Sports

Brownsword ’18: Bears poised for Ivy postseason tournament

By
Sports Columnist
Friday, February 9, 2018

The Ivy League had long been resistant to change in the sport of men’s basketball: While nearly every other conference adopted the exhilarating postseason tournament, the Ancient Eight sent the team with the best league record to the NCAA tournament — until 2017.

Now, the NCAA’s oldest basketball league is one year into its annual four-team, postseason tournament, and 2018’s version will be held in Philadelphia just like last year. 2017’s tournament saw undefeated Princeton march on to the NCAA tournament after handily defeating Penn and Yale.

But this year’s competition for a coveted playoff spot in the Ancient Eight is much more compact, as the five teams sitting from third to seventh place are within one game of one another. And at the top of that list are the Brown Bears, who are 3-3 in conference play and have only qualified for the NCAA tournament twice — the last time in 1986.

This year’s squad, however, has all the signs of being an actual Cinderella story come March. With only one senior on the roster and three new starters, the team’s three leading scorers are two sophomores and a first-year. Second-year point guard Brandon Anderson ’20 is leading the team with 19 points and four assists. Zach Hunsaker ’20 — the buzzer-beating hero of two weekends ago — has stepped into the starting lineup and averages over 10 points a game.

But the story of this year’s team has to be the play of Desmond Cambridge ’21. The six-foot-four guard is leading the team in rebounds and blocks, all while averaging over 17 points and one assist a game. The leader of Brown’s interior defense is the team’s third-best three-point and second-best field goal shooter, and his assist-to-turnover ratio is tied for second on the team.

Still not enough to convince you? Cambridge had his coming-out party while touring Pennsylvania — hopefully in preparation for a return visit later — scoring 29 points against conference-undefeated Penn in an overtime loss and 32 in an overtime win against fourth-place Princeton. The first-year hit seven of nine threes against the Tigers, including the game-winning three in overtime.

Yes, without Cambridge’s and Hunsaker’s heroics, this team could easily be staring at a 1-5 conference record, doomed to play its last eight Ivy League games of the season for pride. And, in past years, this has been the case more often than not. In fact, in the last 10 years, Brown men’s basketball has only finished in fourth place or above twice. But, despite the youth of this year’s team, Bruno is in the poll position with just over half of the conference regular season still to play.

The Bears have four home games left, including two crucial tilts this weekend against against fifth-place Columbia and sixth-place Cornell. If Brown were to win both of these home games, it could extend its lead to one or two games for that final tournament spot. That would all but guarantee that the Bears’ final two home games of the season, against Penn and Princeton again, would feature Brown playing for its first-ever spot in the Ivy League postseason tournament. Hopefully, despite the Bears’ typically weak home support — especially from students — this year’s men’s basketball team can inspire some dedicated fans that may, one day, plan their March trip to the Palestra.

Rarely in my four years at Brown has a sports event drawn a large, loud crowd — the men’s lacrosse team’s NCAA quarterfinal appearance and the men’s hockey team’s 2-1 upset win over nationally ranked Harvard are two of the few examples. Hardly ever have large groups of student fans flocked to Bruno’s athletic facilities to see a meaningful regular season game, but these Brown Bears are competing in newfound territory. This team should give hope that even Brown — the least competitive athletic program in the Ivy League for the past 10 years — could make it to the big stage.

Go Bruno.

Matt Brownsword ’18 can be reached at matthew_brownsword@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.