Is this a Rebuilding Year for W&M Basketball?

After a year and a half, your William & Mary Tribe is finally back in action for the 2021-22 season, playing in front of fans for the first time since March 2020, when now-Minnesota Timberwolves center Nathan Knight led the Tribe in Dane Fischer’s first season at the helm. The team looks a lot different this year, but the popcorn is still fresh in Kaplan Arena — so get your tickets to see the Tribe in action this season. 

Last night, W&M’s overall record fell to 1-7 following a loss to the Navy Midshipmen in Annapolis. The Green and Gold got off to a hot start, leading 17-14 with 11 minutes remaining in the half before a couple of the Tribe’s biggest early-season issues resurfaced: turnovers and poor shooting.

At halftime, Navy held a 36-30 lead over the Tribe, with rebounding keeping the Green and Gold in contention. Freshman Langdon Hatton started his first game of the year as head coach Dane Fischer went with two big men to start the evening. Hatton continued his strong start to the season with 17 points and 3 rebounds, matching his career-high in points. Also picking up a career high in points was point guard Tyler Rice. The freshman from Columbia, SC scored 16 points while adding 3 rebounds and 2 assists. Sophomore Ben Wight also recorded his first career double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds. But in the end, it wasn’t enough as the Tribe still fell to Navy 75-56, with W&M committing 18 turnovers and shooting just 36.5% from the field.

It’s been a tough start to the season for the Tribe, who started the year with six straight losses to Wake Forest, American, Norfolk State, Georgia State, Howard and Radford. This year marks the worst start to the season for William and Mary since the 2011-2012 season, when it finished 6-26 after starting the year 1-8. But this season is not all doom and gloom though for Dane Fischer’s team; they are one of the youngest teams in terms of minutes played in the nation.

Of the three W&M players who have started all 8 games this season (Connor Kochera, Tyler Rice, and Ben Wight) all three are still just underclassmen. In addition, the Tribe have just three seniors and one graduate student on the roster, and are set to return most of their offensive contributors next season. In fact, on Wednesday night against Navy, 100% of the Tribe’s 56 points were scored by freshmen or sophomores. Specifically, Ben Wight has been stellar all year, averaging 12.4 points and 6.5 rebounds per contest. The freshmen trio of Rice, Hatton, and Julian Lewis has performed well in their first season in Williamsburg as well. 

So what needs to change if the Tribe are going to right the ship this season? Given that this is a very young team, we have predictably seen a number of youthful mistakes this season. The Tribe turn the ball over north of 18 times per game. In addition, the Tribe is shooting just 29% from beyond the arc and just 68% from the free throw line. But William & Mary shares the ball well, boasting a positive assist to turnover ratio despite its high turnover rate.

But what’s the key to winning games for the Tribe? Simple: Connor Kochera. The reigning CAA Rookie of the Year has struggled in the early stages of the season, averaging 10.6 points per contest after finishing 19th in the nation among freshman last season when he averaged 13.4. The injury bug has also plagued the Tribe as Jake Milkereit and Quinn Blair have all missed time this season due to injury. Senior big man Mehkel Harvey, suspended for the first half of the season due to academic violations, also has not played all season after recording career highs in points, rebounds, and blocked shots last year. His return, expected in January, will be more than welcomed when the time comes.

Last Saturday, the Tribe picked up its first victory of the season with an 87-50 win over in-state foe Mary Baldwin. Ben Wight continued his hot start to the season with a career-high 20 points to lead five players in double figures against the Fighting Squirrels. And although the Tribe got off to a slow start, the team went on an 18-1 run to open the second half and seal the victory.

The Tribe will look to build on this win throughout the rest of the season. Up next, the Green and Gold takes on Davidson on Saturday in North Carolina before returning home for three straight games next week inside Kaplan Arena.

On Tuesday, the Old Dominion Monarchs travel up 64 to take on the Tribe; tip-off is set for 7 PM. Two days later the Tribe welcomes another local rival, as the Hampton Pirates come to town. The Tribe caps off the busy week with a Saturday afternoon matinee against Fairfield. Tip-off is set for 1 pm. 

While this looking like a rebuilding year for the Tribe, the team is still deep, albeit very, very young. With valuable on-court minutes strategically distributed among a multitude of players this season, we here at the WMSB fully expect Coach Fisch and the guys to continue learning, growing, and competing all season long. Don’t get it twisted Tribe fans, a year like this is often necessary for long-term, sustained success.

LET’S GO TRIBE.

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