Today’s Ivy League update by our friends over at Big Apple Buckets inspired me to sit down and reflect on what’s been a very eventful, and ultimately positive beginning to the season for the Brown Bears. A few weeks ago, we knew that the fate of this team would depend largely on how game-ready the six freshmen would be.
The good news: The Bears have passed the eye-test. They have a balanced team with a very strong frontcourt and a star scorer in McGonagill who has been an offensive wizard thus far. Sporting an obscene offensive efficiency rating of 126.2, Professor McGonagill is clearly benefitting from the move to the 2, though he continues to bring the ball up the court quite often. Kuakumensah is back to his Defensive Player of the Year award-winning ways, pulling down rebounds and blocking shots at an elite national level. Foul trouble has plagued the sophomore too often though, and his minutes have suffered as a result. Rafael Maia continues his assault on the offensive glass, pulling in 18% of possible offensive rebounds. Most importantly, the freshmen are clearly talented and will only get better (though Norman Hobbie’s shooting will certainly regress a bit). The Bears have won three in a row on the road and they were an inch from beating Providence for a second straight year.
Nearly all the questions before the season surrounded the rookie class. Would they be ready to play big minutes? Well, it seems they’re ready. Leland King took home the second-straight Rookie of the Week award for Brown today, following up Norman Hobbie’s sharpshooting last week by averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds in two road games this week. King has been a beast on both the offensive and defensive boards, as has junior Dockery Walker, giving the Bears’ frontcourt depth that they could have only dreamt about in past seasons.
Tavon Blackmon is playing veteran’s minutes (32.8 mpg) in his first month at the point and doing a solid job of distributing the rock, averaging 4.4 assists per game. Hobbie is putting up astronomical shooting numbers that will blow your mind, even with a very limited sample size. The definition of a shooting specialist, Hobbie has made the most of his chances, connecting on at least 50% of his shots in every game he’s played so far. He’s shooting 62% from deep, and also connected on his lone attempt from inside the arc this season(!). Steven Spieth is worthy of mention too, as the fourth rookie to receive significant playing time. He has logged some solid minutes and done a nice job of getting to the line.
Now, here’s the bad news, or at least the unknown. In games against the Top 240 teams in the country, Brown is 0-1. The schedule that Martin has put together makes sense given the youth of his team and the desire to move the program forward in terms of wins and losses. But in terms of preparing this team for a competitive Ivy slate, the Bears are sorely lacking in worthy opponents. Besides Providence, Bruno doesn’t take on a single Top 100 non-conference opponent this year. Three of Brown’s four wins have come against sub-300 teams in #321 Longwood, #333 UMass-Lowell, and #337 Binghamton. (Sacred Heart, their other win, is ranked #246.)
Brown certainly looks capable of another top half finish this season, but before we go crowning Bruno as the clear runner-up to Harvard, let’s see how the young Bears handle the few challenges on their soft schedule.