Entering Saturday, the CAA was among a trio of Division I basketball’s 32 conferences in which every team had at least three league setbacks — the Big South and Missouri Valley were the others.
That speaks to parity. That translates to volatility.
And no team embodies volatility like William and Mary.
Anyone who’s watched the Tribe in recent seasons, especially this one, has seen how gifted it is on offense and how flawed it is on defense. Those traits were glaringly evident Saturday as W&M fell to Drexel 91-79 at Kaplan Arena.
Understand the Tribe waxed the Dragons on the road last month 85-63. Moreover, Drexel was 0-5 in Colonial Athletic Association road games.
W&M (15-8, 8-4 CAA) was protecting its share of first place in the league standings and playing before an enthusiastic crowd. But stakes, opponent and environment appear meaningless with this team.
In short, the Tribe can shoot its way into, or defend its way out of, any contest. Often on the same day.
Drexel (11-15, 5-7) arrived as next-to-last in the CAA in shooting percentage (43.5) and last in 3-point percentage (32.9). The Dragons’ percentages Saturday were 61.5 and 50.
I asked Shaver why W&M’s defense was so much better at Drexel than Saturday.
“Exactly the same question I just asked my players,” he said. “We’ve proven we can be better. Now they didn’t play very well up there. They had some kids coming back from injuries. They’re full speed right now. As I told our players, this is a different team than we played back in (January). They’ve won four in a row. … They’re very talented. …
“We don’t have a lot of great one-on-one defenders. I recruited them, so I’m not blaming anybody for it. We’ve got to be better as a team. We work on it all the time. But sometimes defense just comes down to your heart. Are you willing to play hard enough? And at times we don’t play hard enough.”
February is no time for heart to be an issue, but that’s where W&M is. Remedy that, and the Tribe absolutely could earn the first NCAA tournament bid in program history. Remain soft defensively, and W&M exits the CAA tournament meekly.
A little time on Ken Pomeroy’s website shows how unique the Tribe is.
W&M began Saturday 36th among 351 teams nationally in offensive efficiency, a metric rooted in points-per-possession. But the Tribe was 334th in defensive efficiency.
W&M shoots superbly. Opponents shoot almost as well.
The Tribe commits relatively few turnovers. Opponents commit fewer.
W&M rarely allows an offensive rebound. Opponents allow fewer.
The Tribe is the only team among the top 70 in offensive efficiency that’s below 250th in defensive efficiency. The only other squad among the top 40 in offensive efficiency that’s below 200th in defensive efficiency is Iowa.
Among the 25 lowest-rated defensive teams, W&M is the only one with a winning record. Moreover, that neighborhood is littered with downtrodden outfits such as 1-21 Mississippi Valley State, 2-22 Bryant, 3-18 Alabama State and 4-19 Pepperdine, all those records entering Saturday.
Fifteen wins? Tied with Charleston atop the CAA before this defeat? The Tribe is truly defying convention.
Saturday was no different. W&M made five of its first six 3-point attempts but on Drexel’s first four possessions gave up three layups and a lonesome open 3-pointer.
Dragons guards Tramaine Isabell and Kurk Lee teamed for 45 points and ignited a late 13-2 binge. Point guard David Cohn had 26 points and nine assists for W&M, but like his coach, is baffled by the game-to-game contrast in defensive efforts.
“I think we played with a lot more energy up there,” Cohn said. “We were more locked in defensively. … It’s just defense, defense, defense. You could even tell in this game. When we got stops, we could run and score in transition and that’s what happened up there. …
“We’ve got to improve; we’ve got to figure it out on defense.”
Teel can be reached by phone at 757-247-4636 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP.