Princeton’s title aspirations for the 2013-14 campaign were dashed once again by the University’s antiquated tradition of January “Reading Period” and its three week mid-season forced hiatus. A 700 mile bus trip to Cambridge and Hanover is hardly the way to shake off the cobwebs. Princeton’s 0-3 start is much more than a thorn in its paw. This Tiger is hurting.
Sadly, this weekend, Princeton squandered career scoring nights from its senior warriors, T. J. Bray (26 against Harvard) and Will Barrett (28 at Dartmouth). The Tigers embarked on the trip as the stingiest team with the ball in D1. A Penn-like plethora of turnovers, 33 in the two games, rendered a staggering blow to the reeling fortunes of the men from Old Nassau. Seventeen games in and Mitch Henderson is searching for answers to questions he never expected to be asked.
Please put your hand up if you had Dartmouth sweeping the weekend without Gabas Maldunas and Columbia dropping two at Yale and Brown. You in the back? No, you’re just scratching your head? Yeah, me too. It was that kind of weekend in the Ivy League. On to the weekend’s big winners…
Home Court Advantage: We know it’s hard to win on the road in the Ivy League, but wow. Home teams went 8-0 this weekend as all four New England teams swept their back-to-backs. Through 15 Ivy contests, only two away teams have come away victorious (Columbia at Cornell and Harvard at Dartmouth).
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.
Breakthrough years usually consist of more than a 5-9 record and second-to-last finish in the conference, but last season represented a quantum leap for a squad that had gone 3-39 in Ivy League play since 2009. Dartmouth went three years between Ivy League road wins in that span and a trip to Leede Arena was usually viewed as a reward for enduring Harvard the previous night on the northern road trip.
Things were different in 2012-13. If not for a last-minute meltdown, the Big Green would have beaten eventual champ Harvard on the road in January. And even after that overtime loss, Dartmouth held its own, playing every team close at least once en route to five wins in the conference.
The task now facing Paul Cormier as he enters the fourth year of his second stint in Hanover is to better that record once again and finish .500 or higher in the Ancient Eight. He’ll attempt to do that with most of last year’s team intact. Center Matt LaBove, the sole graduating senior, averaged just four minutes per game. The only significant loss is junior forward Jvonte Brooks, the team’s leading scorer two years ago who chose instead to play for the Big Green football team. Brooks and Cormier did not get along, and a thumb injury only made it more difficult for Brooks to see the court. Ultimately Brooks played just two minutes over the final eight Ivy League contests, during which Dartmouth went 3-5. Though Brooks could help this year’s team, the Big Green still managed all right without him last year.
One of the youngest teams in the country last year, Dartmouth was led by forward Gabas Maldunas, who became the first Dartmouth player to earn All-Ivy honors since 2009 (Second Team). Guards Tyler Melville and Alex Mitola both shot better than 39% from beyond the arc last season, and freshman forward Connor Boehm proved a decent scoring option in the post alongside Maldunas, though the two struggled to find success at the same time. Melville in particular flourished after Cormier inserted him into the starting lineup on Feb. 2 and his 9-of-11, 23 point performance almost keyed an upset at Princeton on March 2.
2012-13 was a year of fits and starts for the Big Green, as the team endured a five-game midseason losing streak before winning three of its last four to avoid its fourth consecutive last-place finish. Consistency will be the key this season if a young Dartmouth team is to take the next step.
Chaos reigns yet again in the Ivy League. At one point on Saturday night, Dartmouth and Penn led Princeton and Harvard by healthy margins. Princeton would fight back to win, 68-63 on Senior Night, moving to 9-2 in the conference. Harvard, on the other hand, was unable to dig itself out of a 16 point hole, and fell a game behind Princeton in the loss column when Christian Webster”s desperation three at the buzzer fell short. Meanwhile, Brown completed a surprising road sweep of the C”s when Tucker Halpern”s step back three at the buzzer splashed through the net to spoil Senior Night at a stunned Levien Gymnasium. In Ithaca, Yale”s victory over undermanned Cornell was the only ho-hum result of the night.
Tony Hicks is making a serious late push for Rookie of the Year. The award seemed completely wrapped up for Siyani Chambers a few weeks ago, but Hicks is averaging 23.8 ppg in his last four games, including 24 points in Saturday”s victory vs. Harvard. Hicks convincingly outplayed Chambers, who struggled to a 1-5 shooting, 7 turnover performance. Fellow freshman Darien Nelson-Henry was the other half of this superfrosh tandem, as the big man took advantage of Harvard”s size disadvantage, going for 18 points and 11 rebounds. Henry Brooks and Miles Cartwright also pitched in with 12 a piece for the Quakers, who had one of the wildest
up and down weekends imaginable, falling at home to Dartmouth before outplaying league-leading Harvard for the unconventional split.