Season Preview: Dartmouth Big Green

Senior David Rufful looks to lead a young Dartmouth squad out of the Ivy basement. (Photo credit: dartmouthsports.com)

It was a long winter in Hanover. The 2010-11 Dartmouth men’s basketball team compiled a 5-23 record, including just one league win, to match its results from an equally forgettable 2009-10 campaign. The Big Green had some moments—opening a 28-point lead on Cornell and holding on to the win, forcing Yale into overtime on the road, dominating Penn in the first half on the last Saturday of the season—but its final record was befitting of its talent on the court. Dartmouth’s adjusted offensive efficiency was just .883 points per possession, a number that confirms the Big Green had one of the most anemic offenses in the whole country.

“We just didn’t have anyone that could score the ball,” head coach Paul Cormier succinctly noted in last week’s teleconference.

A new class of freshmen offers a glimmer of hope for the Dartmouth faithful. Cormier, now in the second year of his second tenure, has made it clear that he intends to give his recruits a lot of burn on the hardwood, even suggesting that we might see a few of them in the starting lineup. A team of freshmen can hardly be expected to compete with the top teams in a year as deep as 2011-12, but the youth movement will perhaps pay big dividends and lift the Big Green out of the Ivy cellar down the road. 

Key Losses:

Dartmouth loses just two contributors from last season, center Clive Weeden and guard Ronnie Dixon. At 6-9, Weeden was the tallest player on a short Big Green team, but foul trouble often relegated him to the bench. Still, he was the squad’s second-best rebounder—pulling down 4.6 boards in 21.7 minutes of action—and its only post defender. Dixon was Dartmouth’s leading assist man, with 2.6 per game, and a streaky scorer, who cracked double-digits in seven of his 16 games. The guard, who missed twelve games in the middle of the season with a hand injury, might have lent some help in a few of the Big Green’s close losses between late December and mid February.

Key Additions:

Every Dartmouth freshman will get a chance to prove himself. For guard Mack McKearney that chance might come as soon as opening day, as the Michigan native is expected to take over the starting ball-handling duties. He is hardly alone as a potential rookie starter.

“We’ll be relying—good or bad—on a lot of our freshmen to give us significant playing time with several in contention right now for starting positions,” Cormier said.

John Golden, a 6-6 shooter, will also look to log backcourt minutes, though his teammate from Northfield-Mt. Hermon, Jvonte Brooks, might prove to be more valuable than his classmate as an undersized banger in the post. A trio of other fresh faces joins Brooks in the frontcourt—a 6-8 interior presence from Lithuania in Galbas Maldunas, a 6-5 athletic wing from Finland in Kirill Savolainen, and a 6-6 shooter from California in Will McConnell.

The Big Green’s success this season and beyond will depend largely on the contributions of these six players.

Frontcourt:           

Matt LaBove returns as the only true big man from last year’s squad. He has good size at 6-9, but he has been called out-of-shape in a number of season previews (an alarmingly common criticism that suggests Cormier’s disenchantment with his inherited players). Almost by default, though, LaBove will be thrust into the starting lineup. He does not block shots very well, but he should provide similar rebounding numbers to Weeden.

One of the few relative bright spots for this Dartmouth team is David Rufful, or at least his rebounding. At 6-4, the team captain plays way out of position by mixing it up in the paint, but he is surprisingly effective there, grabbing 17.3 percent of the defensive rebounds. Rufful, in fact, was the leading rebounder on last year’s squad, averaging 4.6 per game. He chipped in 8.3 points per game, but he was an inefficient scorer, boasting a 46.0 effective field goal percentage made worse by his 65.1 percent shooting from the line. Still, the senior is one of the most experienced players on the Big Green roster and, given the frontcourt’s lack of depth, figures to see a lot of playing time this season.

The frontcourt returners also include sophomores Nick Jackson and Gediminas Bertasius, who, as recruits of Cormier, will likely see more court time this season.

Backcourt:

The majority of Dartmouth’s returning production comes from the backcourt. Junior RJ Griffin, senior Jabari Trotter, sophomore Tyler Melville, and senior Kirk Crecco were among the team’s top six scorers, averaging 9.4, 8.3, 8.0, 7.3, and 5.5 points per game, respectively. Yet the backcourt was hardly a team strength. None of the aforementioned players had an effective field goal percentage over 50 percent; the Big Green’s assist to made field-goal ratio was one of the lowest in college basketball (though that surely had something to do with the lack of post production), and its turnover percentage was significantly below average as well.

The result is that many of the returners’ jobs are in jeopardy. Trotter and Griffin figure to begin the season in the starting lineup, but if a freshman guard establishes himself as a legitimate scorer, one of those veterans could easily move to the bench. Melville and Crecco, who combined for 23 starts at guard last season, will likely see their minutes go to McKearney, who is a more natural distributor.

Final Thoughts:

Dartmouth was a unanimous selection for last place in the preseason Ivy poll, and, to be honest, any finish higher than eighth would be a surprise. But although this result would be the Big Green’s third straight finish at the bottom, this season will almost undoubtedly be one of progress. With its sights set on the future, Dartmouth is no longer simply treading water. For the first time in the last few years, the Big Green basketball program has a sense of direction. Though as a whole it is far from catching Princeton, Penn, and the new breed of Ivy contenders, I bet Dartmouth will scare a few of them, maybe even steal a victory or two, this season. I’d peg their over-under at 2.5 Ivy wins.

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