Currently holding a 7-11 (3-3 CAA) record, your William & Mary Tribe team isn’t exactly where it wants to be at this point in the season. But the good news is that this year’s CAA is perhaps as even as it’s ever been.
And once you get over the Tribe’s seemingly dismal overall record, you’ll realize that the only record that really matters is the one in parentheses — the team’s CAA conference record. After all, this is the record that determines seeding for the all-important CAA Tournament in February.
And that’s important, of course, because the winner of that tournament goes to the Big Dance, the NCAA Tournament. We need not remind you that W&M is one of only a handful of original D-1 teams that has never gone dancing, but we will continue to remind until it happens (we’ll speak it into existence if we have to!).
Why The Struggle: The Obvious Answers
So what’s up with the Tribe this year? Many things. W&M played perhaps its toughest out of conference schedule in the past 10+ years, playing at Notre Dame, against A-10 favorite St. Joe’s, against NCAA Tournament teams in Radford and Marshall, and of course the team played at #5 UVA (unfortunately unable to harness its inner UMBC).
The team also boasts 5, count ’em, 5 freshmen on this year’s roster — all of which have played relatively significant minutes. And that’s not to mention that two of those freshmen have played into the regular rotation.
With the influx of youth comes inevitable growing pains; but that’s not to say that these young players haven’t provided a boost of energy, because they certainly have.
In addition, losing all-conference senior point guard David Cohn to graduation was obviously a gargantuan blow — a fact that becomes more evident with each passing week. A strong point guard who can shoot, run the offense, and distribute the rock cannot be understated.
Oh, and last season W&M had a guy named Connor Burchfield who was the best 3-point shooter in the nation. Remember him? We do too.
The Not So Obvious Answers
Last season William & Mary led the nation in three-point field goal percentage and free throw percentage, and ranked 2nd in the nation in field goal percentage. Let that sink in: W&M led the entire NCAA in 3-point FG percentage, free throw percentage, and ranked 2nd in FG percentage.
This season, it’s a different story. To help tell that story, we at the W&M Sports Blog crunched some numbers for two all-important metrics: turnovers and free throws. Why these numbers, might you ask?
Well, let’s say we played a hunch. After watching each game this season, the Tribe seems to struggle in these departments; and after our analysis, we found the results to be telling. Let’s start with turnovers.
- Through 31 games last season, the Tribe gave up 15+ turnovers 6 times, finishing 2-4 in those contests.
- Through just 18 games this season, the Tribe has already given up 15+ turnovers 7 times, finishing 1-6 in those contests.
- W&M is averaging 12.9 turnovers per game this season.
- Compared to 12.3 turnovers per game last season.
- In CAA play this year, when the Tribe has finished with less than 12.9 turnovers in a game, W&M is 3-0.
- In CAA play this year, when the Tribe has finished with more than 12.9 turnovers in a game, W&M is 0-3.
The aforementioned absence of graduated point guard David Cohn certainly tells a large part of the story here — pointing at least in part as to why the numbers have changed so significantly in just one year. The other may be inexperience across the board, with freshmen still learning the collegiate ropes.
Any way you slice it, the last two bullet points stand out most to us; put simply: in CAA play, W&M needs to minimize turnovers to single digits in order to put itself in the best position to win moving forward.
But Wait, There’s More?
Oh yes, there’s more. As was evidenced in an incredibly stressful loss to Delaware, a contest in which W&M thoroughly dominated until the end, the Green and Gold showed an obvious weakness in its inability to get the job done from the free throw line.
Several games come down to free throws. An area that was once a strength for this Tribe team seems to be no more. To emphasize that point: W&M not only led the CAA in free throw percentage last year, but W&M led the entire nation in free throw percentage last season.
Let’s dive into the numbers.
- CAA teams currently average 73% at the FT line this season.
- Through 31 games last season, the Tribe finished under 73% at the FT line just 10 times.
- Through just 18 games this season, the Tribe has already finished under 73% from the line 10 times (greater than 50% of the team’s total games played).
- W&M averaged 81% at the FT line last season, #1 in the CAA.
- Compared to 66% this season, #10 in the CAA (10 of 10).
Now this phenomenon is harder to explain than the turnover numbers described above. Yes, W&M did lose 2 of its top 3 free throw shooters in David Cohn (.912) and Connor Burchfield (.875) — but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Last season, Matt Milon led the team in free throw percentage (.921), but he’s only shooting at a .719 clip this season.
Nathan Knight shot .769 from the line last season, and is shooting .725 this season. Still with plenty of games left in the season, we expect Nathan’s (and Matt’s) numbers to rise.
Perhaps most surprisingly has been the performance of Justin Pierce at the free throw line this season; last year, Pierce shot .790 from the line on 105 attempts. This season, Pierce is shooting a meager .587 on 63 shot attempts. Suffice to say, these numbers must improve from one of the team’s best shooters, and we expect it to moving forward.
We’ve heard countless away announcers proclaim, and they’re all correct, that this Tribe team is built differently than W&M teams in the past. It’s less experienced and less explosive on offense (at least at the present). But even with that being said, this is still one of the deepest teams in the CAA.
Tony Shaver boasts perhaps the best all-around player in the league in Nathan Knight. Justin Pierce is a proven scorer who can get his points on any given night. Matt Milon is one of the most deadly three-point shooters in the league. W&M’s 5 freshmen all have an incredibly high ceiling, and are still improving with each passing week.
So are we worried? No, not yet. Growing pains were expected this year. But we also expect the Tribe to turn some heads with an upset or two to close out the year, while also finishing in the top half of the league. It’ll be a grind, but if W&M can fix its two problems described above, it has a shot to make some noise in the CAA this season.