Season Preview: Brown Bears

A dominant frontcourt and an all-league guard will lead the Bears into battle in 2013-14. Does Brown have the talent at the other two positions to compete this season?
A dominant frontcourt and an all-league guard will lead the Bears into battle in 2013-14. Does Brown have the talent at the other two positions to compete this season?
In 2012-13: 7-7, 13-15, 4th place, No Postseason.

A Look Back

In Coach Martin’s first season at the helm, the Bears overcame an unthinkable number of obstacles, playing at times with just seven healthy players, to finish top half for the first time since 2007-08. A dangerous and talented team when everyone was healthy (it was quite a rare occurrence), Brown seemed on the verge of something great in 2012-13. A thrilling final-minute comeback against crosstown rival Providence pushed the Bears to new heights as Tucker Halpern’s eighth three pointer splashed through the nylon in the final seconds, sending the Pizzatola Center into delirium and shock. They followed that up with a quality overtime victory over eventual MAAC champions, Niagara.

Once Ivy play came though, the short roster started to take its toll. Four of the Bears’ seven conference losses were in overtime or by one possession. Still, the players lifted one another up when someone had an off-night.

Against Columbia at the Pitz, Sean McGonagill, Stephen Albrecht, and Halpern combined to go 1-15 from the field for four total points, yet the Bears managed to eek out a win on the backs of Matt Sullivan (27 points, 5 steals) and Cedric Kuakumensah (19 points, 7 rebounds). Other nights, it was McGonagill carrying the load, like on Senior Night when the Bears pounded Princeton to clinch 4th place behind 24 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists from the sophomore point guard. Albrecht pitched in with 17 points and 5 rebounds despite a chronic back injury. It was perhaps the gutsiest .500 season in recent Ivy history.

Players to Watch

Sean McGonagill, Senior– This could be a huge year for McGonagill. Finally the senior can return to his natural position at the 2-spot thanks to the arrival of Tavon Blackmon. With two frontcourt stalwarts in Maia and Kuakumensah, McGonagill is going to have more space to work. Bears fans know what the senior guard is capable of when he is allowed to focus on scoring (see 39 pts vs. Columbia in 2011).

Cedric Kuakumensah, Sophomore– The reigning Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year will look to make the leap on the offensive end of the floor this year. In his rookie year, he proved himself as one of the elite defenders in the nation (23rd in the country in defensive rebounding rate, 23rd in block percentage, led the Ivy in RPG and BPG if you’re into raw stats). 

Rafael Maia, Junior– The Brazilian half of the only Ivy frontcourt that rivals Harvard’s, Maia was a beast on the offensive boards last season, clocking in with the 24th best offensive rebounding rate in the country. His strength with the ball and ability to finish around the rim will be big for the Bears again this season. 

Tavon Blackmon, Freshman– Get excited, Brown fans. This kid can play. This highlight video is a must-watch. The first two minutes is strictly Blackmon stealing the ball from opposing point guards off the dribble. He’s also an excellent passer who finishes nicely at the rim. But his potential contributions don’t end there. He will make his team better simply by being on the court because his presence at the point allows McGonagill to move to shooting guard where he can focus on doing what he does best: scoring.

Question Marks

The Wing- After gutting out last season despite a weakened immune system, Halpern will be medically unable to take the court for his senior season. The Bears will need to replace his shooting on the wing. It will be interesting to see if Martin goes small with a rookie guard like Matt Madigan, Norman Hobbie, or 6’6″ Steven Spieth at the 3-spot, a role player like Josh Biber or Longji Yiljep, or if he tries to plug that hole by going big with a freshman power forward or Dockery Walker.

Depth- With no Halpern and no Joe Sharkey for the season, as the junior continues to surpass doctor’s expectations in recovering from a horrific assault back in March, bench depth is a concern. Martin has brought in a big, promising class and the freshmen will be asked to contribute right away. In the backcourt, it’s all youth and unknowns besides McGonagill. In the frontcourt, there’s more to feel good about with the athletic Dockery Walker returning after missing last season to injury.

Prediction

This is a huge year for the direction of the program. If this freshman class buys in and gets up to speed quickly, the Bears’ frontcourt could carry them to challenge for a top-two spot within the next two years. If the rookies just aren’t equipped to compete at this level, there will be a lot of challenges going forward with McGonagill graduating in the spring. 

This season, much remains to be seen. Is Blackmon as good as advertised? Can Martin find a way to fill the hole on the wing? If the Class of 2017 comes along quicker than anticipated, the Bears are capable of cracking the top half for a second straight year. There’s little doubt in my mind that this roster is more talented than Cornell, Columbia, and Dartmouth, so a 5th place finish seems like the sweet spot for this team. The ceiling is a bit higher though, so don’t count out the scrappy Bears to surprise some people when Ivy season gets going.

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