What happened last year: (8-20, 3-11 Ivy) The Bears’ 2015-16 season was underwhelming overall. Brown tied for last in the conference despite being projected to finish fifth in the preseason media poll with two-time Ivy Defensive Player of the Year Cedric Kuakumensah still in tow and an unusual level of offensive depth. But a five-game skid in league play in February followed back-to-back 24-point losses to Yale and Princeton in the Bears’ second and third conference matchups, a tough slog for Brown.
What’s new: Kuakumensah is gone after leading the league in blocks and three-point percentage as well as ranking second in rebounding last season. Say howdy to freshmen forwards Joshua Howard and David Erebor as well as rookie center Brandon Charnov and frosh guard Brandon Anderson, who selected Brown over Columbia. Most of Brown’s offensive playmakers return, but the Bears were projected to finish last in the conference in this year’s preseason media poll, probably because of Brown’s distinct lack of defensive fortitude last season.
Offense: As we noted in last year’s Brown season preview, the Bears like to push it. Brown’s fast pace continued in 2015-16 with the Bears finishing second in league play in average tempo and possession length. Senior point guard Tavon Blackmon led the Ivies in minutes per game (35.8) and assists (5.9), proving once again an adept conduit for Brown’s offensive attack. Senior forward Steven Spieth had an up-and-down season, leading the Bears to home wins over Dartmouth and Cornell by frequently getting to the foul line. But he also disappeared offensively at times, not scoring in Brown’s other matchup with Dartmouth and scoring in single digits five times in league play. At his best, though, Spieth bludgeons teams from the free throw and three-point lines. Sophomore guard Obi Okolie became one of the main focal points of Brown’s offense midway through Ivy play, displaying a knack for drawing contact – he’ll draw even more this year. Senior guard JR Hobbie finished the season hot, going 13-for-21 from three in the last three games of the season, including a 7-for-10 performance that nearly knocked off Columbia at Levien Gym. If he can keep anywhere near that clip, Brown will surprise people.
Defense: It was not good and often faltered in high-tempo mode. Brown finished last in the league in adjusted defensive efficiency and steal percentage, and next to last in defensive effective field goal percentage and defensive turnover percentage. In other words, the Bears couldn’t disrupt opponents, often allowing multiple possessions. Brown even gave up 80-plus points in all of its three conference wins in 2015-16. One silver lining: The Bears allowed just 67.3 points per game in its final three contests after not having allowed fewer than 77 points in a game in their previous 11 league matchups. So there’s a modicum of defensive momentum to build on.
Intangibles: Brown has enjoyed just seven Ivy wins in the past two seasons, and just one winning season since 2008. Even that winning season was a plus-one affair, a 15-14 finish in 2013-14. The program likely feels pressure to show signs of improvement in coach Mike Martin’s fifth season. Brown Athletics continues to struggle with support, though, posting the lowest revenues for men’s basketball among all Ivies for 2014 per U.S. Department of Education data and struggling across its athletic programs with insufficient funds. Hopefully, a head coaching endowment via a $1.2 million anonymous donation in April will help bolster the program’s pool of resources. The Bears will benefit from a great deal of returning talent and should be better than last year’s Bruno squad as a result, even sans Kuakumensah. But how much better is the all-important question.