Well folks, believe it or not, after a 1-12 start to the season, your William and Mary Tribe is off to a quick 2-0 start in the Colonial Athletic Association, currently sitting atop the conference standings. Flashback to the preseason, when the so-called experts picked W&M to finish last in the conference, and up until last week, it was beginning to look like they were correct.
But with wins over Hofstra and Northeastern at Kaplan Arena last Wednesday and Friday, respectively. This isn’t the first time that the preseason rankings have been unkind to the Tribe, as many will remember that W&M football was picked 11 of 12 in this year’s preseason poll, before finishing the season with an impressive, yet unexpected 6-5 record.
In W&M’s two conference games last week, freshman Julian Lewis led the way for the Tribe; most impressively, Julian was named CAA Rookie of the Week after averaging 12.5 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists per game, including his game-winning shot against Hofstra. Another Tribe player who posted a career night against the Hofstra Pride was Jake Milkereit, who poured in a career-high 13 points on 5-8 shooting in what was also his first-ever career start.
In the following contest, W&M had five players finish in double figures against Northeastern, with Lewis again leading the way with a career-high 14 points to go along with 8 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals. Connor Kochera and Yuri Covington were the biggest heroes in this one though, as both drew fouls and sank ensuing free throws in the final seconds to seal the victory, including Kochera’s knocking down of the game-winner with just 1 second left.
Unfortunately, the Tribe’s two upcoming games on the road against Elon and UNCW have been postponed due to COVID-19 issues within the Phoenix and Seahawks programs (the Elon game is rescheduled for January 27th & the road game at UNCW has been rescheduled for February 14). The Tribe has had its share of COVID-19 issues as well, as multiple players have missed time this season due to health and safety protocols. But with the addition of Mehkel Harvey to the roster (after he spent the first semester suspended for undisclosed academic violations), the Tribe has at least received some much needed reinforcements in the front court with his return.
So, while we wait for the Tribe to resume play next week against Charleston and James Madison, here are three key takeaways from the opening games of conference play.
1. Dane Fischer can recruit
After inheriting one of the school’s all-time greats, Nathan Knight, and winning 21 games in his first season, head coach Dane Fischer quickly needed to go out and find the Tribe’s next great player. Enter, Connor Kochera. Kochera is the reigning CAA Rookie of the Year and currently leads the Tribe in scoring. Jake Milkereit dropped 13 points against Hofstra, and has knocked down plenty of big 3’s this season.
Ben Wight is by far the Tribe’s most improved player this year, as the Ohio native averages 11 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. But now 15 games into their first collegiate season, Dane Fischer’s latest recruiting class is starting to blossom and show that they belong. As mentioned, Julian Lewis does it all for the Tribe, averaging 6.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game — with all of his averages quickly rising.
Tyler Rice has become the Tribe’s primary ball handler, and has shown flashes of brilliance in the passing game. The Columbia, SC native will need to cut down on turnovers in the future, but Rice has also shown that he can score the basketball in almost every way imaginable, boding well for his future with the Green and Gold. Rounding out this year’s freshman class is Langdon Hatton, who has shown he can rebound against anyone in the league.
2. The CAA is up for grabs
Stop us if you’ve heard this before, but the CAA is currently anyone’s for the taking. This is going to be one wild season, as 3-12 W&M and 4-10 Elon currently sit within the top-4 of the overall standings. We realize that it’s a long season and we don’t want to make any wild predictions, but this Tribe team looks far better than their preseason ranking and 3-12 record indicate.
Preseason favorites Delaware and Northeastern currently sit at 1-1 and 0-2 in the conference, while Hofstra is 0-1 after knocking off nationally-ranked #24 Arkansas on the road earlier in the season. It will be an interesting next two months as teams vie for an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament in March.
3. This team has plenty of room to grow
While the Tribe’s previous two wins were no flukes, this W&M team has a lot to work on moving forward. The Tribe ranks last in the conference in scoring offense, 3-point percentage, and turnover margin, while also shooting just 66% from the free throw line. Where the Tribe really excels is on the defensive end of the court; this team simply refuses to quit. Yuri Covington and Julian Lewis have proven to be among the league’s best on-ball defenders, while grad transfer Brandon Carroll leads the CAA in blocked shots per game. The Tribe will need to lean heavily on its defensive efforts in the coming weeks in order to maintain the top spot in the CAA standings.
Up next, the Tribe heads south to face Charleston on the road next Tuesday night, tip-off is slated for 7 PM. We hope senior Quinn Blair will be back in the lineup after missing several games this season due to injury and health and safety protocols. Also returning from health and safety protocols will be Rainers Hermanovskis and Jake Milkereit. After that, the Tribe returns home to Kaplan Arena to face the James Madison Dukes, tip-off is at 4 PM.
Keep the faith, W&M fans — and LET’S GO TRIBE.