Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sunday Notebook: Dartmouth Surprises, Harvard Hangs On

What is it about Hartford that brings out the best in Dartmouth?

After losing its first four games last season by at least 16 points, the Big Green led almost wire-to-wire en route to a double-digit victory. Fast-forward to this season: Dartmouth gets blown out at Providence and squanders a huge second-half lead against UNH. Then, out of nowhere, the Big Green jumps out to a 15-point lead in the first half and Jabari Trotter has a performance reminiscent of the Alex Barnett years.

Trotter knocked down three trifectas in a row during a 1:45 span in the first half to turn a six-point lead into a 31-16 advantage. That nine-point spurt capped off a 16-point first half that staked the Big Green to a 38-24 lead at the break.

As Trotter's scoring began to slow, R.J. Griffin picked up the slack with 11 second-half points as Dartmouth paced ahead by the Hawks by double-digits for the entire second half.

The Big Green executed a high-variance strategy perfectly, keeping the pace at just 59 possessions and knocking down 10 three pointers. Add to that a ton of offensive rebounds (45%) and a ton of free throws, and it's easy to see how Dartmouth posted its most efficient offensive performance since beating Princeton 71-52 on February 23, 2008.

There's still a lot to dislike about the Big Green's play right now. Going small isn't doing Dartmouth any favors, as its rebounding on both ends of the floor is among the nation's worst. But the Big Green is forcing turnovers on defense and keeping teams off the line, enough to keep its defensive rating just below the national average. Dartmouth's offense will be shaky all season, but Friday night showed that the Big Green can get hot every once in awhile. Combine that with a slow-paced game and a decent defensive showing, and that should be good enough for a handful of wins.


When a 15-2 Mercer run turned a 37-27 halftime lead into a three-point deficit, the Crimson, which had turned the ball over six times in the first five minutes, looked confused, rattled and beaten.

But just for a moment.

After a long possession, Christian Webster found his way to the free throw line. Then, after a stop, Keith Wright made a commanding move in the post and got the foul for his only three points of the afternoon. Finally, freshman Laurent Rivard, who had a rollercoaster afternoon, buried a three and all of a sudden Harvard was back up five. Mercer would never get within a possession the rest of the way.

It was that short memory which the Crimson didn't possess when a 9-2 spurt turned into a 30-8 run against Appalachian State in the first round of the CIT last year. Potentially no one embodies the bounce-back approach like Rivard, who, as a rookie, isn't necessarily the type to be expected to show poise.

By the numbers, he's been Harvard's worst offensive regular (0-for-11 in the opener will expose a player to such depths). He went 1-for-4 in the first half (0-for-3 from three). But he kept firing away, hitting three of his five shots from long range in the second half, including the dagger as the shot clock was winding down with 2:58 to go to put Harvard up 68-58.

The 75-69 victory was by no means easy or fluid, but no one expected Harvard to be either of those things with its best player on the shelf until December. Few, however, expected the Crimson to have the luxury of not playing its best and still picking up these types of victories. That grinder mentality could serve it well in the ultimate slog, The 14-Game Tournament.


Drexel 77, PENN 56

There's plenty of scoring talent on the Quakers' roster. Everything else seems to be lacking, however. The defense is about five points per 100 possessions better than last year, but that's only about half the improvement necessary to make Penn even an average defensive team.

The Quakers also are one of the league's worst rebounding teams, never more evident than against Drexel yesterday. The Dragons pulled down 56% of the offensive rebounds on 62.5% eFG shooting, which basically means that the only possessions they weren't scoring on were the 30% where they turned the ball over.

Penn must find a way to work some of these problems out against Lafayette on Tuesday, because it doesn't get any easier with a trip to No. 4 Pitt next Saturday.

LONGWOOD 95, Columbia 76

The Lions' offense is much better than expected, but Columbia still doesn't have the firepower to outscore teams.

Yielding efficiency ratings of 112 (La Salle), 121 (Longwood) and 124 (St. John's) isn't going to allow the Lions to achieve even a modicum of success. Columbia's record in games where the opponent posts an offensive rating above 100 over the past 2+ years is 5-21. Either the Lions need to force opponents to miss shots, or they need to force far more turnovers, because Columbia's ranking in both of those departments is hovering around 300th nationally.

BROWN 81, Sacred Heart 67

The home opener was kind to the Bears, which shot the lights out (74% eFG shooting) and even forced a reasonable number of turnovers (fifth highest rate in the past 2+ years).

The defensive concerns are still quite valid. Brown has played, by far, the worst aggregate offensive teams over the first three games and yet has the third-worst raw defensive rating in the league.

There is a lot to like in the Bears' offensive talent, but if Brown can't keep teams from filling it up on the other end, its ceiling is seven or eight Ivy wins.

St. Bonaventure 56, CORNELL 54

An 11-point lead with 11 minutes to go evaporated, as the Big Red only connected on three more field goals to close out the contest.

Cornell was exposed inside, grabbing just eight percent of the offensive boards and shooting 5-for-26 from inside the arc. The Big Red has played strong defense thus far (league's third best to this point), but only shooting 42% from inside the arc will turn this team into a one-dimensional and easily defensible offense very quickly. That type of team will struggle to compete in this year's Ivy League race.

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