Despite 'bad losses,' Tribe still merits NCAA consideration

Crusades are cool again. For tax reform, or health care, or global warming.

Ours today isn't nearly as civic-minded. But it's fun, interesting and, doggone it, we think we have a point.

We want William and Mary in the NCAA basketball tournament, and we're not above groveling, starting a political action committee or picketing Dan Guerrero's house.

Of course, this is a selfish cause. The Tribe making its first NCAA appearance would merit headlines not only here at home, but also around the country.

A traditional basketball bottom-feeder? A centuries-old academic beacon? Honest-to-goodness student-athletes?

Outlets from the Wall Street Journal to TMZ would flock, presuming Tiger wasn't granting access to his next sex therapy session.

But this is more than a saccharine fix for casual fans or the W&M chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. This is a case study for college basketball junkies.

William and Mary is authoring its most relevant and fascinating season in memory. One of five long-time — more than 50 years — Division I programs never to earn an NCAA invite, the Tribe has shown its chops since a narrow, season-opening defeat at Connecticut.

With two regular-season games remaining, William and Mary stands third behind co-leaders Old Dominion and Northeastern in the Colonial Athletic Association, a quality, off-the- ESPN-radar league.

The Tribe (19-8, 11-5) has prospered against one of the nation's most challenging non-conference schedules, defeating NCAA tournament-bound Wake Forest, Maryland and Richmond, the first two on the road.

Yes, William and Mary got drilled 69-53 at Iona late Friday night, but the Gaels are a credible, top-100 squad, No. 90 on the Rating Percentage Index available at Moreover, the Tribe has won nine games this season on opponents' floors, more than any other team in the CAA, or the high-rent ACC for that matter.

"It's been a great season for us," coach Tony Shaver said Saturday morning, moments after the team's return from New York, "but we want to have a great finish with it."

The only sure NCAA route for William and Mary is to win the CAA tournament and accompanying automatic bid. But if the Tribe defeats Towson and UNC Wilmington this week and, let's say, loses in the CAA semifinals or final, its credentials will merit consideration by the 10-member NCAA selection committee, chaired by UCLA athletic director Guerrero.

Each panel member is responsible for monitoring several conferences, and the CAA's primary contact is Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, with Wake Forest AD Ron Wellman as the secondary. Throughout the season, Smith and Wellman have conducted teleconferences with CAA commissioner Tom Yeager and his basketball lieutenants, Ron Bertovich and Rob Washburn.

Not that Wellman needed an introduction to William and Mary. He was courtside Nov. 28 when the Tribe upset Wake Forest, the Deacons' only home loss, an eyewitness account that can't hurt W&M's chances.

Nor can an overall profile that includes a 3-3 record against top-50 RPI teams, a 5-6 mark versus the top 100 and a non-conference schedule ranked 45th nationally. Compare those numbers to higher-profile teams hopeful of a bid such as Virginia Tech and Mississippi.

The Hokies are 2-2 against the top 50 and 6-4 versus the top 100, with a non-conference schedule of 341. Tech has five road victories, four fewer than the Tribe.

Ole Miss is 1-5 against the top 50, albeit all six games against the top 25. The Rebels are 5-8 versus the top 100 and have a No. 137 non-league schedule.

William and Mary's profile is also similar to the CAA's most recent at-large selections, Old Dominion in 2007 and eventual Final Four darling George Mason in 2006. In fact, the Tribe's three signature victories are more impressive than either the Monarchs or Patriots boasted.

Alas, what may well boot William and Mary from the field are two, in committee parlance, "bad losses." The Tribe fell to UNC Wilmington at home and James Madison on the road, and both are below No. 200 on the RPI.

Neither Virginia Tech nor Mississippi has any such defeat, let alone two. Indeed, No. 48 William and Mary is the only top-75 team with two bad losses.

So Shaver has this pegged right. The Tribe needs to ignore the atmospherics and concentrate on each moment.

That starts with time off this weekend to shake a flu strain that's zapped coaches and players. Then comes Wednesday's home finale against Towson and a farewell to seniors David Schneider, Danny Sumner, Steven Hess and Sean McCurdy, vital components all.

The Tribe closes the regular season Saturday at Wilmington, with the CAA tournament the next weekend in Richmond followed by ...

"I've coached 30-some years," Shaver said, "and this team has probably accomplished as much as any I've been around, and because of that, we have new opportunities."

David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at For more from Teel, read his blog


Next game Inside
Next game WHO: Towson (7-20, 4-12 CAA) at William and Mary (19-8, 11-5).

WHEN: 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Inside •Jessica Canady, ODU women want to start new CAA streak. Page 3

•Duke presents problems for Virginia Tech tonight. Page 2

•Roundup. Page 4

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