David McLaughlin and Dartmouth had some optimism heading into the 2017-18 season, his second in Hanover. The Big Green were only 4-10 in the Ivy (and 7-20 overall), but improved as the season progressed and were on the fringes of the Ivy Tournament race until the final weekend of the season.
They would have to replace a lot of interior size in Wesley Dickinson and point guard Mike Fleming, but they were otherwise young.
Most importantly, they had Evan Boudreaux, a junior who led the Ivy League in rebounding last season, was second in scoring, and seemed sure to have his name all over the Dartmouth record books by the time he graduated next year.
But suddenly last week, Dartmouth did not have Evan Boudreaux.
And it wasn’t a season-ending injury, Boudreaux decided he was graduating in May and would rather use his final two years of eligibility somewhere else, probably in a conference with more visibility than the Ivy League.
Other than the announcement itself, the timing raised eyebrows not just in the Ivy, but around the country. Boudreaux left the team just 72 hours before last week’s opener at Quinnipiac, saying in a statement: “After a lot of discussion with my family, I have decided that I am going to be sitting out the 2017-18 basketball season and plan to graduate a year early from Dartmouth with two years of eligibility left. I want to thank everyone at Dartmouth who has helped me the past two years. I wish the team and the program nothing but success moving forward. Having said that, I am looking forward to playing the next two seasons as a graduate transfer.”
His family includes his mother, Gail, who is not only one of Dartmouth’s (and the Ivy League’s) best players ever, but also on several lists of the top businesswomen in the country, and a major donor to Dartmouth and its athletic program.
But McLaughlin did not want to talk about reasons why the decision was made or the timing. What’s done is done, after all, and Dartmouth now has to move on with what they have.
“Mid-week last week, Evan informed us of his decision,” McLaughlin said after Tuesday’s win over Division III Emerson. “That’s Evan’s decision that he made in his own best interests. We took the decision, shared it with the team, and we moved forward. We understand that the most important piece is coming together as a team and wanting to compete and play with each other.”
The Big Green is a couple of plays from being 2-0, as they nearly beat another rebuilding squad with a new coach, Quinnipiac, in its opener before falling 78-77. As expected, they buried Emerson (coached by former Boston College stat Bill Curley) 78-43 Tuesday. Things will get significantly tougher going forward with Loyola and Albany coming to Hanover next week, and of course the biggest question will be who replaces Boudreaux in the middle.
BOBCATS WIN! The new era of @QU_MBB starts with a 78-77 victory over Dartmouth. THANK YOU, #BobcatNation! pic.twitter.com/bqJ39l9cT0
— QU Men's Basketball (@QU_MBB) November 11, 2017
Dartmouth was 309th in overall defensive efficiency last season, largely because of allowing 53.6% on two-point shots (316th), a block rate that was better than only four teams in the nation, and a conservative 6.8% steal rate (322nd). That is not a good combination and was obviously with Boudreaux, whose 26.3% defensive rebounding rate was 30th nationally.
“It opens up 30 minutes a game,” McLaughlin said. “But that’s not one person. That’s three, four, five, even six people depending on how we want to play: small or a little bigger. It really drastically opened up some opportunities for a lot of guys, so it’s a great learning lesson to always be ready for your turn when it comes.”
The most prominent beneficiary for playing time might be 6-foot-6 freshman Chris Knight, who will bring a lot more athleticism to the middle when he’s in there, but obviously has none of Boudreaux’s experience. He had four blocks against Quinnipiac and 16 points in 16 minutes against Emerson, including a big dunk in the second half.
Chris Knight running the floor, give and go for the two-hand flush! #DartMBK up 65-31, 5:33 to play, Knight with 16 pts now. pic.twitter.com/ArHi87gIac
— Dartmouth M Hoops (@DartmouthMBK) November 15, 2017
“I probably wouldn’t be coming off the bench as fast as I am,” Knight said. “But I’ve just had to get my mind prepared because these things happen in college sports.”
Sophomore Will Emery, who is a little longer at 6-foot-9, and can stretch defenses more from the outside, has started the first two games for Dartmouth at center, but has averaged just 16.5 minutes. The only other post player on the roster is 6’8” Adrease Jackson, who played just one minute against Quinnipiac.
Of course, playing a bit smaller with athletic guards such as Brendan Barry, Miles Wright, and Guillien Smith (freshman Aaryn Rai has been the fifth starter) could allow McLaughlin to play a more dynamic defense after being dead last in Ivy efficiency last season.
“We’ve been focusing on being a more aggressive team on defense. We want to keep guys out of the paint, communicating more,” Knight said. “Coach has been saying we weren’t doing that as much last season, so this year that’s a big emphasis.”
It remains to be seen how they will be able to produce near the rim. Even against Emerson, Dartmouth corralled only six offensive rebounds (20.0%), but did force 17 turnovers (after Quinnipiac had 15 in the opener).
Senior Taylor Johnson is another option off the bench, as is emotional leader Ian Sistare, but at the end of the day for Dartmouth, it will likely come down to production on the defensive end of the floor – specifically in the paint – to see if they can overcome the loss of Boudreaux this season.