After winning on the road against Central Connecticut this Saturday, Brown basketball finds itself as the only Ivy League team with a winning record (5-4) heading into the first week of December. The Bears’ 75-58 victory was its best road victory since back-to-back wins against Providence and Central Connecticut State in December 2014. With its yearly rematch with the Friars scheduled for this Tuesday, it is worth spending time reviewing the first month of the Brown season before looking to the future.
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.
As reported last week by Sky Sport Austria, Cedric Kuakumensah has signed on to play professionally in the Austrian League with the Redwell Oberwart Gunners of the Austria-A Bundesliga League, which the Gunners won last season.
Kuakumensah became the Ivy League’s all-time leader in blocks as a senior this past season, and he was expected to arrive last week in Oberwart in time for training camp, per Brown Athletics.
The Tigers’ weekend sweep of Yale and Brown at Jadwin gave them control of their destiny in the hectic Ivy race and tied them with the Bulldogs in the all-important loss column.
The largest Jadwin crowd in the Mitch Henderson era, bolstered by a beer-soaked cadre of undergraduates and Garden State chief executive Chris Christie, Delaware ’84, was on hand for Friday’s matchup with Justin Sears and company. Yale controlled the backboards and the game in the early going, taking an 11-6 lead after six minutes. Two Sam Downey free throws gave the Bulldogs their largest lead of the game, 19-13, with nine minutes to go in the first period. The key statistic was Yale’s six offensive rebounds while shutting the Tigers out in that category. At the five-minute mark the margin remained six, 27-21.
Yale 90, Brown 66
Last week, Yale built a 21-4 lead hosting Brown before the Bears clawed their way back in to pester the Bulldogs the rest of the game. Friday night brought just the opposite.
Yale 77, Brown 68
As it did last season, Brown gave Yale a scare in New Haven, but not a loss.
Late free throws by Makai Mason and Jack Montague iced the game for the Elis, and Mason led Yale with 20 points in 32 minutes. Brown overcame an early 21-4 deficit to cut Yale’s lead to 37-31 at halftime. Cedric Kuakumensah, Tavon Blackmon and JR Hobbie combined for 50 of Brown’s 68 points and 15 of its 20 field goals. Brown and Yale combined for 49 fouls and 36 turnovers in what turned out to be a sloppy game.
IHO takes a closer look at Saturday’s two Ivy conference matchups.
Brown at Yale, 5 p.m.
Last season: Then-senior guard Javier Duren canned a jumper with 3.4 seconds remaining to break a 65-65 tie and help ensure a Bulldogs victory. Yale’s 69-65 win completed a sweep of Brown, and the Elis took the lead for good with 12:28 to go in the game after Brown had led 31-25 at halftime. Justin Sears and Duren scored 27 and 24 points respectively, combining for 15 of Yale’s 20 field goals. Brown got a more balanced scoring attack, with Rafael Maia, Steven Spieth and Tavon Blackmon combining for 50 of Brown’s 65 points just five days before it Leland King’s departure from the Brown basketball program was announced. (King played only in the first matchup of this series in Providence last season, his final game as a Bear.)
We are all aware that a No. 1 seed has never lost to a No. 16 seed in the NCAA men’s tourney. When Yale takes on Brown in New Haven Saturday, it will be a No. 1 vs. a No.8, and I don’t see No. 8 having a decent chance at a win.
The best thing that Brown has going for it is the one game dynamic over the weekend, which will assist its lack of depth. With the transfer of Justin Massey out of the program in December, Brown really is down to two star players, in longtime defensive specialist Cedric Kuakumensah and scorer and ball distributor Tavon Blackmon. That’s not enough weapons to stop Yale, especially on the road, as Brown ranks next to last among all Ivies in scoring defense and rebounding margin, two of Yale’s greatest strengths.
Justin Sears is still the top Ivy player and despite an eye injury, will be back in force on Saturday. Senior guard Nick Victor, the glue of the team, is shooting north of 50 percent from three-point range, Brandon Sherrod is tough on the boards and Makai Mason may be the best guard in the Ivies as only a sophomore. Jack Montague has not been shooting well, but can really light it up when on. Sophomore guard Eric Anderson is showing a lot more than expected off the bench. James Jones is the dean of the Ivy coaches and is as well versed in the league as anyone, coach or commentator.
Look for Yale to win easily at home.
Ian Halpern, IHO founder and writer:
Most looking forward to: Watching this team when they get out and run. They have a lot of backcourt talent and should be very fun to watch when they push the tempo and the threes are falling.
Expectations: Relying on youth is a dangerous proposition in the Ivy League. The Bears have a few too many newcomers to expect them to compete for a title, but I think Brown will surprise some people and win a few games they aren’t expected to. Ultimately, I expect a mid-conference finish within a game of .500.
Kevin McNamara, Providence Journal sportswriter:
For Brown to contend in the Ivies this season, we’ll have to see the very best of big man Cedric Kuakumensah. Cedric has shown superlative defensive effort for three years but this season Mike Martin needs his center to dominate on both ends of the floor. Kuakumensah is one of four returning starters at Brown and that experience must show through on a consistent basis. Point guard Tavon Blackmon made big gains last season and could emerge as one of the top guards in the Ivy this season.
Join in the fun. What do you expect from the Brown Bears in 2015-16? Kuakumensah-led sleeper contention for the Ivy crown? Another 10-loss conference campaign? Let us know in the comments below.
Coach Mike Martin enters his fourth season at the helm for the Bears, looking to improve on last season’s 4-10 Ivy record. With Martin’s early recruits coming of age and the addition of some under-the-radar talent, there’s reason for optimism in Providence.
First and foremost, this is Cedric Kuakumensah’s team, as the imposing senior center and captain looks to build upon the greatest defensive reputation in the league. Outside of Kuakumensah, the Bears will look to replace the contributions of reliable big man, Rafael Maia, and they’ll look to a young cast to do so. Watch out for Travis Fuller, the 6-9 freshman from Encinitas, Calif. The early returns are positive on Fuller, as the skilled big man looks to fill Maia’s void in the frontcourt.