The forward trio of Andrew McCarthy, Tyler Ponticelli, and Dockery Walker all had good stretches at times, but they couldn’t make up for the losses of Halpern and Maia, and Brown finished in second-to-last place in the Ivy League.

The offseason brought major changes. Head Coach Jesse Agel was fired after four losing seasons and replaced by Mike Martin, who played for Brown—co-captaining the 2003-2004 squad— before spending time as an assistant with the Bears and Penn. Martin, who, at 29, is the fourth-youngest head coach in college hoops, brings some new energy to a program that desperately needs a fresh start, not to mention a renewed focus on the defensive end of the court.

The good news for Brown is that they didn’t graduate a single player from last season’s team—the bad news is that, like last year, they still won’t be at full strength. Halpern is still recovering from the illness that previously kept him out, McCarthy has withdrawn for the year, and Walker will miss the whole season recovering from knee surgery. Maia is finally eligible, but no one is sure what to expect from the big man who hasn’t played a competitive game in 18 months. The biggest piece is Halpern—if he can make a full recovery, the Bears will be much more competitive.

Players to Watch:

Sean McGonagill, Junior: The 6-1 sparkplug made virtually every preseason All-Ivy team. He’ll face the tough task of getting other guys open looks while being the primary scorer. It’s a responsibility he’s grown used to, but this year he’ll be the focus of every opponent’s scouting report.

Rafael Maia, Sophomore: If Maia makes good on his potential, life will be much easier for McGonagill. Last year, Brown scored the second-fewest points in the league, and a reliable target in the post would make the Bears’ attack much more balanced. He had a decent showing in Brown’s season-opener, netting 7 points and 6 boards in 22 minutes, but he’ll need to ramp up his production in a hurry and learn how to play physically while staying out of foul trouble.

Matt Sullivan, Senior: Sullivan is a two-year captain who provides great leadership and does a little of everything on the court. His presence should be particularly crucial with such a young roster. He should excel playing off the ball with McGonagill, and could very well lead Brown in scoring if he can knock down open threes and stretch the floor as he did in the opener at Binghamton.

Key Non-Conference Games:

December 8th at Notre Dame, December 23rd at Northwestern, December 28th vs. Providence, January 4th at URI.

Prediction:

It’s tough to address the trajectory of this team without knowing how much they’ll be getting from Halpern. With him, they have a go-to scorer who can allow McGonagill to be a distributor, free up some space for Maia, and turn games around in a flash with hot outside shooting. Without him, Brown’s guards will be hounded by opposing defenses, and the lane will be more congested for their big men. Still, though, Martin should have the team defending and communicating much better than they were last year, and not losing anyone to graduation should minimize any early-season turbulence. Brown will likely be middle-of-the-pack at best, but a mid-season addition of Halpern could make things even more interesting.

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