We have the cold hard truth for you Tribe fans: this wasn’t supposed to be our year. To be fair, this was always supposed to be Northeastern’s year. Yes, the CAA Championship is tonight. And yes, an upstart Hofstra team is looking to play “spoiler” against the preseason #1 team — but the Huskies have always been this year’s favorite.
The reasons for this are relatively simple: #1, Northeastern should have beaten Charleston in last year’s CAA Tournament Championship (they led 36-23 at half, but fell in OT) and #2, this season, Northeastern returned all five starters and plenty of depth from that Championship-qualifying team. Whether or not they finish the job tonight against Hofstra is beside the point: this has always been the Huskies’ year to get the job done. So you’re probably asking yourself, “as a Tribe fan, why do I care?”
Because much like this year was built for the Huskies, the 2019-2020 season is built for the Tribe. This is our year.
Next season, W&M will find itself with the pieces in place to seriously contend for the CAA crown, with all five starters returning; if the pundits do their research, they would be wise to place W&M #1 in the preseason polls.
And with the CAA Tournament moving to Washington, D.C. next year, a multitude of D.C.-area Green and Gold alumni could be in attendance to witness an historic moment in 2020: the team’s first-ever NCAA Tournament berth.
New Look: 2019 Tribe Basketball
Despite losing long-time contributor Paul “The Judge” Rowley to graduation this offseason, the Tribe’s roster will remain incredibly strong heading into the 2019-2020 season. W&M will boast the strongest trio of seniors in the CAA — with recent powers such as Northeastern, Hofstra, and Charleston losing key cogs in their lineups (NE’s Vasa Pusica, HOF’s Justin Wright-Foreman and CHLS’ Jarrell Brantley, among others).
Behind the Tribe’s senior trio will be an expansive and talented group of depth players that will be ready to contribute when called upon; this depth even includes a 7’0″ transfer in Andy Van Vliet, who had to sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules. In summary, to say that the Green and Gold is locked and loaded for next season would truly be an understatement.
Projected Starting Five: Nathan Knight, Justin Pierce, Matt Milon, Luke Loewe, Chase Audige
#13 Nathan Knight, Senior, Forward/Center
2018-19 Stats: 21 PPG, 8.6 REB, .578 FG PCT, 3.5 AST/G, 70 blocks
It’s hard to imagine that Knight would improve upon his sophomore year stat line (18.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game), but that’s quite literally what he did this season. After taking home 2nd team All-CAA honors as a sophomore, Knight took a monumental step forward in being named to the CAA’s coveted 1st-Team. Yes, Nate found himself in foul trouble more often than we would like early in the season, but he finished his junior campaign with one of the strongest-ever performances by a big man in program history.
His scoring line alone over the last several games of the season was as follows: 39 pts, 35, 30, 18, 19, 29, 21. Those are mind-boggling numbers to digest — and don’t even take into account his blocked shots (70, which led the CAA) and rebounds (8.6 per game). Knight will enter 2019 as a bonafide CAA Preseason Player of the Year candidate — and one that will force several NBA scouts to make the trip to Williamsburg this coming season. Get excited Tribe fans, because Knight has the tools to lead us to the promised land.
#23 Justin Pierce, Senior, Forward/Guard
2018-19 Stats: 14.9 PPG, 8.9 REB, 4.1 AST/G, 30 STL
After notching 14.7 PPG last season, we expected Pierce’s PPG to improve this season — however, he remained steady, averaging 14.9 PPG. With that being said, Pierce still finished as the second leading scorer on the team, trailing only Nathan Knight. Pierce also came on incredibly strong toward the end of the season, especially during the Tribe’s 5-game winning streak to close out the regular season and its lone playoff loss to Delaware; in this stretch, he averaged 16.16 PPG. We expect Pierce to average 16+ in his final season with the Tribe. The main question mark for Justin came at the charity stripe this season.
Following a sophomore year in which he shot 79% from the free throw line, he finished this season with a meager 59% FT percentage. That number absolutely has to improve this offseason, and we expect it to next year. Despite that, Pierce is a proven leader and high-energy player for the Tribe with a knack for the ball — both on the offensive and defensive end of the court. That much is evident in both his PPG totals and 8.9 REB/G (which was actually more than Knight’s on a per game basis this season). Moving forward, we expect Justin Pierce to be a key cog and leader for the Tribe in his senior season.
#2 Matt Milon, Redshirt Senior, Forward
2018-19 Stats: 13 PPG, 89 3FG, .401 3FG%
Last season, Milon connected on 77 shots from the three point stripe (second only to Connor Burchfield’s 89). This season, Milon built on that by finishing with 89 total 3-point shots made. With those stats in mind, he still averaged the same 13 points per game that he did last season. Part of the Tribe’s 3-headed monster this coming season, Matt Milon will need to take a step forward in the scoring column for the Green and Gold during the 2019-20 campaign.
Often, we see CAA Championship-winning teams boast 3 specific types of players: a great big man, a do-it-all player, and a deadly 3-point shooter (see last season’s champion Charleston as your most recent example: Brantley & the combo of Chealey/Riller). Well…what do you think we just described in Knight, Pierce, and Milon? Again, the Tribe has the tools in place this coming season — and Milon will be a big part of the puzzle. In crucial situations, Matt will need to lead the team by stretching the opposing defense with his propensity to nail the 3-point shot whenever called upon; we believe he’s more than capable of the job.
#12 Luke Loewe, Junior, Guard
2018-19 Stats: 5 PPG, .444 FG%, 24.1 Min/G
Following a season in which he averaged just 5.2 minutes and 1.1 points per game, Loewe gained valuable experience as the Tribe’s new starting PG this year. Despite his stat line only marginally improving, we saw improvements in Luke’s overall game — in everything from increased confidence, to better facilitation of the offense, to his improved ability to get to the basket and score on smart cuts to the hoop. We would still like to see more out of Loewe in terms of total offensive production and general running of the offense; but any way you slice it, Loewe will likely be given every shot this offseason to continue his development as the team’s starting PG — as he’s earned it. And with now-sophomores L.J. Owens and Thornton Scott waiting in the wings, the Tribe won’t be short of talent at the guard position in 2019.
#15 Chase Audige, Sophomore, Guard
2018-19 Stats: 9.6 PPG, .371 3FG%, 44 STL, 4.1 REB/G
Throughout the 2018-19 season, Audige proved himself worthy, eventually playing his way into the starting lineup. Posting double-digit point totals 13 times, Chase also proved himself to be a bonafide stat-stuffer in several categories — routinely racking up points, assists, blocks, steals, and rebounds. And with his athleticism clearly off the charts, his future is incredibly bright in what will be his second season with the Tribe. We expect Chase to average double digit point totals this coming season, with serious potential for a 12+ PPG average by year’s end. The sky’s the limit, and we’re excited to see what he can do as a starter over the length of an entire season.
Sixth Man: L.J. Owens
Depth: Thornton Scott, Andy Van Vliet, Jihar Williams, Mehkel Harvey, Quinn Blair, Cameron Brown (Fr.)
As mentioned, the Tribe’s 2019 bench is deep — very deep. This past 2018-19 season witnessed the Tribe’s roster suddenly became very young (boasting 5 freshmen), but as the old saying goes, “The great thing about freshmen is that they eventually become sophomores.” That couldn’t be more true this coming year; all five freshmen received valuable playing time this season, and all showed serious flashes of potential. The two that received the most playing time were of course L.J. Owens and Chase Audige, but that doesn’t mean that the others won’t receive even more playing time this coming season. And of course, another year of experience means that these players will be that much better next season.
Also interesting to us will be the integration of the aforementioned Andy Van Vliet into the lineup; the 7’0″ senior was surprisingly known more as a scorer with a 3-point shot who, for one reason or another, didn’t pan out at Wisconsin. But one team’s loss is another team’s treasure, and we’re excited to add him to an already loaded William & Mary lineup in 2019.
Is this the season? In short: it very well could be. Get excited, Tribe fans.
LET’S GO TRIBE.