CAA Preview: William & Mary

Last season: 14–17 (10–8 CAA), lost in CAA quarterfinals

Head coach: Dane Fischer (first season)

CAA Preseason Poll Finish: Seventh

Losses

  • G LJ Owens
  • G Chase Audige
  • G Matt Milon
  • G/F Justin Pierce
  • F Paul Rowley
  • F Chris Clark

Additions

  • G Tyler Hamilton
  • G Bryce Barnes
  • G Rainers Hermanovskis
  • G Miguel Ayesa
  • G/F Thatcher Stone
  • F Ben Wight
  • F/C Andy Van Vliet

By Milton Posner

On March 10, 2019, the College of William & Mary let a 16-point lead slip through their fingers in the CAA Tournament quarterfinal. The Delaware Blue Hens went to the next round; the Tribe went home.

But the future was bright. The Tribe had a versatile lineup with good shooters and a strong inside presence. They were CAA title contenders.

Three days later, it all began to unravel. The team announced that Tony Shaver, the Tribe’s head coach for 16 years, had been fired.

When she was hired two years ago, Athletic Director Samantha Huge conducted an internal review of the team. She declined to elaborate on why Shaver was dismissed, instead alluding to “concerns on and off the court” and not liking how the program was “trending.” She did cite a lack of NCAA Tournament appearances (W&M is one of four original Division I teams to never appear in the NCAA Tournament).

Shaver is the winningest coach in program history despite his losing record (226–268). He won CAA Coach of the Year in 2008 and 2010 and took the Tribe to four CAA Finals, but a championship eluded him. Shaver enjoyed regular season success in recent years; from 2013 to 2018 he posted five consecutive winning seasons, the first such streak in program history. W&M’s 64–42 record over the last six seasons is tied with Northeastern for best in the CAA.

The fallout from the firing was swift. Though CAA first teamer Nathan Knight likely would have explored the NBA Draft regardless, Shaver’s firing undoubtedly motivated Justin Pierce, Matt Milon, Chase Audige, and LJ Owens — the Tribe’s second, third, fourth, and fifth-leading scorers, respectively — to transfer. The quartet accounted for 59 percent of the team’s points and 49 percent of its rebounds and assists last year. New coach Dane Fischer tried to keep the team together but could only watch as his core vanished.

Knight forgoing the NBA draft is the only thing keeping W&M from rock bottom. Last year, he posted 21 points, nine rebounds, and four assists per game, and blocked twice as many shots as all but one CAA player. He was second in the conference in field goal percentage. He was the conference’s third-leading scorer and sixth-leading rebounder despite playing fewer minutes per game (30) than most other CAA stars.

Given the graduation of four of last season’s six CAA first teamers, and given the increased touches he’ll likely see after his teammates’ exodus, Knight — along with Charleston’s Grant Riller — is a favorite to win CAA Player of the Year.

Andy Van Vliet, a 7’0” senior transfer from the University of Wisconsin, will pair with Knight in the frontcourt. Though Van Vliet has a perimeter scoring touch, his and Knight’s play down low is the only area where the Tribe are likely to outplay opponents.

The rest of the squad is lacking in most important respects. After Knight, the most statistically significant returning player is junior guard Luke Loewe, who squeezed out four points, two rebounds, and two assists per game last year as a starter. The new recruits — four freshmen and two grad transfers — will have to overperform just for W&M to match their performance from last season, when they hovered around the CAA average in most stat categories.

Bottom Line: Nathan Knight is a likely 2020 NBA draft choice, and it will be fun to watch him wail on CAA big men for another season. But with the bulk of their 2018–19 offense now playing elsewhere — and the increased defensive pressure on Knight as teams swarm him down low — the Tribe’s benchwarmers and freshmen will have to pick up major slack. W&M is unlikely to escape the depths of the conference standings.

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