WILLIAMSBURG – Expectations for William and Mary men’s basketball team have evolved.
The Tribe isn’t the only Colonial Athletic Association team that expects to compete for a conference championship. But it is the only one that lost a player like Marcus Thornton, who earned league player of the year honors last season after averaging 20 points per game. He became the first CAA NBA Draft pick since 2011 and left William and Mary as the school’s all-time leading scorer.
And still, the Tribe likes its chances after winning a share of the CAA regular season title last season for the first time in 17 years.
William and Mary, which finished with 20 wins last year for the second consecutive season, tied with UNC Wilmington, Northeastern, and James Madison in the standings a year ago and earned the league tournament’s top seed via tie-breaker before falling to Northeastern in the championship game.
“We expect to be in that position right now,” 13th-year Tribe coach Tony Shaver said. “It will be a challenge this year to have lost one of the best players to ever play here and still be a competitor for the championship. But we think we can be. We really do. We’re excited about that.”
Big 3: They don’t come much more versatile than 6-foot-5 William and Mary senior guard Terry Tarpey (11.8 points per game, 8.4 rebounds per game, 1.8 steals per game, 1.3 blocks per game).
Tarpey, a preseason CAA first-teamer, can do a little bit of everything.
Actually, he can do a lot. But he won’t have to shoulder the burden of “replacing” Thornton on his own.
“He has to be the best Terry Tarpey he can be,” Shaver said. “I think that Terry, Omar Prewitt, Daniel Dixon all will hopefully see their scoring go up a little bit because there are more shots to take. But they need to be the best they can be.”
Expect the ball to be in the hands of the 6-7 Prewitt (13.5 ppg, 4.4 rpg), a preseason CAA second team selection, more this season.
Also, look for a more well-rounded and better-conditioned Dixon (11.1 ppg). The 6-6 sharpshooting guard benefited last season from the attention Thornton drew from opposing defenses. Will he get the same looks this season?
CAA: Preseason league favorite Hofstra returns four starters from a 20-win team last season including preseason CAA Player of the Year Juan’ya Green (17.1 points per game, 6.5 assists per game).
“Our league was really good last year,” Shaver said. “It will be terrific this year. It will be the most quality and deepest that I’ve seen in many years.”
James Madison and Northeastern, the only other teams to precede William and Mary in the preseason poll, also return four starters.
Newcomers: There aren’t many for the Tribe. Just freshman big man Hunter Seacat.
Colorado State transfer David Cohn and 6-foot-9 redshirt freshman Paul Rowley haven’t logged game minutes, but did practice with the team last season.
Rowley is known more for his shooting prowess than post presence, and Seacat, who Shaver describes as “rugged,” is a 6-foot-9, 235-pound Mooresville, N.C. product.
‘One’ spot left: With returning starters Tarpey, Prewitt, Dixon, and senior post player Sean Sheldon (6.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg) likely to be plugged back in, that leaves only the point guard position up for grabs.
Sophomores Michael Schlotman (1.3 ppg) and Oliver Tot (1.3 ppg), are competing for the job along with Cohn, a redshirt sophomore.
Tot, who showed flashes of excitement last year, has been out of the mix the last two and a half weeks with an ankle injury and could get some practice time this week ahead of the season opener Friday at N.C. State.
“We’re very comfortable with both players right now,” Shaver said of Schlotman and Cohn. “They bring different things to the table. Mike is more hard-nosed, 6-3, really strong defender and rebounder and runs the show for us I think well.
“David is a much faster, more explosive offensive player that needs to improve defensively right now.”
Transformation: Shaver said Sheldon (6.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg) has shown the most improvement from a season ago.
“He’s just gotten better every year,” Shaver said. “Right now, he’s in good shape. He’s finishing well offensively. He’s rebounding the ball well. He’s a senior captain. He’s giving his team great things every day.”
Shaver also noted a much-improved Connor Burchfield (2.4 ppg), a sophomore guard who appeared in 18 games last year.
Schedule: With two Atlantic Coast Conference teams (N.C. State, Virginia) and a slew of others expected to be in the mix for titles in their respective conferences (Dayton, Hampton, Old Dominion, High Point, Central Michigan), the Tribe’s nonconference slate looks especially treacherous.
“It’s a brutal schedule,” Shaver said. “There’s no other way around it.”