With the NCAA tournament beginning this week, I am sad to confirm that William and Mary will once again miss the NCAA tournament. However, this team is in a good spot. If that wasn’t one of your thoughts after William and Mary’s 68-63 overtime loss to last-place Northeastern in the opening round of the CAA tournament, I don’t blame you. After all, this season left little to be desired after the Tribe rattled off 10 straight losses to close the season, and finished a measly 5-27. Sure there were a ton of low spots throughout the long season, but trust me, this team will be good. Still don’t believe me? Again, completely understandable. Let’s unpack.
Let’s start with the bad. The Tribe sat at the bottom of the pack in the CAA in scoring offense, scoring margin, field goal percentage, and opponent field goal percentage. The Tribe also ranked 344th out of 350 division one teams in the NCAA in turnovers per game with 16.2. And, if you watched any game this season, these numbers should not surprise you. The team often struggled to move the ball on offense, and contributed to the pain with a lot of silly turnovers. Part of that is expected, with the team being so young, and I expect those numbers to improve in the years to come.
Take the starting lineups for example. Head coach Dane Fischer’s typical starting lineup of Tyler Rice, Julian Lewis, Connor Kochera, Brandon Carroll, and Ben Wight consisted of two freshmen and two sophomores. Aside from Carroll, Tribe fans should expect to see this starting lineup for many years to come.
The CAA certainly recognizes the young talent on this team as well, as both Lewis and Rice were just named to the 2022 CAA All-Rookie team. While I still think this team is recovering from the departure of Tony Shaver after the 2019 season, once Dane Fischer establishes a more effective recruiting presence, especially in the state of Virginia, look out for the Tribe.
A strength of the team this season was certainly the rebounding, thanks to the efforts of Ben Wight and Brandon Carroll. The team finished 4th in offensive rebounds and 3rd in defensive rebounds in the CAA. Ben Wight, who in my opinion was thoroughly robbed of an All-CAA selection, was stellar, finishing in the top 20 in points and rebounds, averaging 11.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Tribe fans should look for him to be the centerpiece of the front court for years to come.
Carroll finished 4th in blocked shots and 9th in steals, leading the way on the defensive end for the Tribe, and again, in my opinion, should have been a member of the All-CAA Defensive Team. In his only season in the ‘Burg, Carroll provided much-needed veteran leadership and exceptional athleticism that we will certainly miss next season. We at the WMSB wish him all the best moving forward.
Let’s now move to the guards, who I think have plenty of room to grow going forward. The most experienced of the bunch was Connor Kochera, who seemed to take a step back in terms of stats this season. However, watching the Tribe, it was clear that Kochera was the leader of this team and provided veteran leadership despite still being only a sophomore. He remains a stellar shooter and can get to the basket on any defender, so I expect him to take over the scoring reins next year.
Now to the freshmen, who played about as good as you could have expected them to in their first season in Williamsburg. Tyler Rice and Julian Lewis both earned all-rookie honors in the CAA, and Tribe fans should not expect those to be their last All-CAA honors. Rice finished with 7.5 points per game and 3.6 assists per game while Lewis finished with 7.2 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. Sophomore Yuri Covington showed flashes of brilliance as well, scoring 29 points off the bench against JMU and nailing a step back buzzer-beating 3 in the home finale against Delaware.
All three will be heavily leaned on next year in terms of both ball handling and scoring. The Tribe bench is deep too, with many role players who will look to step up next season. Miguel Ayesa continues to be one of the purest shooters in the conference. Jake Milkereit provided key minutes off the bench and showed plenty of scoring ability and the ability to knock down the 3. Langdon Hatton is tough as nails under the basket and has a plethora of moves in the post. With all that being said, Dane Fischer will have plenty to work with in the coming years and it is hard to deny the talent in the ‘Burg.
And finally, the seniors. Mehkel Harvey, Austin Washburn, and Quinn Blair. All three provided countless highlights, stellar performances, and a love of the game that was infectious in Kaplan. I will never forget the roar of the Tribe faithful as Austin Washburn drilled a 3 right over a Delaware defender on Senior Day, or watching the faces of many shooters after Mehkel Harvey sent their shot into the stands, or Quinn Blair doing it all on the offensive and defensive end throughout his entire career. I wish this group had gone out with an NCAA tournament berth, but either way we at the BLog wish each of you the best in your future endeavors.
After a season like this I am sure that there is a sour taste in our mouths and the last thing Tribe fans want to think about is more basketball. But as for me, I cannot wait until next season, which promises to be better than this year. Either way, y’all better pack Kaplan like never before. Go Tribe!