On most teams, when all but two players on the squad are freshmen or sophomores, there’s not usually a great sense of urgency. But make no mistake – there will be a sense of urgency in Hanover when Ivy League play begins on Saturday against Harvard. For the past three years, Dartmouth has stumbled to a five-win season, going 1-13 in the conference each year. And with a 3-10 record and one more non-conference game yet (a winnable January 17 tilt against D-III Colby-Sawyer), a fourth consecutive five-win season is looking like a distinct possibility.
Two years ago, in head coach Paul Cormier’s first season, that wouldn’t be such a bad thing. But even though Cormier has a young team, the Big Green needs to show some kind of progress this year to verify that, even if Dartmouth is at the bottom of the league, they’re moving in the right direction. There is more hope in Hanover now than in any of the past three years with youngsters such as Gabas Maldunas, Jvonte Brooks and Alex Mitola. However, if this team follows in its predecessors’ footsteps and falters in Ivy League play, it won’t matter how young or promising the players were at the start of the season. The end result will be the same: another last-place finish and nothing to build on moving forward. Dartmouth is a bottom-half Ivy squad, but that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to be gained from conference play. Expecting the Big Green to topple the likes of Harvard or Princeton is probably wishful thinking, but Dartmouth is close enough to the rest of the league that springing an upset is a possibility in every game. What that means for Dartmouth is not just hanging tough – something they did on several occasions last season – but making that game-winning run in a contest”s final minutes. Upsetting a team like, say, Yale on the road won’t make a huge difference for the Big Green in the Ivy standings this season, but it will pay dividends a few years down the road when guys like Maldunas or Brooks find themselves in a similar situation with (one hopes) a stronger team behind them.
So how does Dartmouth pull off an upset this season? There’s no simple answer. The Big Green ranks last among Ancient Eight teams in both Adjusted Offensive Rating (87.0 points per 100 possessions) and Adjusted Defensive Rating (102.5 points allowed per 100 possessions). One of the best ways to beat a stronger team is to shoot the lights out from downtown, but Dartmouth hits just 31.5% of its threes, only a hair above Yale, the Ivy League’s worst outfit from deep (31.4%).
The areas that Dartmouth can best use to its advantage are offensive rebounding and free throw shooting. At 11.3 offensive boards per game, Dartmouth ranks third in the Ivy League, while their 18.1 free throw attempts per game ranks fourth. The Big Green probably wouldn’t rank as high if Princeton didn’t play at such a glacially slow pace (their
62.6 possessions per game ranks 339th out of 347 Division I teams), but, borrowing from the economic concept of comparative advantage, it would be best for Dartmouth to specialize in an area of relative strength. In this case, it means sending bigs like Maldunas (2.2 offensive rebounds per game) and Brooks (2.6) in to crash the offensive glass and create extra possessions while telling guards like Mitola, Malik Gill and Tyler Melville (combined 83% from the line) to attack the rim more frequently.
On paper, these suggestions are nice, but realistically, the number one way Dartmouth can find success during the Ivy slate is simply to play better. If the Big Green continues to play like the 3-10 squad they are right now, they are not going to win many games in the Ivy League. This isn’t a shot at any of the
players – they play hard – or Coach Cormier, but a simple truth. I’m sure Cormier expects a team this young to
be better in the second half of the season as the different parts coalesce, and if that’s the case, then Dartmouth’s chances of picking up a few Ivy victories –particularly that elusive road win (not one since February 21, 2009) – will greatly increase.
Dartmouth does do some things pretty well. Even though his numbers are down from last year, Maldunas (6.6 rebounds per game) can still rebound, Mitola can hit the three on occasion, despite his unorthodox shooting motion (36.6% from deep on 6.3 attempts per game), and Connor Boehm (50.7% FG) has shown nice touch from inside 10 feet. But for Dartmouth to improve as a team, they have to do these things better and more consistently while picking up the slack in other areas. And that’s why there’s a sense of urgency right now. Because if the Big Green doesn’t improve in conference play, 2012-13 will become just another lost season for Dartmouth basketball.