Brown Season Preview – Bruno scars

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.

5 thoughts on “Brown Season Preview – Bruno scars”

  1. You didn’t mention Blake Wilkinson, and I believe you will find that Corey Daugherty and Patrick Tripplet will surprise many. The offense will be improved, defense and rebounding will be key to results. Improved team quickness will help both.

    • I do think Daugherty showed flashes of really promising stuff when he was able to play. Wilkinson will be interesting – I and most Ivy onlookers frankly have a lot to learn about what he can do, but I’m guessing his offensive versatility will be apparent instantly. That Brown is projected to finish last does speak to the overall strength of the league. Greatly improved defense inside and out (and in transition) is so critical, though.

        • Well, that’s the area the Bears need the most help in, and where there’s ample room for immediate impact. He’s got a reputation for having a strong jump shot too, so maybe he’ll be able to see him prove to be a mismatch on the other end of the floor as well.

  2. Brown has talent for a team that most people predict for the eighth spot. Blackmon is one of the best pure point guards in the league. Spieth has the ability to take over games. Hobie is a solid three point shooter and Okolie can put up points.

    While they should still do well offensively this season, the loss of Kuakumesah will leave a significant hole in a team that struggled defensively last year. Hopefully, Josh Howard (son of Fab Fiver Juwan Howard) and David Erebor develop quickly to give Spieth some help down low.

    While the team has contests against Cincinnati, Providence and URI, the rest of the non-conference schedule sets up well for the team to potentially hit double digit wins. However, the conference schedule does not bode well for the Bears. For a team that has struggled on the road during conference play, the Bears have 5 of its first 6 games on the road and the first two home games are against Yale and Harvard.

    Like former Cornell Coach Bill Courtney, Coach Mike Martin has not had success with the up tempo style during Ivy competition. It will be interesting to see if he decides to do things differently this season.

    Over the last few years, Brown has had low results, a style of play that has not translated well in league play and a large number of transfers. In a conference that is getting stronger, in terms of teams, players and coaches, another disappointing year for Brown could make the AD look closely at replacing the coach.

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