’18 Kickoff Preview: Replacing Cohn & Burchfield

Junior Justin Pierce is poised for a big season in Williamsburg this season, following his Preseason 2nd-Team All-CAA selection. [photo via tribeathletics.com]
Here’s something that should brighten your day: W&M men’s basketball begins its season at home THIS WEDNESDAY! If you haven’t already read our “Complete Guide to the Season,” then you’re behind. The article includes projected starters, schedule analysis, preseason rankings, and more. 

With so many new faces donning the Green and Gold this year, Head Coach Tony Shaver will have his work cut out for him at the beginning of the season. During “out of conference play,” Shaver will need to try multiple permutations of the starting lineup, mix in several different guys at the “sixth man” position, and figure out who should get legitimate minutes off the bench in order to maximize offensive and defensive efficiency. Let’s not forget that, out of conference play, while fun, is really just a warm up for in-conference play in the ever-competitive Colonial Athletic Association (CAA).

Bidding Adieu: Last Season

Everyone should fondly remember W&M’s offensive prowess last season. In the 2017-2018 season, William & Mary basketball became the first team in NCAA history to shoot better than 80 percent from the free throw line, 50 percent from the field and 40 on 3-pointers — yes, this record includes teams such as Duke, UNC, etc. Those are incredible, eye-popping numbers that should not be ignored. Unsurprisingly, W&M ranked #1 of 10 in the CAA in scoring offense, averaging 85 points per game — a solid 5.5 more points per game than the 2nd place team. To put it lightly, the team’s offensive dominance could not be denied last season.

From a scoring perspective, this season, W&M returns 3 out of 5 top scorers from a season ago. Below, you’ll find a statistical breakdown of W&M’s top scorers from last season in terms of aggregate point totals; bolded players are returning this year, while non-bolded players have graduated.

Last Year’s Leading Scorers

  1. Nathan Knight – 573 points (18.5 avg)
  2. Justin Pierce – 456 points (14.7 avg)
  3. David Cohn – 440 points (14.2 avg)
  4. Matt Milon – 403 points (13.0 avg)
  5. Connor Burchfield – 390 points (12.6 avg)
  6. Paul Rowley – 185 points (6.2 avg)
  7. Cole Harrison – 63 points (2.3 avg)
  8. Oliver Tot – 46 points (1.5 avg)

Statistical Breakdown: This Season

With four key contributing players lost to graduation, W&M will have to replace 939 total points of offensive production this season. Over 31 games last year, that comes out to about 30 points per game. Now, we’ll run a hypothetical scenario to better understand how W&M can make up for that loss this season. First, we’ll start by listing our projected starters, which we outlined in our Complete Guide article, along with our 2018-2019 projected points per game totals for each player.

Projected Starters & Anticipated Points Per Game (PPG)

  1. Nathan Knight – PPG: 20.0 (+1.5 from last season)
  2. Justin Pierce – PPG: 17.5 (+2.8)
  3. Matt Milon – PPG: 15.5 (+2.5)
  4. Paul Rowley – PPG: 10.5 (+4.3)
  5. Luke Loewe – PPG: 7.0 (+5.9)

We expect a big bump in offensive production out of 2nd-year W&M Law student, Paul “The Judge” Rowley. [photo via tribeathletics.com]
After adding all that up, our projected W&M starters would average around 70 points per game — not bad. Obviously, about half of the time, the starters would go under that projection, and about half of the time, the starters would finish over that projection. Either way, if W&M wants to maintain its offensive prowess from last season, targeting an average of 85 points per game (a tall task, but a good goal to have), then it would need to average an additional 15 points per game from its depth players coming in off the bench. With 6 freshmen and 1 grad transfer, along with returning player Jihar Williams, Tony Shaver will need to find the magic formula from the players listed below to ensure offensive success this season. 

Projected Sixth Man: Jihar Williams / Chase Audige (Fr.) 
Depth: Thornton Scott (Fr.), L.J. Owens (Fr.), Mehkel Harvey (Fr.), Quinn Blair (Fr.), Chris Clark (Grad Transfer/Alabama), Austin Washburn (Fr.), Miodrag Dronjak

What about the Defense?

With all this talk about the offense, we’d be remiss if we didn’t at least mention W&M’s poor play on the defensive side of the ball last season. While the team ranked #1 in scoring offense last season, it ranked 2nd-last in scoring defense last season, giving up 81.6 points per game. With a dearth of individual defensive statistics on the internet, it’s naturally harder to track a team’s defensive performance, outside of macro-level team defense statistics. With that being said, we fully expect this W&M team to rebound from last year’s #11 scoring defense this season; we expect the Tribe to finish somewhere in the middle of the pack (at least) this coming season.

What would that look like, you ask? Well, last season, JMU finished #5 of 10 in the conference in scoring defense, allowing 75.4 points per game (just 6.2 points less than W&M gave up). With an influx of new talent coming in across the board this season, and with an increased focus from Tony Shaver on defensive intensity all throughout the offseason and preseason (which we’ve heard multiple times through multiple outlets), we have no doubt that W&M should be able to finish somewhere along those lines, or better, this coming season. Just imagine what a middle-of-the-pack defense could have done with last year’s historic offense? The sky’s the limit in Williamsburg this season. Let’s get at it, starting with High Point this Wednesday. LET’S GO TRIBE.

Upcoming Schedule 

November 7: vs. High Point Stream the game here!

November 10: @ Duquesne 

November 15: @ University of Illinois-Chicago – UIC 

November 17: @ Notre Dame 

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