After a mere month and just 5 games played, W&M men’s basketball has already finished its out of conference schedule.
Welcome to college basketball in 2020.
It’s certainly been a whirlwind, one that included an official shutdown of team activities, cancelled games, and rescheduling shenanigans – all, of course, due to COVID-19.
Through 5 contests, W&M stands a respectable 2-3; the Green and Gold now heads into CAA play this Saturday, beginning with back-to-back games at Hofstra.
While there’s certainly a lot of work to be done for Coach Fisch and the staff, there have definitely been a few bright spots early this season.
Let’s jump in.
Observation #1: W&M’s freshmen are strong
This is a YOUNG William & Mary team.
On the current roster, W&M boasts 5 freshmen, 3 sophomores, 4 juniors, and 2 seniors.
Coach Fischer and the staff have used 4 of the 5 freshman in the starting rotation – which actually bodes well for W&M’s future, but means there will be growing pains this season.
Freshmen Yuri Covington (12.6 PPG) and Connor Kochera (10 PPG) are currently #2 and #3 on the team in scoring, trailing only senior Luke Loewe (15.6 PPG).
Of the four CAA Men’s Basketball Weekly Awards handed out so far, W&M has twice had a freshman win Rookie of the Week: Connor Kochera on November 30th and Yuri Covington on December 21st.
Kochera earned the honor after leading W&M with 19 points in his first-ever collegiate game, coming against ODU.
His 19 points were the most by a Tribe player in a debut since Edwin Ofori Attah scored 22 in 2004.
Covington earned CAA Rookie of the Week honors on December 21st after averaging 12.7 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 1.3 steals over a three game stretch that included contests against George Washington, Hampton, and High Point.
Rounding out the freshman class are redshirt freshmen Ben Wight (4.0 PPG, 4 rebounds per game) and Jake Milkereit (2.4 PPG).
While there will be growing pains this year, make no mistake about it: this is a powerful freshman class; Dane Fischer and the coaching staff should be commended for their efforts.
Observation #2: The Tribe lacks size
Last season, W&M graduated what had to be two of its tallest players in program history in Nathan Knight (6’10”) and Andy Van Vliet (7’0”).
In fact, the duo of Knight and Van Vliet made W&M one of the tallest teams in the CAA last season.
This season, W&M ranks among the “smallest” in the league. In stark contrast to last year, there’s not a single player on the current roster listed above 6’9”.
Opposing teams are finding a lot of success against the Tribe by feeding the ball into the paint, getting easy layups or dunks over the smaller W&M team.
In the Green and Gold’s three losses this season, W&M has been outscored in the paint by an average of 11.3 points per game.
The Tribe will need to find a way to turn that average around if it wants to succeed in CAA play. That starts with Centers Ben Wight (6’9”) and Mehkel Harvey (6’9”).
Observation #3: Mehkel Harvey and Quinn Blair are the Tribe’s most improved players
Last season, Mehkel Harvey averaged just over a point and one rebound per contest.
This season, Harvey has taken his game to another level, averaging 6.4 points (+81.25%), 4.4 rebounds (+70.5%), and 2.6 blocks per game (+84.6%).
Harvey has played lights out for the Tribe, which should earn him a spot in the starting lineup for conference play.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t leave out the play of junior forward Quinn Blair. Blair is another player who has really elevated his play this season.
Blair is 4th on the team in scoring, averaging 9.2 points per game (+48%); he also leads the team in rebounds, averaging 6.6 rebounds per game (+78%).
Both Harvey and Blair are in contention for the Tribe’s most improved player come year’s end.
Observation #4: William and Mary will need to improve its defense to win conference games
Here’s an obvious statement: this year’s team does not have the offense prowess of years past.
The squad lost three of its top four scorers from a year ago – that equates to an average of 42.2 points lost per game.
Now we weren’t Math majors at W&M, but that’s a LOT of points to make up.
While we knew this Tribe team wasn’t going to be as strong offensively, we didn’t think they would struggle so much defensively.
Through 5 games, W&M ranks 9th out of 10 in scoring defense (giving up 75 PPG) and last in field goal percentage defense (opponents shooting 48.6% per game).
This team will need to work on its defensive game if it wants to win conference games.
W&M will be put to an early test when it goes up against Hofstra to open up CAA play. Currently, Hofstra is the #1 offense in the league.
Moreover, Hofstra is picked to win the conference.
It’ll be a good test to see if the Tribe has rebounded defensively from its OOC woes.
But moving forward, there’s no reason to believe Coach Fisch can’t teach his young team how to lock up defensively. He did it last year, taking over for Coach Shaver.
We expect W&M to experience a marked improvement in this category throughout the season.
Observation #5: This Tribe team will finish above their CAA Preseason Ranking
Much like last season, when the Tribe was picked to finish 7th in the CAA (before finishing the season 2nd in the CAA with a 21-10 regular season record), we think W&M will outperform its preseason rank this season.
Yes, the Tribe is only 2-3 so far, and yes, the Tribe has seemingly struggled of late, but like we said, the team is very young.
W&M will continue to grow throughout the season, and as this team matures, we think they will start winning games – even some that they “shouldn’t” win.
While we’re not predicting an astronomical leap to the top-3 of the league this year, we do think W&M will end up near or in the middle of the pack – far above their preseason projection of dead-last (10th) in the league.
As seen in the GW game earlier this season, this Tribe team has fight. The Green and Gold is truly capable of pulling off an upset or two this year.
Due to COVID, this season all games will be played Saturday and Sunday against the same team, rather than the usual Thursday/Saturday games of years past.
The schedulers certainly didn’t do the Tribe any favors with the start of conference play.
Over the first 6 games, the Tribe will play against the preseason top-3: Hofstra (#1), Delaware (#2), and Drexel (#3).
January 2nd and 3rd: @ Hofstra
January 9th and 10th: vs. Delaware
January 16th and 17th: @ Drexel
January 23rd and 24th: vs. Charleston
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