1999. It’s been fifteen years since Dartmouth finished Ivy League play with more wins than losses. Under head coach Dave Faucher, last millenium’s final incarnation of the Big Green went 10-4 to finish three games back of a title and in a respectable third place. In the decade and a half since then, the Big Green have finished at 7-7 twice but have not reached the promised land of a winning record. With Ivy teams four through seven currently separated by less than 40 teams in the Pomeroy rankings, some have suggested that the boys of Hanover may have a shot to improve on last year’s 5-9 finish and break the 15-year streak of futility.
Looking at their results so far this year though, you may be inclined to think this is the same old Dartmouth of years past. In their seven wins, the Big Green have yet to beat a team in the top 85% of Division I, racking up victories over five sub-300 squads and two D-III outfits. But credit Dartmouth- the team has not fallen into the common trap of playing down to the competition; the young troops have gone out and beaten all seven of those weak teams by double-digits. Against its strongest opponents, Dartmouth has stayed competitive on the road, taking Illinois to the wire in Champaign behind a barrage of late-game three-pointers and playing Harvard even for a half in Allston.
This is a balanced squad that hits the boards hard, led by big man Gabas Maldunas (give Martin Kessler’s great piece on OneBidWonders.com a read for more on the Lithuanian). Maldunas is currently first in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage, corralling 32.3% of all opponent’s misses. Nobody denies second chances more than Maldunas, who, on the other end, is a Top 200 offensive rebounder too, getting to over 11% of his teammate’s misses this season. Additionally, his scoring efficiency is up this season, as he’s shooting over 55% from the field. Against Harvard last Saturday, Maldunas’ 23 points accounted for more than half of Dartmouth’s total scoring output in the 61-45 loss.
As a team, Dartmouth is not far behind Maldunas on the glass, entering this weekend with the third highest defensive rebounding rate in the country. The Green may not possess the athleticism of Harvard or Penn, but their commitment to rebounding, their slow tempo, and their “No Easy Buckets” philosophy on defense–sending opponents frequently to the stripe to earn their points–should keep them in a lot of games this conference season.
A reliable starting five has formed with sophomore Alex Mitola at the point, senior Tyler Melville at the 2, John Golden on the wing, and 6’7″ forward Connor Boehm providing scoring and rebounding opposite Maldunas. Mitola and Melville are both shooting over 40% from distance, while Golden can really do a little bit of everything. Behind this starting five, the bench is a bit thin but there are reinforcements waiting in the wings. Crescenzi and McDonnell have shown they can contribute good minutes, while newly healthy 6’10” freshman Cole Harrison could be a pleasant surprise for the Green if he can quickly get into playing shape.
This year, the Ivy schedule could be an advantage for Dartmouth with teams gunning to take down travel partner Harvard. The results may not be enough to break the 15-year streak of no winning seasons, but I think we may see an improvement upon last year’s 5-win campaign as Coach Cormier moves the program forward for a second straight year.