McLaughlin Has Centerpiece At Dartmouth, But What Else?

New Dartmouth coach Dave McLaughlin will not have to worry about the hardest part of building a college basketball team — finding a star. Evan Boudreaux can be penned into that role for the next three seasons, having earned Rookie of the Year honors by averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds in Ivy play this spring. But the rest of the Big Green’s roster is more enigmatic, leaving lots of room for McLaughlin to shape the rotation to his liking.

McLaughlin moves two hours north from Northeastern, where he was the Huskies’ lead assistant for three seasons, including an NCAA tournament appearance in 2015. Beforehand, he was a nine-year head coach at D-II Stonehill College.

In his introductory press conference last week, McLaughlin hinted at some traits he wants his Big Green to have. “We want to play with space and pace, want to keep the floor open … the ball is made to move,” he said, adding an emphasis on protecting the paint on defense.

That vision requires some substantial changes for Dartmouth. Here’s where it ranked last year in those areas:

Space: 29% 3PA/FGA, #8 Ivy (#317 D-I)

Pace: 69 Poss/Gm, #3 Ivy (#203 D-I)

Ball Movement: 47% A/FG, #7 Ivy (#175 D-I)

Paint Protection: 4% Block Rate, #8 Ivy (#334 D-I)

A change of style wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing for the Big Green, who return 64% of last year’s possessions (better than only Yale and Columbia). Under Paul Cormier, especially for the last two seasons, its gambling defense forced turnovers at a high rate. But they came at a cost — Dartmouth allowed the league’s highest free-throw rate, struggling especially to stay in front of dribblers from the perimeter. McLaughlin’s Northeastern teams didn’t force many turnovers, but they were among the nation’s best at keeping foes off the foul line.

Aside from reserves Malik Gill and Kevin Crescenzi, Dartmouth’s backcourt was filled with underclassmen last year. Though Miles Wright’s sophomore season was perceived as a bit of a disappointment, it was statistically identical to his 2015 Rookie of the Year campaign; he was expected to take on the scoring load vacated by Gabas Maldunas and Alex Mitola, but Boudreaux became the go-to guy instead. Wright should be the team’s best perimeter defender, and can be an all-around contributor even if he doesn’t develop into a star.

If spacing is important to McLaughlin, he’ll also likely favor Taylor Johnson, who emerged as the team’s best long-range threat in Ivy play. Point guard is a bigger question mark; Smiths Guillien and Cameron spent time on the ball last year (along with the departed Malik Gill), but both had up and down seasons with low assist rates.

Perhaps the most interesting decision for McLaughlin comes in the frontcourt: Who should play alongside Boudreaux? The rising sophomore can step outside on offense, but he did most of his work in the post. Defensively, he mostly defended opposing fours, and he only blocked one shot in Ivy play. Connor Boehm was the perfect partner — big enough to guard the best opposing centers, but able to space the floor on offense — but no obvious replacement remains.

Evan_Boudreaux_Dartmouth_shooting

Filling that hole with a traditional center (perhaps Cole Harrison?) would help shore up Dartmouth’s interior defense, but it could create spacing problems on the other end. Those can be fixed with sharp passing — Yale rode that formula to the NCAA tournament last year, and McLaughlin’s best Northeastern team did the same — but that’s difficult to develop in one offseason. If the Big Green goes small instead with Boudreaux at center, it would put pressure on their star to improve defensively (and invite foul trouble).

Cormier’s dismissal surprised many around the league. Dartmouth athletic director Harry Sheehy said he believed the team needed to upgrade its recruiting and player development, while others pointed to the team’s improvement under Cormier, including its first postseason appearance of the modern era. I think both sides are right: Cormier leveraged the Ivy League’s rising tide to bring a laughingstock program to respectability; Dartmouth’s last three seasons are among its four best since 1990 per College Basketball Reference’s Simple Rating System. But the Big Green’s player development lagged behind other Ivies, and there was no real path to title contention.

The open question is, will any coach change that? Dartmouth lags most other Ivies in location, facilities, attendance, and history. If this spring’s transactions are a sign that Sheehy and the college as a whole are willing to make basketball a higher institutional priority, McLaughlin will have a fair chance to take the Big Green to the next level. If not, his term isn’t likely to end any better than Cormier’s.

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