As of last Sunday, Dartmouth was one of only three Division I teams (there are 351 in all) that hadn’t won a basketball game this season. That’s not exactly the way David McLaughlin wanted to start his Division I coaching career, especially one returning talented sophomore Evan Boudreaux and junior Miles Wright.
The lack of a win drew some unwanted national attention toward Dartmouth,and some of the losses were a bit disturbing, like the one that still stands as Longwood’s only win, Maine at home, and getting blown out by Boston College (which seems difficult to do this season). But if people expected McLaughlin and the Big Green to be despondent about its predicament, they would probably be disappointed. Eventually, a win would come and it did last Sunday, beating LIU Brooklyn 82-68. Thursday morning (yes, morning) Dartmouth followed it up with a second straight road win over the NEC, topping Bryant 75-69.
And suddenly things don’t look so bad. If they ever did.
“I’m certainly happier because we won a couple of games, but to be quite honest, we’re not doing anything really differently,” McLaughlin said. “Maybe we’re getting a stop here or there, maybe taking care of the ball a little better. But the guys are doing the same things. Sometimes the game goes your way, sometimes it doesn’t.”
Even with Boudreaux’s solid numbers, Dartmouth was only 275th in offensive efficiency last season, with a deadly combination of poor shooting (279th on two-pointers, 45.9%) and a high turnover rate (20.8%, 319th), which is how you end up at 10-18 (4-10 Ivy). It’s those areas where Dartmouth has struggled again this season. Boudreaux is shooting just 39.6% on two-pointers as a post player, with Wright at only 40.0% (the team is 268th, 45.4%).
The Big Green didn’t make huge strides in that area Thursday, shooting 17-41 inside the arc (41.5%), with Boudreaux shooting just 4-14. But they committed only seven turnovers (10.0%), and got a huge game out of another sophomore, Guilien Smith, who tied his career-high in the first half (21) and finished with 29 on 10-19 shooting (5-9 on three-pointers). They should have the weapons to compete offensively in the Ivy.
And McLaughlin just wants them to keep getting better, with the Ivy opener (vs. Harvard) two weeks away.
“They’re a pretty focused group,” McLaughlin said, “They’ll come back from break ready to go. We just have to keep getting better. If we can go through each practice knowing that we got better on the things we were emphasizing that day, then we’ll see where it takes us.”
With the league as a whole taking a bit of a step back this season, finishing in the top half of the league and qualifying for the inaugural Ivy League Tournament is not out of the question, especially if Smith can shoot like he did Thursday.
“With the new (Ivy League) tournament, the top four teams go, and that’s our goal,” Smith said. “Obviously you want to win every game, but these games don’t count toward that, and it’s the Ivy League that matters most.”
Aforementioned kids, sitting in what is normally the Bryant student section: pic.twitter.com/g8mb6PbGaG
— Ray Curren (@currenrr) December 22, 2016
What else did we learn in front of about 500 young kids at the Chace Wellness Center?
- Defending in the paint will be key for Dartmouth
But they’re not necessarily alone in the Ivy League in that: Brown and Columbia are both struggling mightily in that category. Boudreaux is going to rack up defensive rebounds, and had a few huge plays down the stretch (he’s also going to draw fouls, currently 6.3 per game, and make the ensuing free throws, 88% in Ivy play last season), but he’s not really a rim protector (1.2% block rate).
Which leaves McLaughlin with a choice between two previously little used seniors in Ike Ngwudo and Wesley Dickinson. Ngwudo started Thursday, but it was Dickinson who had eight rebounds and a block in 21 minutes. Bryant shot just 44.1% from inside the arc (15-34), but alas the Bulldogs were missing their best post player in Dan Garvin. But it was better.
“It was definitely not an ideal start,” Smith said. “But with a brand new coaching staff and brand new system, we’re all getting used to it, there’s going to be hiccups, there’s going to be bumps, and I think it shows how tough a team we really are right now, and that we’ll keep getting better.”
2) Tim O’Shea still feels good about Bryant
Bryant is only 3-9 and is coming off a season in which it missed the NEC Tournament completely, but – even after a loss to a 1-9 team at home – was very excited about its prospects.
And with good reason.
The Bulldogs have exciting guards in Ikenna Ndugba (who led Bryant with 18 points), Nisre Zouzoua, and Adam Grant. With Garvin back, they stack up well in a very balanced NEC. Like Dartmouth, they have to defend better in the paint (291st two-point defense, 54.0%) and should force more turnovers with their guards (337th at 15.0%, and just 7 Thursday). But hopefulyl those things will come.
“I think we’re right there with everyone in the conference, at least what I can see of the league,” O’Shea said. “I like our young guys, I just hope we can play off our posts a little bit more. Getting Garvin back should help with that. The league is fairly wide open. I think we have a good, young team, but we just have to get over the hump a little bit.”
— Ray Curren (@currenrr) December 22, 2016
3) Bryant might have to live with some inconsistency
As they showed against Yale, Bryant’s guards are capable of exploding at any given time, but there will also be days where the shots don’t fall, and Thursday was one for Zouzoua (5-14 shooting) and Adam Grant (2-12). Add in Bosko Kostur and Gus Riley (who was 2-2 from behind the arc), and that’s a lot of shooters that opponents have to account for. If they can make the shots.
“You have to give the guys a little bit of rope,” O’Shea said. “Zouzoua has played really well, but the shots just weren’t falling for him today. But you can’t tell him not to take those shots, he’s certainly capable of making them. I think the attitude is good. I don’t think anyone is down. We’re not a league that sends multiple teams to postseason, so you kind of gear up for conference play, and I think we’re in a good place.”