Three Thoughts: Brown 67, Central Connecticut 55

It looked like a misprint, really. Brown 49th nationally in adjusted tempo? Then you look back at last season and see them 29th, mixed in with the VCUs and Ionas of the world. Then you remember the Bears – who haven’t won the Ivy League since 1986 – were 7-4 in the league before a three-game losing streak to close the season (including an overtime loss to Harvard). So maybe that’s the way to go these days?

Well, kind of.

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“We have to be a little bit smarter,” Brown coach Mike Martin said. “Sometimes we turn it over a lot trying to push and that’s why we end up with so many possessions. But our philosophy is to try to score before the defense is set, and we think we can feed off our defense and create offense. We didn’t do a great job of defensive rebounding today. We work on early offense a lot, we just have to make sure we have good shot selection to go along with it.”

Meanwhile, Howie Dickenman and Central Connecticut are known for quick shots and no restraints on their talented offensive players, but the Blue Devils are a different team this season, mostly out of necessity, of course, with Kyle Vinales gone and Malcolm McMillan still out indefinitely, CCSU has had to go slower, a pedestrian 207th nationally coming into Monday (ironically, Central was one spot above Brown in 28th in that category last season).

It’s worked to some extent, but they were just outclassed 66-54 by Brown Monday afternoon at Detrick Gym to fall to 2-9 on the season. The Bears, meanwhile, have won five of six to move to 6-6 (including a win over Providence) after a rocky start that led many to write them off in the Ivy:

Here are my thoughts from CCSU, where at least the fans in attendance for the afternoon tip were treated to free food:

1. The Ivy League is very good these days – With all due respect to Brown, who is playing much better, they are certainly not in anyone’s Ivy League top three right now. We know Central is struggling and shorthanded, but there was a time where an NEC team – at home – would match up pretty well with an Ivy team like Brown. But Monday, Brown was bigger, stronger, and just had more quality than CCSU could match, especially inside where Cedric Kuakumensah and Rafael Maia had their way. We don’t do much eye test here (with good reason), but the Ivy just looks stronger from top to bottom this season. Heck, only two years ago, the NEC went 8-3 against the Ivy (including a lopsided CCSU win over Brown at Detrick). This year, the Ivy has won 5 of 7 thus far (and FDU and Wagner, two teams likely in the bottom half of the conference right now, have the victories), and to be fair there are still six games left between the leagues, including five in the next week. So we’ll see.

“Yale is very good, Columbia is very good, Harvard took it on the chin (Sunday) but they’re obviously solid, too,” CCSU coach Howie Dickenman said. “You saw what Brown can do today, but I have to worry about the NEC right now.”

2. It’s all about the NEC for Central Connecticut – Unfortunately for CCSU, its next game is against UConn, which will at least allow Dickenman to catch up with some old buddies, including Kevin Ollie, who was a player when Dickenman was a Jim Calhoun assistant, just before he moved on to Central. The Blue Devils have made the NEC Tournament 16 straight times, and that’s clearly what CCSU is hanging its hat on. As he was last year under some adversity, Dickenman remains positive and hopes his team will shoot better than the 32.3% it put up today. Matt Mobley stands to be one the top scorers in the NEC, and if he gets even a little bit of help, it’s reasonable to think they can finish in the middle of the pack.

“We have difficulty scoring right now and we’re just going to have to keep battling,” Dickenman said. “We’ll keep fighting. We’ll fight every 40 minutes and no one’s going to quit on this team. Things are a bit challenging right now with two wins and nine losses, but our effort will result in some wins. We’re anxious to get into league play, I think everyone in the league is.”

3. Those turnovers for Brown, though – There were plenty of positives for Brown, which saw six players hit three-pointers and Steven Speith (despite taking a nasty fall on a drive) hit three of them and go for 19 points and 10 rebounds. Leland King came in 11th in the nation in percentage of team’s shots taken (36.5), and the Bears were able to win comfortably even with King scoring just three points on 1-of-8 shooting.

But they committed 21 more turnovers (29.7% rate), putting their turnover rate for the season at a dreadful 24.9%, 332nd nationally, which is obviously concerning. It’s no coincidence their best games like the upset of Providence match up with their best turnover rates. Martin is aware of the problem and still has three weeks until they open up Ivy League play with a back-to-back against Yale to fix it.

“A lot of them are self-inflicted turnovers, too,” Martin said. “Credit them to a certain degree. In the games we had won leading up to this one, we had done a better job taking care of the ball. Not only does it hurt your offense when you turn it over, but it’s like a Pick-Six in football with the live-ball turnovers when they get layups and dunks. We have to get better there, but I’m glad we could not play our best and still win on the road.”

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