Don’t look now, but the William & Mary basketball season is fully underway. The Tribe currently sits at 2-4 (2-1 Home, 0-3 Away); surprisingly, despite the mediocre record on paper, this team is actually pretty darn good. In the early goings, the Green and Gold has had to deal with injuries to veteran leaders such as Paul Rowley (missed 5 games), Justin Pierce (missed 2 games), and Matt Milon (missed 1 game).
However, this may have actually been a blessing in disguise, as W&M has been able to give its 5, count ’em, 5 freshman a great deal of game experience. And with the extra minutes, the youngsters have turned lots of heads. Below are our 10 observations through the team’s first 6 games.
1. Freshman L.J. Owens & Chase Audige are on Fire
Two different W&M players have been designated as the CAA Rookie of the Week over the last three weeks. First, L.J. Owens garnered the honor for the week of November 12th, after he averaged 11.5 points and shot a team-best 61.5 percent from the floor over two games. Through the season’s 6 games, Owens currently ranks 4th on the team in points per game (10.8), and is one of three freshman in the entire CAA who currently averages double digit scoring totals. Oh yeah, and he is shooting 84.6% from the floor. No big deal. Just a freshman.
Already, Owens has inserted himself into the starting lineup; we think he will remain there for the rest of the season. Like Owens, fellow freshman Chase Audige also seems to get better each and every game. Just this week, he was named the CAA Rookie of the Week after averaging 17.0 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.0 steals over the Tribe’s last two games — against Radford and St. Joe’s.
He scored 16 of a career-high 20 points in the second half alone against a strong St. Joe’s squad, as the Tribe erased a 20-point deficit to narrowly edge the Hawks with a last-second shot by Nathan Knight, 87-85. Audige finished 5-of-7 from three in the game, also adding three steals and two blocks. Chase is a player that Head Coach Tony Shaver will undoubtedly include more in the lineup moving forward; in the previous two games, Audige played 39 and 31 minutes respectively, averaging 35 minutes (out of 40) per game. We expect Audige to play an increasingly large role for the Tribe going forward — and yes, we mean for the next four years.
2. W&M’s Freshman Class is Even Better Than Advertised
We thought going into the season that this freshman class was going to be good, but we didn’t know that they were going to be special. All 5 frosh have already carved out roles on this W&M squad. As mentioned, Audige and Owens are legitimate potential starters who can easily play 25-30 minutes a night. Outside of these two, we’ve also been impressed by the development of fellow freshmen Thornton Scott, Mehkel Harvey, and Quinn Blair.
Scott has already shown enough flashes to at least be considered for starting PG duties this year — or at least in the seasons to come. In the Green and Gold’s latest contest against St. Joe’s, he notched a season high 9 points to go along with 4 assists. And that was a game that followed an 8 assist performance against Radford. Scott is a great distributor who has a serviceable 3-point shot. We’ll see how his minutes are adjusted moving forward.
Mehkel Harvey, the only other legitimate “big man” on the roster, has been thrown into games earlier than expected due to Knight’s occasional foul trouble issues. And in that role, Harvey has performed admirably. He is raw offensively, but has been stout on the defensive side of the court, currently tied with Nathan Knight for the team lead in blocks (5).
Last but not least, Quinn Blair has done a little bit of everything. He has played center when Knight has been in foul trouble, he has proven that he can shoot 3’s, and has a high motor when on the court. We love his competitiveness and can’t wait to see how he develops down the road.
Again, this class has the potential to be one of the best, and we cannot wait to see where they bring the program moving forward. One thing is for certain: The future is blindingly bright in Williamsburg.
3. Nathan Knight is Fourth on the Team in Minutes per Game
Yes, you read that correctly. Undoubtedly the best overall player and only current NBA prospect on the roster, Nathan Knight has only averaged 28 minutes per game. That number checks in behind Justin Pierce (36.5), Matt Milon (29.6), and freshman L.J. Owens (29). In fact, he only averages 2.5 more minutes than freshman Chase Audige (25.5).
The issue for Knight this year has been fouls. He tends to get himself in foul trouble in the first 10 minutes of games, which typically forces him to sit until the second half. Given the lack of depth behind him (even though we have liked Mehkel Harvey’s development so far), Knight must avoid getting into foul trouble.
Sure, he has had some weak calls on him, but Knight needs to know that he has a target on his back in every game. Every team’s number 1 goal against W&M is to knock Knight out of the game early. If it isn’t, they’ve probably got the wrong game plan installed.
Put simply: the long Knight can stay on the court, the greater the chances are for a W&M victory.
4. W&M’s Juniors are Pretty Good too
We knew the junior trio of Nathan Knight, Justin Pierce, and Matt Milon were going to be good; the trio has been impressive through 6 games, averaging 54.5 points per contest. The bunch is led in scoring by Justin Pierce (21.8 points per game), and Nathan Knight (19.3) and Matt Milon (13.4) are close behind.
W&M averages 77.8 points per game, which means that these juniors account for 70% of W&M’s scoring. Pretty impressive — and a trend we expect to continue for the rest of the season.
5. W&M Defense Ranks Last in Scoring, Field Goal PCT Defense, 3-Point Field Goal PCT Defense
Yikes. W&M currently ranks DEAD LAST in every major defensive statistical category in the CAA. Last year, W&M had the best offense in the NCAA, but failed to win the CAA tournament in large part due to a porous defense. So far this year, W&M has continued to struggle on the defensive side of the court.
The team has given up an average of 82 points per game, including 100 against UIC. The Green and Gold also ranks dead last in FG PCT Defense and 3-Point FG PCT Defense, giving up 49.7% of opponents’ shots and 40.8% of opponents’ 3 pointers.
These numbers will undoubtedly have to change if W&M wants to have a successful year, especially considering the fact that the offense, while still good, is not likely to be as strong as last year’s historic unit.
6. W&M is NOT Shooting Free Throws Well
William & Mary currently ranks 8th in the CAA in free throw percentage, converting just 71% from the charity stripe. Last year, W&M ranked 1st in the CAA in free throw percentage, shooting 81%. That is a difference of 10% (in case you couldn’t crunch that number yourself) — which is actually a big difference. Late in games, especially in crunch time, nothing is more important than the ability to sink free throws. The Tribe will also need to get this fixed before CAA play begins.
7. W&M Ranks Last in the CAA in Turnover Margin
It’s always important to maximize the number of possessions that a team has throughout the course of a game. Turnovers can be incredibly detrimental to a team, and can lead to losses to inferior opponents (see: UIC). Currently, W&M ranks dead last in the CAA in Turnover Margin (-4.83). The team averages 15.2 turnovers per game, which is flat out not good. This team is young, however, and PGs Luke Loewe and Thornton Scott are still getting better each game. It’s time to cut down on the mistakes and maximize each possession.
8. Justin Pierce is a Stat-Stuffing Machine
Pierce has only played in 4 of the Tribe’s 6 games due to an injury, but boy has he been good in those games. He can’t be ranked officially in the CAA because he hasn’t yet played 75% of the Tribe’s games, but his 21.8 points per game would put him as the second leading scorer in the CAA, trailing only reigning CAA Player of the Year Justin Wright-Foreman. Pierce also leads the team with 11.5 rebounds per game, which would also rank 2nd in the CAA. Pierce averages a double-double, and has already established himself as one of the premier players in the CAA.
9. Nathan Knight is the Real Deal, but We Already Knew That
Even despite some foul trouble, Nathan Knight has gotten off to another great start this year, ranking 2nd on the team in points per game (19.3) and rebounds per game (6.5). He’s 3rd in the CAA in scoring, and is tied for 9th in rebounds. However, as mentioned above, Knight hasn’t been averaging that many minutes (only 28 minutes per game), which has impacted his stats. With that being said, he has actually been on a bit of a tear over the last two games, scoring 32 and 21 points respectively. His performance against last week earned him Lou Henson National Player of the Week honors, after averaging 26.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, shooting 65.6 percent from the field (21-of-32) and going a perfect 11-of-11 from the free throw line. We think, nay, we know, that this is the first of many awards to come for Knight this season.
10. W&M Continues its Road Woes
It should come as no shocker that W&M is 0-3 on the road. W&M has not had a winning record on the road since the 2013-14 season, when the team just barely did so by finishing 8-7 away from Kaplan. In the previous 5 years (including this year), the Tribe is a combined 23-39 (37%) on the road. Compare that to the team’s home record over the previous 5 years (50-10, 83%), and anyone that can read will notice a glaring issue. We know W&M can compete with anybody at home, and if the Green and Gold can post a winning record on the road this year, the mark will go a long way toward a CAA crown.