Men's hoops tips off with Army
Guarded optimism. That is the best way to describe Dartmouth men's basketball head coach Dave Faucher's outlook on the '97-'98 season.
Dartmouth lost a total of ten players between graduation, recruiting, academic probation, and personal reasons. The Green, therefore, bring a host of new faces and just one returning starter to Leede Arena when they open their season tonight against the Army Cadets at 7:30 p.m.
The Big Green lost over 80 percent of their offense, in terms of points, most notably 1st team all-Ivy player and leading scorer, shooting guard Sea Lonergan '97 (17.0 points per game), 2nd team all-Ivy point guard Kenny Mitchell '97 , as well as Honorable Mention forward Brian Gilpin '97.
Faucher, who brings a 78-78 record into his seventh year as Dartmouth head coach, realized the void that last year's class left, but was confident in his current roster's ability to step up and fill in that space.
"We lost an enormous amount of talent, especially with our senior class leaving, but we have a strong sophomore class who haven't been able to show what they can actually do at a collegiate level," he said.
Faucher denied the thought that this year's team is a rebuilding year, stating that the talent on last year's bench would finally be able to prove their worth to the team.
Leading the charge will be this year's co-captains, point guard P. J. Halas '98 and forward/center Asa Palmer '98.
Halas is the leading returning scorer averaging 10.7 points per game last season. Known for his effort on the court, he embodies at least a portion of the spirit of his great uncle, football coaching great Papa Bear Halas.
Halas led the Ivy League in three-point field goal percentage shooting a blistering 46.7% from beyond the arc in the fourteen Ivy contests.
Palmer, at 6'9'', is the hardest-working player on the team and will bring a strong rebounding force to the paint for the Big Green. He is excited about the prospects to sneak up on the entire league.
"Like all Dartmouth teams, ours will emphasize defense. I think we have a lot of hidden talent that will show up this year. There is less expected of us, and we are all motivated by the underdog's role," Palmer said.
The preseason coaches' poll placed the Big Green fifth this season after their second place finish last year. Faucher called this "fair" citing the enormous loss of players this season.
The Green open the Ivy slate on December 16 at Harvard, but are only looking at one game at a time.
"I can't see ahead to March and a possible Ivy League title (it would be their first since 1959)...or a NCAA or NIT bid for that matter, we are just taking things one step at a time and right now I am very
happy with what my team is doing, but I still want them to do it better," Faucher said.
Halas will run the show at the point, and will be joined in the backcourt by sophomore Brian Laibow who has had a strong preseason and has a strong knowledge of the game which makes him an extension of the coach on the floor.
Chris Ellis '00 and Ryan Smerek '00 will join Palmer in the frontcourt as a result of their strong preseason. The Green will look to them all year to produce on both ends of the floor, especially on the glass.
Shaun Gee '00 returns for his second year with the team bringing his team-leading shooting percentage last season (60.2 percent). The Green are going to need a lot more from Gee this season with the departure of their seniors as well as forward Seth Newsome '99, who has elected not to play.
This year's freshman class should be almost as powerful as last year's featuring Greg Buth and Chris Swanson. In addition, Ian McGinnis, Dartmouth's most highly-touted frosh was predicted to be Ivy Rookie of the Year by The Sporting News. Faucher noted that the freshmen are returning from minor injuries and will not start even if he feels they should until they have fully recovered.
Tonight's opponent, Army, is comparable to an Ivy League-level team, showing at least respectability to No. 2 Duke in a 30-point defeat. Faucher admitted that such a result was not too bad considering the opponent.
"We wouldn't be able to deal with a Duke team, right now, either.," Faucher said. "They just have too many good athletes and too much talent for us to even consider being competitive with them at this point,"
Army had a very good preseason, pulling several upsets and should be ready to tangle with the Green tonight. They defeated the Big Green by two last season at West Point.
"Tonight's game will be a hard fought one because Army is a scrappy team with good players," Halas said.
Halas went on to say that opening night is big, no matter who you play because it sets a tone for the rest of the season.
"Tomorrow will indicate how far we need to progress to make a run at an Ivy title," Halas said.
"It also will show us how hard we have to play to win non-conference games early on."
The Princeton Tigers were first again this season after claiming the title last year and only losing one starter. They opened up the season by defeating national powers N.C. State and Georgia. Faucher cited them as the class of the Ivy League.
"They are a bonafide top-30 team," Faucher said.
"They are not that big and don't have too many explosive weapons, but they can always find a way to beat you. They are beatable, but any team in the league would have to play well," he said.
Another team which should be strong in the Ivy League this season will be the Penn Quakers who return their entire starting lineup. Penn returns last year's Ivy Rookie of the Year Michael Jordan, who played a little like his namesake last season, although they are unrelated.
The Harvard Crimson hope to improve upon their third place finish last year. However, the Crimson must replace all-Ivy forward Kyle Snowden who graduated. Their best scoring threat now comes from the sharpshooting of junior guard Tim Hill .
Dartmouth, which has made a run at the Ivy title the past two years, will need to sweep teams such as Harvard and the rest of the Ivy League if they are to compete with Princeton and Penn for the title. However, that might be tough this season for a team with too many question marks.
The enigma will be solved at Leede Arena tonight as Faucher and the rest of the league finally finds out what type of squad comes out to play the Cadets.