The opposite of deep is shallow, so understand that I am not suggesting that the gentlemen in Providence are materialistic, dull or anything of that ilk when I call this year”s version of the Brown Bears, the Shallow Bears. But rarely in college basketball have we seen the kind of bad luck that has resulted in Brown only carrying 9 active players on its roster this season. In contrast, here are the roster sizes around the league:
- Harvard: 13 players
- Dartmouth: 15 players
- Penn: 15 players
- Yale: 15 players
- Columbia: 18 players
- Cornell: 20 players
So Brown, thanks to many, many injuries, is playing with about 40% fewer players than the average Ivy team. In another league, the Bears might be able to get away with this if they were lucky enough to stay healthy. But with the punishing back-to-back contests of the Ancient 8, a deep bench that can spell your starters for 15 minutes on Saturday night is a near-necessity.
As many have noted, Brown”s starting five is quite impressive for a team not considered a contender. Sean McGonagill is a Top 3 point guard in the league and Matt Sullivan has showed enormous improvement this year to become the Bears” most dangerous scorer thus far. Tucker Halpern is still getting his legs back after last season”s illness, but he”s shown that he can still stroke it from deep and catch fire. Inside, the Bears finally have a legitimate big body threat in Rookie of the Year candidate, Rafael Maia. Opposite Maia on the interior, freshman Cedric Kuakumensah has shown himself to be very athletic, though still a bit raw. The two rookies have complemented each other nicely so far, with Kuakumensah making a real impact on defense and on the boards, and Maia proving himself with footwork, finishing, and rebounding on the offensive end. That group of five is a balanced group capable of knocking off anyone in the league on any given night.
Unfortunately, behind these five guys, the Bears have few options. Tyler Ponticelli, a solid big, is strong enough to eat some minutes and has done a good job off the bench thus far. The other three Bears: Sharkey (limited by injury), Yiljep, and Schmidt have struggled to be productive.
One result is perhaps America”s most well-conditioned starting backcourt. McGonagill has played 96.6% of his team”s minutes, 2nd most of any player in the country. Sullivan has played 92.9% of his team”s minutes, 7th most of any player in the country. McGonagill”s game has understandably suffered a bit. His shooting numbers are down, but he”s still distributing efficiently and keeping turnovers at a low rate. Sullivan, on the other hand, has exploded (IHO Breakout POY candidate along with Fran Dougherty). He”s shooting 57% from inside the arc, getting to the line with increased regularity, and leading the team in scoring.
Very few teams are lucky enough to get through a season unscathed by injuries or foul trouble. Inevitably, this lack of depth will be too much to overcome for the Bears. No six-man rotation has ever won an Ivy league title to my knowledge. Nevertheless, for a first-year coach with a program still recovering from the Great Debacle (debAgel?), Mike Martin seems to have the Bears on the right track. It usually takes a few years to change a team”s identity, but for anyone who has watched this team play, it already seems as if Agel”s freewheeling offenses and lazy defenses are starting to disappear. Personnel changes certainly help. Brown”s youthful inside presence has taken the Bears from one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in D-1, to a Top 100 rebounding squad on both ends. Bringing opponents” lofty shooting percentages down is the next task.
The results may
not reflect these improvements given a tough upcoming slate that includes Northwestern and Providence in the next week, but
if the Bears can steal one of their next five games (all against Top 200 opposition), it may provide the boost of confidence needed to break a five-game losing streak with traveling partner, Yale.