At one point during a break in the action at tonight’s Yale-Seton Hall matchup at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, a 7-year old lined up against a 13-year old to compete in the classic put-on-these-oversized-clothes-and-run-down-the-court-and-score contest. A 7-year old really has no business competing with a 13-year old, but there were so few people in the stands, they may not have been able to find two kids of a similar age (kidding, but barely). After a few missed lay-up attempts by the older child, there was the 7-year old, shuffling to the elbow and launching a prayer.
The shot fell far short and the older child made his lay-up to win the prize.
I could use that as a tidy little metaphor for the game that played out between Seton Hall and Yale, but it wouldn’t really be accurate. The Bulldogs had every opportunity to win this game, and it certainly wasn’t because Seton Hall was bigger and more experienced. On the contrary, there were quite a few times tonight when you would have thought the Bulldogs were the 13-year old, forcing Seton Hall into bad decisions on defense and finishing on clever passes at the rim. Yale is still a work in progress, though, and they let a big opportunity slip away during a seven-minute scoreless stretch late in the game. As an Ivy fan, it was frustrating to watch because the Bulldogs were talented enough to win this game. Here’s what Yale needs to improve upon if they want to eventually challenge Harvard and Penn, who look like the class of the league right now.
The NCAA has ruled on Brown’s appeal regarding the eligibility of Rafael Maia, their heralded freshman big man from Brazil. Maia, who was considered a favorite for Ivy League Rookie of the Year, will be ineligible to play for the Bears during the 2011-2012 season, according to a source close to the team. The news comes as another blow to the Bears, who are struggling to get out of the blocks at the beginning of this season, following losses to Albany and Manhattan.
Maia’s ineligibility stems from the following NCAA rule passed in April of 2010:
“Any student‐athlete who does not initially enroll full‐time in a collegiate institution within one year or the next opportunity to enroll following the high school graduation date of the prospective student‐athlete’s class and participates in organized events after that grace year will be charged with a season of intercollegiate competition for each year of participation and must fulfill an academic year in residence at the certifying
institution before being eligible to compete.”
After graduating from high school in December of 2009 (as is the case in Brazil and most of the Southern Hemisphere), Maia went and played a PG year at Maine Central Institute. Because Maia played the entirety of his PG year at MCI, he went past the one year of post-high school graduation organized activities that the NCAA allows. Maia will be eligible to play next year, but will only have three years of eligibility remaining.
Brown is also missing co-captain and returning leading scorer Tucker Halpern, who continues to struggle with a bout of mono. The Bears return to action on November 19th, at home against Hartford.
In the Ivy League, where at-large postseason bids are pretty hard to come by, the non-conference season is often treated as a warm-up lap, a series of exhibitions dedicated to getting the kinks out and teaching players the system. When January rolls around and the league slate begins, the fourteen-game tournament brings with it a whole new level of intensity. Since that’s the way it is in our corner of the college basketball landscape, there is absolutely nothing more debilitating and frustrating than a serious injury in November or December. For Columbia, that nightmare scenario came to fruition in the late stages of a loss to the Furman Paladins.
Brown, Sean McGonagill: The Bears’ sophomore point guard picked up where he left off last season with an impressive 20 point (7-12 shooting), 10 assist performance in a 86-66 victory against D-III Johnson & Wales.
Columbia, Blaise Staab: Staab came out of nowhere to be the bright spot for Columbia on a night when Agho and Barbour couldn’t finish at the rim. Staab, who played a grand total of 70 minutes in his first three years in New York, finished with a double-double (11 points, 12 rebounds) and looked comfortable mixing it up with the nation’s best in Storrs, CT during the Lions’ respectable 70-57 loss.
Penn, Zack Rosen: Rosen had a monster night for the Quakers, tallying 26 points on 10-16 shooting, including 4-6 from range. The Quakers put UMBC away early in the second half behind some shutdown defense en route to a 59-45 triumph.
Yale, Greg Mangano and Reggie Willhite: The Bulldogs held off a late charge from CCSU to win their opener 73-69 behind 23 points and 13 rebounds from their senior star, Mangano. Captain Reggie Willhite also had a big night, dropping in 21 and adding six steals and six boards.
The good news for Columbia is that they return a proven backcourt duo in Noruwa Agho and Brian Barbour. The pair made for a dangerous tag-team last year, dominating foes that allowed them to get to the rim and take high percentage shots. The Lions lived and died by Agho and Barbour, as the pair accounted for 47.9 percent of Columbia’s points during the conference season. Despite this backcourt dependence, Columbia could very easily have finished last year in the top half if they had held on to late-season leads at Princeton and against Yale. In games where the Lions weren’t outmanned in the frontcourt, they performed extremely well, pulling out sweeps of Cornell and Dartmouth, and splits with Penn and Brown. It all starts with the two guards though, and there’s no reason to think that this season will be very different.
In Agho, Columbia has a true scorer. As much as some critics disparaged his efficiency numbers last year (and the All-Ivy First Team selection certainly did take his fair share of shots), Agho shouldered a bigger load than any other player in the league because the Lions lacked another consistent scoring option on the wing or down low. With little help surrounding him, Agho coasted to the conference scoring title. Meanwhile, Barbour quickly emerged as one of the league’s best point guards, posting the conference’s second-best offensive efficiency numbers behind Harvard’s Oliver McNally. First-year coach Kyle Smith leaned heavily on his young point guard, as Barbour played the third-greatest share of minutes for his team of anyone in the Ivy at 86.9 percent (Agho was fourth at 85.5 percent).
The Brown basketball team showed last year that it was talented enough to beat anyone in the league when it knocked off tournament-bound Princeton and held double-digit leads twice against co-champion Harvard. Harnessing that talent and executing a game plan for a full forty minutes is the next step for a young Bears squad that looks to leap into the top half this season. Brown is a dangerous offensive team with proven weapons in the backcourt and on the wing, not to mention the help arriving on the interior. Last year though, the Bears struggled on the defensive end, ranking last in the league in adjusted defensive efficiency, giving up 1.09 points per possession (adjusted for opponent). On several occasions, the Bears failed to generate stops in key situations, including a 46-point half surrendered to Harvard in a head-scratching game at Lavietes. This season, the Bears will look to buckle down and get serious about defending their bucket.
This is the third piece in a series looking back at how each Ivy League squad fared during the 2010-11 season. The Brown Bears ended the year at 11-17 (4-10), finishing seventh in the conference.
Tucker Halpern clutched both sides of the plastic receptacle, head buried, stomach violently convulsing, while 1,532 people curiously looked on. A bad meal in Ithaca, besides being a great band name, was the culprit that had sent him fleeing off the foul line on this night, the last night of the season, at Levien Gymnasium on the campus of Columbia. Several sick teammates looked on in their sweats from the bench, as the Bears were only able to dress eight players on this night. Columbia won the game in a rout, but the mass food poisoning was merely the final straw in a season that had once held serious promise. Injuries, missed opportunities, and finally bad meat did in the Bears during the 2010-2011 campaign, though some reasons for optimism can certainly be parsed from the wreckage of an otherwise forgettable 11-17 year.
The Bears opened last season on an encouraging note by knocking off Atlantic-10 foe, Fordham, in the Bronx. In fact, after getting blown out by in-state rival, URI, Brown won their next two games to move to 3-1 for the first time since the 2000-2001 season when the Bears went on to reach the NIT. The rest of the non-conference slate was filled with inconsistent performances as the young squad tried to put it all together. A couple of times they did, including an impressive road win at Maine against a Black Bears team that ended up finishing tied for third in the America East. All in all though, there were ominous signs early in the season as the team had trouble competing on the boards and in the paint. Remember, this was a young team adjusting to life in the post-Mullery era. The only upperclassmen who logged significant playing time all season were Peter Sullivan, who put the team on his remarkably broad shoulders too many times to count, Adrian Williams, the speedy shooter off the bench, and Garrett Leffelman, the streaky sniper who never really found the mark in his senior season.
So when freshman Dockery Walker came off the bench and provided some much-needed energy against American, it was a sign that the younger generation was ready to step up. Given the chance to play serious minutes for the first time, Walker made it count, pulling down 13 rebounds and adding 10 points for his first double-double in the loss. He followed that performace up with another double-double in a rout of Lyndon St.
One month later, it was Sean McGonagill’s turn to lead the youth movement. The freshman had been running the show admirably at the point guard position all year, garnering a Rookie of the Week award early in the season, but no one could have predicted what happened on February 4th, 2011 against Columbia. Two days earlier, McGonagill’s season looked like it may be in jeopardy after a violent collision in practice resulted in broken teeth and a destroyed lip, requiring surgery the next day. He was fitted for a mask, Rip Hamilton-style, on Friday morning, and marched onto the court Friday night against Columbia.
In what had to be the individual highlight of the season for the Bears, McGonagill put on a performance for the ages, setting or tying several Pizzitola Center records with a 39-point effort on 15-19 shooting. McGonagill scored a whopping 28 of those points in the second half, re-defining the phrase “in the zone,” and eventually leading Brown to a 87-79 triumph, their first of the conference season.
A week later, it looked like the Bears had started to turn the corner. They wiped their feet on chronic doormat Dartmouth, 75-66, and waltzed into Boston like the British taking Bunker Hill, outscoring Harvard 53-31 in the first half, shocking the home crowd at Lavietes into silence behind 63 percent shooting from the field. Alas, the Crimson defended their home court admirably in the second half of this battle, holding the Bears to 13 points in the first 15 minutes of the second half and rattling off 46 of their own in that span to turn the game on its head and ride into the night with a comfortable eight point victory.
In the third conference game of the season, team captain Peter Sullivan had suffered a gruesome shoulder dislocation, which caused him to miss five games. Without Sullivan, the team missed his strength on the glass and lacked his unparalleled ability to slash to the rim and get to the free throw line. When he returned in mid-February, the Bears were on the verge of falling into the basement with Dartmouth. Instead, after a tough loss at home to Penn, Brown came out and stuck it to the league-leading Tigers, riding Sullivan’s magical night at the line (16-16) to a 75-65 win, and dealing Princeton their first loss of the conference season. Overall, Sullivan dropped in 26 and added 8 boards for the Bears, who were starting to look like one of the best bad Ivy League teams ever.
The next weekend, the Bears played host to Harvard again. Certainly, one had to think the Crimson would have their guard up this time and play hard from the opening tip. But no, it was the Bears who again dominated the first half en route to a 41-30 lead at the break behind 15 points on 6-7 shooting from Tucker Halpern. Certainly, one had to think the Bears would be able to protect a double-digit lead after blowing one only two weeks earlier to the same team. But no, like the Empire, the Crimson struck back again, even quicker this time, regaining the lead after only eight minutes in the second half. Halpern tried to rally the troops for one more comeback, knocking down a late trey to cut the deficit to two, but his career-high 29 points were wasted in the end as Harvard held on for another comeback victory.
The Bears’ final two weeks were highlighted by Adrian Williams’ monster 26-point Senior Night performance, in which Brown dropped a century on the lowly Big Green, and the aforementioned food poisoning incident.
Surely, the Bears are anxious to turn the page on last season and put the program in the hands of a capable young team that has shown a few halves of brilliance. Now if they can just put it all together for a full 40 minutes and pack bag lunches for the Ithaca trip, they should be all right.