The second-place finish of the Dartmouth Aires on NBC’s “The Sing-Off” will likely be the competitive highpoint of the winter for the Big Green. Women’s basketball, women’s hockey, and men’s hockey are already craning their necks to view the top of their respective standings (non-conference and conference alike). Not surprisingly, men’s basketball is in the same boat.
The problems are familiar for this Dartmouth squad. The team is posting an offensive rating of just 89.0 (322nd out of 345 teams), which, incredibly, is a slight improvement over last season. The defense is vastly better but still below average, with a rating of 102.0 (a 6.3 point improvement over last season).
But while the metrics paint a dismal picture of the Big Green, the results have actually been somewhat encouraging. Dartmouth’s two wins are over inferior opponents—Bryant and Alaska-Anchorage—but three of its five losses are by six or fewer points away from home.
The loss at Rutgers the opening night of the season was perhaps the most impressive Ivy League result that week. A furious comeback against San Francisco in the Great Alaska Shootout, which included three three-pointers in the final minute, netted a narrow 71-69 defeat. And in its latest game, the Big Green battled back from a nine-point halftime deficit to take a one-point lead into the final three minutes before ultimately falling to New Hampshire, 53-50. A few friendly bounces here and there and Dartmouth could be 5-2 rather than 2-5.
The Big Green’s relative success stems largely from its two efficient offensive players—senior David Rufful and freshman Gabas Muldunas. Rufful’s contributions are hardly shocking. His rebounding numbers are a little down, but the senior has more than made up for it by shooting a team-best 61.3 effective field goal percentage, including a 61.1 clip from deep. His 10.1 points per game are second best on the squad behind only R.J. Griffin.
Muldunas has been the surprise. Much was expected out of coach Paul Cormier’s freshman class, but no one quite knew who exactly would be the source. The answer, it seems, is the 6’8 Lithuanian. According to Hollinger’s player statistics, Muldunas, who is averaging 9.9 points and five rebounds in a little over 20 minutes per game, is the ninth most efficient player in the Ivy League. He grabs 19.4 percent of rebounds on the defensive end and 9.1 percent on the offensive end, and he is shooting over 60 percent from two. The freshman’s biggest problem is staying on the court. He averages 6.0 fouls per 40 minutes and has picked up four or more fouls in three games so far.
The biggest issue facing Dartmouth as a whole is its sub-par guard play. Griffin is averaging 11.1 points but shooting 34.5 percent from two (though 37.1 percent from three). Jabari Trotter is shooting 27.9 percent from the field. Mack McKearney and Tyler Melville, who were supposed to be the future of the position for the Big Green, have offensive ratings of 56.3 and 56.8, respectively, with turnover rates hovering around 40. These two are combining for over 20 minutes of playing time a game and by Hollinger’s measures are two of the five worst players in the league.
The sum of these observations is a muddled outlook. Dartmouth won’t be favored to win a game until mid-January when Longwood pays a visit to Hanover. After that, the only remaining game that the Big Green is expected to win is a late season matchup against Brown. Still, Dartmouth has shown that it can compete with superior teams, on the road no less. So although it’s on the same pace as last year’s squad, this team does not seemed destined for a five win season. The only truly shocking upsets would be either game against Harvard or this Saturday against a suddenly reeling Notre Dame team.