Through five games, Dartmouth is about where most observers pegged them to be record-wise. For the first time since 2004, the Big Green won its home opener, defeating Maine 67-54 on Nov. 10 before suffering a three-game losing streak, including a pair of double-digit losses to New Hampshire and Bucknell. The UNH loss was particularly demoralizing as Dartmouth shot just 16-of-60 (27%) from the floor while allowing 44 free throws at home on Nov. 13. While that loss was the low point of the young season, the last two games have hinted at the potential — both good and bad — that Dartmouth could bring to the table come Ivy League play.
The Big Green’s three outside threats, Alex Mitola, Jvonte Brooks, and John Golden, combined to go 10-for-21 on threes against the Bison. Unfortunately, the rest of the team struggled, shooting 6-for-32 on all other attempts, resulting in the paltry 49 point output. Forward Gabas Maldunas, who appears to have made a leap, particularly on the offensive end, struggled mightily against Bucknell’s larger frontline, scoring just 4 points on 2-for-9 shooting while Bison center Mike Muscala – at 6’11”, two inches taller than Maldunas – went off for 17 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks. There’s no way around the fact that Dartmouth is a small team, something that has been a problem in Hanover for a few years now. Maldunas is the only rotation player above 6’7” and two of the team’s guards – Mitola (5’11”) and fellow freshman
Malik Gill (5’9”) – are short for their position.
A lack of experience could also hurt the Big Green this year, as Dartmouth showed a lack of discipline in the losses to UNH and Bucknell. Dartmouth allowed 44 free throw attempts against the Wildcats and 34 against the Bison. That’s something that head coach Paul Cormier will have to work on as Ivy League play commences next month.
It’s not all bad, however. The loss against Bucknell came against a solid team on the road, and Dartmouth followed that up with a win on the road against Longwood, with Maldunas leading all Big Green scorers with 19. Golden added 16, hitting four of five three-pointers. Dartmouth currently has three players (Mitola, Maldunas and Golden) averaging in double figures compared to zero last season. Most promising, Dartmouth has a few different options on offense, which should help boost a scoring attack that has ranked last in the league in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency in each of the last three years (per KenPom.com). The Big Green can play through Mitola, who can drive or step out and shoot the three (though he must improve on his 31% rate to make it worthwhile), attack down low or off putbacks through Maldunas or set up Golden for a three-pointer. It’s still not an elite offense by any measure – Dartmouth is still last in the Ancient Eight with a 91.1 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency this season – but the Big Green at least now has an idea of what it wants to accomplish on offense, which was not the case last season.
Another promising fact is that with the conference weaker overall and more balanced at the top, Dartmouth would have a good chance to win more than one Ivy game even if the team hadn’t improved in the offseason. But with a squad that seems stronger than the 2011-12 version, four Ivy wins isn’t out of the question. Of course, it’s entirely possible that Dartmouth regresses to its form of the past few years and remains in the conference cellar, but Cormier has had success in the league in the past and he’s trying, bit-by-bit, to change the culture in Hanover. The remaining nonconference slate will provide a good indication of how far along the rebuilding effort is, as it features several beatable teams, such as Elon, Holy Cross, Bryant, Colgate, Army and Colby-Sawyer. Winning those games, beginning with Elon on Tuesday, will show that the Big Green is ready to take a step up once Ivy play begins against Harvard on Jan. 12.