The Dartmouth men's basketball team has an uphill battle ahead of itself this winter if the Big Green hopes to win its first Ivy League title since 1959. With only two seniors and six freshmen, the team is hoping to overcome youth and inexperience in an attempt to improve upon the 8-19 finish of last year. With a little luck, the Big Green may do just that and knock off some of the league favorites in the process.
Leading the way this season will be co-captains Flinder Boyd '02 and Vedad Osmanovic '02. Boyd, who has started at the point all four years, enters the season with 473 career assists, which is good for second all-time at Dartmouth. He is well within reach of overtaking Bryan Randall '88 (488 assists) for the top spot early this season.
Osmanovic, a small forward out of Banja Luka, Bosnia, should provide a consistent outside scoring threat for the Big Green this winter. He will look to improve upon his 8.8 points per game average of last year, as much of the Dartmouth offensive attack will revolve around his ability to hit the outside shot.
Head coach Dave Faucher, in his 11th season at Dartmouth (116-146), will rely heavily on these two seniors to not only lead the team on a game to game basis, but also to bring along the younger players within the program.
"[The captains] paved the way with their work ethic and also with their understanding of what it's like to be young in a Division I program," Faucher said. "That's been a real plus for the program. It helps having those two down there everyday just because of the way they are with the younger kids."
Some of the freshmen that will benefit most from the experience of this year's captains include 6-10 David Gardner, 6-8 Brandon Smith, and shooting guard Mike McClaren. At the center position, Gardner brings a great deal of size and shot-blocking ability, which should fill part of the void left by last season's leading rebounder Ian McGinnis '01 (9.6 rpg). Smith also adds more size to the front line at the power forward position. The most surprising freshman in pre-season practices has been McLaren, who reigns from Memphis, Tenn., and should see a great deal of playing time in the back court alongside Boyd.
Faucher sees great things to come for this year's capable freshmen.
"Ability-wise, the Class of 2005 seems to have all the bases covered because we have size, we have some talent on the wings, and we have talent at the point," Faucher said. "What we're trying to do is develop them as quickly as possible to play against [Division I] competition because as talented as some of them are, it's very difficult for a freshman to contend against a guy who's been doing it for four years."
In addition to the talent that '05s bring to the table, several upper classmen are looking for break-out seasons this year. Charles Harris '02, a 6-4 slasher also from Memphis, is an athletic wingman with outstanding leaping ability. The team is looking for Harris to become more of a contributor on the offensive end this season and will not rely solely on his shot-blocking and rebounding strengths.
Greg Friel '03, a 6-5 forward/guard from Durham, NH, hopes to leave nagging injuries, which have plagued him the past two years, behind this season.
Coach Faucher is hoping both Harris and Friel provide major contributions to the Big Green attack.
"Obviously, we're dependent on Charles for breaking out because he is such a talent," Faucher said. "We're going to look for him to score points. Greg Friel, on the other hand, is playing really comfortably on the floor. He's playing hard, and he's rebounding well. His play has shown that he is deserving of minutes and an opportunity."
Coming into the season, the Big Green has been relatively healthy, with the exception of big man Brendan Herbert '04. After playing well in an intra-squad scrimmage earlier this fall, Herbert went down with two herniated discs. There is no timetable for his return, and his presence up front will be sorely missed.
In terms of where Dartmouth stands against the rest of its Ivy League competition, things are not looking too bright for the Big Green.
In addition to the perennial powerhouses Penn and Princeton, Yale and Brown are serious contenders to dethrone the Tigers. Over the weekend, the Bulldogs' pulled of a Big Ten shocker as they upset Penn State in Happy Valley. Brown features two players that have been named to the preseason all-Ivy first team.
"You combine Yale and Brown's resurgent programs with the dominance that Penn and Princeton has had, along with Columbia, which has a senior-oriented team, and you're looking at a league that is probably as tough as we've seen since I've been here," Faucher said.
The Big Green opens its home season tonight against Vermont at 7 pm. Conference play begins Dec. 15 when Dartmouth travels to Cambridge to face off against the Harvard Crimson.