William & Mary, chosen to finish 10 of 10 by the CAA’s supposed “experts,” has surprised many through seven games of conference play. After starting the year with a 1-12 record in out-of-conference play, including zero victories over Division-I teams, the Tribe shocked the world by rattling off two straight victories to start CAA play. As of last night’s last-second loss to Charleston, W&M now stands at 3-4 in the CAA.
Suffice to say, Coach Fischer has his team dialed in; let’s walk through some early observations so far from conference play!
Observation #1: W&M can beat Anyone in the CAA
We can’t emphasize this enough: W&M was picked to finish DEAD LAST in the CAA. 10 of 10. And after seven CAA games, W&M currently sits at 7th in the conference. In its 3 CAA victories, W&M has defeated the preseason #2 team (Northeastern), #3 team (Drexel), and #5 team (Hofstra).
And if not for blowing a 23-point lead to JMU earlier and last night’s last-second Charleston shot to beat the Tribe, W&M would of also beaten both the preseason #4 team (JMU) and #7 team (Charleston), in addition to the three the Tribe already beat. What does all of this tell you?
William and Mary can beat ANYONE in the CAA. With each win, this young William & Mary team becomes more and more confident. While this may not be the year for the Tribe to make the NCAA Tournament (though we’ll never count them completely out), this team gains valuable experience with each win, which will certainly pay dividends in future years.
Don’t forget, according to KenPom, William & Mary is the 12th youngest team in the nation. That’s right, in the entire nation. Keep the faith, Tribe fans — yes, the out-of-conference slate was rough, but Coach Fisch is leading a team of unprecedented youth; growing pains are inevitable, but the end product will be worth it.
Observation #2: Turnovers have Doomed this Team
Did we mention there will be growing pains? One of the biggest areas W&M needs to work on is turnovers. Through seven CAA games, the Tribe has 117 total turnovers (16.7 per game). Yes, 16.7 turnovers per game. W&M has also posted a disappointingly massive 22 or more turnovers in three of its seven CAA games. How are teams forcing all of these turnovers against W&M? It can’t just be youthful inexperience, can it? Well, that’s part of it, but another answer: the full court press. Many opposing teams are running the full court press against W&M — and the young Tribe has been slow to adjust.
For example, turnovers greatly cost W&M the game against JMU. After holding an aforementioned 23-point lead over the Dukes, the Tribe let JMU creep back by consistently turning the ball over. The Green and Gold ended that game with 25, count’em, 25 turnovers. In the Tribe’s most recent victory over Drexel, W&M sported another 20+ point lead over the Dragons, that is, before Drexel roared back to make it a one possession game with just under 2 minutes to go. Just how did that happen? W&M turned the ball over 22 times. Thankfully, the Tribe was still able to pull about the win in Philadelphia — but it easily could have gone the other way.
The fact that W&M is 3-4 in the CAA while still averaging over 16 turnovers per game is impressive. But moving forward, we fully expect Coach Fischer and team to fix this we keep going in the CAA season. Time and practice will solve for this — everything in time. But the sooner the Tribe figures this out, the better.
Observation #3: This team is YOUNG and Still Learning to Win
To drive this point home: of the 350+ Division-I basketball schools in the NCAA, William & Mary is the 12th youngest team in the entire NCAA. That is truly insane. This W&M squad boasts just three seniors, two juniors, and one grad transfer. Of those six players, only one (Brandon Carroll) plays significant minutes for the Green and Gold. Moral of the story? This team is not only young from a roster perspective, but it’s also primarily led by freshmen and sophomores.
Youth implies learning. And learning implies growing pains. One of these pains is learning how to put teams away, which has to do with learning how to win. After starting CAA play 2-0 with wins over Hofstra and Northeastern, everything was clicking for the Tribe. In its third game, the Tribe held a 23-point lead over rival JMU, and looked poised to start CAA play 3-0.
Instead, W&M allowed JMU to creep back into the game, primarily due to Tribe turnovers. In the game against Drexel, W&M held a 21-point lead with just 6:42 left in the second half. That should be a guaranteed victory, perhaps even by double digits. Instead, Drexel went on a big run, again spurred by Tribe turnovers, and made it a one possession game in the end.
This will be fixed with time, but this Tribe team needs to learn to put teams away after getting ahead with large leads. Towson and Delaware, two of the top teams in the CAA this season, took big leads over W&M early and didn’t let the Tribe back in at any point for the rest of the games. To be elite in the CAA, the Green and Gold needs to learn how to put teams away. As the 12th youngest team in the country, it’s only a matter of time — a matter of when, not if. Patience, Tribe fans!
Observation #4: W&M Players are Dialing it up in CAA Play
This team has stepped up its play during CAA play; there is no doubt about it. After coming in with only one nonconference victory (over a D3 team), the Tribe has won three CAA games, over three quality opponents. A big part of the reason? W&M’s starters are hitting their collective stride.
In fact, through seven CAA games, three Tribe players are averaging double digit point totals, including Connor Kochera (11.9 PPG), Ben Wight (11.8 PPG), and Quinn Blair (10.1 PPG) — with several players just sitting just outside the mark. Of the leading Tribe scorers in CAA play, two of them are sophomores and just one is a senior (Blair). If there is a theme coming out of this article, it is that this team will be strong in the future. Coming out of nonconference play, it appears that Coach Fischer has found his rotation, and we like what we see so far. Let’s keep it up!
LET’S GO TRIBE.