The week that was in Ivy roundball, rankings included:
8. Penn (3-5)
Three wins in a row vs. teams whose KenPom rankings add up to 970 (Navy: 322, Binghamton: 340, Marist: 308)
7. Dartmouth (3-5)
Nice 21-point win at UMass-Lowell, but Dartmouth really has become Gabas Maldunas, Alex Mitola, Connor Boehm and a bunch of guys. That trio accounted for 50 of the Big Green’s 67 points in a loss at Jacksonville St.
6. Princeton (3-8)
More losses than any other Ivy. Princeton lost by 14 to St. Peter’s, which Brown beat by 12 in the Bears’ season opener, so the Tigers fall below Brown here. Still, an outstanding first half at Cal showed that the Tigers are capable of much more. Untapped upside still looms large for Princeton.
The Bears have always been a solid defensive unit under coach Mike Martin. They boast a frontcourt that features two-time Ivy Defensive Player of the Year Cedric Kuakumensah and fellow defensive stalwart Rafa Maia. Sophomore guard Steven Spieth also came into this season with a bit of a reputation as a strong backcourt defender as well.
And yet the Bears also have what is comfortably the worst defense in the conference statistically at this early stage of the season. They can’t defend in transition at all.
Brown is who we thought they were! At least so far.
The Bears’ season-opening 70-58 win over St. Peter’s confirms preseason impressions of Brown – this team can really play defense. Brown held the Peacocks to just 36.1 shooting from the field and two-time reigning Ivy Defensive Player of the Year Cedric Kuakumensah registered three more blocks along with an impressive 15-point performance marked by surprisingly effective perimeter shooting on occasion. Rafa Maia notched seven rebounds as well to go along with 13 points.
Most importantly, Tavon Blackmon controlled the pace of the game from the point for Brown, posting 18 points on 4-for-7 shooting, once again proving a legitimate threat from beyond the arc and especially the charity stripe, where he drilled all eight of his free throws. Blackmon is just a steady player who gets it done, and the Bears’ season is off to a solid start. I maintain the Bears are poised to surprise this season.
Yes, All-Everything Sean McGonagill is gone, and so is his ball distribution, three-point shooting, offensive potency from anywhere on the court and, well, everything! But the Bears will be better than last year because they’ll be more well-rounded in 2014-15 from inside out, the single-most underrated team in the Ivy League.
After tallying up the ballots of six IHO writers, I am happy to unveil the 3rd Annual IvyHoopsOnline.com End of Season Awards.
IHO Player of the Year: Justin Sears, Yale
No player in the Ivy this year was more critical to his team’s success than Justin Sears. The Bulldogs’ sophomore star was one of the highest usage players in the league, and never shied away from putting Yale on his back. Sears ended up tying for the league scoring title, averaging 19.5 ppg during the 14-Game Tournament. The Eli forward also led the conference in rebounding with 7.9 boards per Ivy contest. On the defensive end, he was second in the league in blocks with 2.0 per game. A physical beast, Sears got to the line more than anyone in the Ancient Eight, save for Alex Rosenberg, fighting his way to the stripe for nearly 10 FT attempts per Ivy game. He connected on 76% of those, improving upon one of the few weaknesses in his freshman campaign.
He managed to score in double-figures in 13 of 14 Ivy games and put together four double-doubles, guiding Yale to a 2nd place finish. Even once it became clear that teams were focused on stopping him, Sears continued to score efficiently, finishing the season with 25 points per game in his last four contests on 34-53 FG (64%).
Two teams gained ground in the standings this weekend with historic sweeps. Harvard opened up a one game lead on second-place Yale after bulldozing Penn at the Palestra and earning its first victory since 1989 at Jadwin. Meanwhile, Columbia swept an Ivy weekend for the first time in five years and moved into a tie for third, edging Brown on Friday and stopping Yale on national TV on Sunday. Let”s take a look at the weekend”s big winners.
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.
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.
The opposite of deep is shallow, so understand that I am not suggesting that the gentlemen in Providence are materialistic, dull or anything of that ilk when I call this year”s version of the Brown Bears, the Shallow Bears. But rarely in college basketball have we seen the kind of bad luck that has resulted in Brown only carrying 9 active players on its roster this season. In contrast, here are the roster sizes around the league:
Harvard: 13 players
Dartmouth: 15 players
Penn: 15 players
Yale: 15 players
Columbia: 18 players
Cornell: 20 players
So Brown, thanks to many, many injuries, is playing with about 40% fewer players than the average Ivy team. In another league, the Bears might be able to get away with this if they were lucky enough to stay healthy. But with the punishing back-to-back contests of the Ancient 8, a deep bench that can spell your starters for 15 minutes on Saturday night is a near-necessity.