One might think that fans of a program boasting a pair of recent conference title game appearances would be less thrilled by middle-of-the-pack preseason expectations. One obviously hasn't learned enough William and Mary history. Follow along as we spit knowledge in advance of W&M's scrimmage tonight against Norfolk State.
Though most prognosticators have the Wrens finishing between 5th and 7th in the balanced CAA (Michael Litos, FoG:TB and Teej-proclaimed Don CAAleone, has the Green and Gold finishing 6th as do the CAA coaches.), it's the team's upside that has the futile superfans wrestling with the unfamiliar feeling of expectation. Swingman and first-team preseason All-CAA standout Quinn McDowell (15.5 ppg in 2010-11) leads a very deep backcourt, one that's arguably the most talented in W&M history. Sophomore Brandon Britt (10.9 ppg, 2.2 apg) looks to back up his CAA All-Rookie opening campaign, while classmate Julian Boatner (6.8 ppg, 40% three-point accuracy) added muscle in the offseason as he seeks to add versatility to go with his outside shooting acumen. Senior Kendrix Brown (3.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg) will see a lot of action as a third guard, and the Wrens will rely on his glue-guy skills and scrappiness. Junior guard Matt Rum (5.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.1 apg) adds depth and the ability to drain open threes.
We'll break for a breath and some light stretching before moving on. With all the depth among returners, Team G:TB is most excited by freshman shooting guard Marcus Thornton's arrival in Williamsburg. Perhaps the most lauded W&M recruit ever (really, have you ever heard of a W&M recruit described as lauded?), Thornton was the Gatorade Maryland Player of the Year and the POY in the very competitive Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC). The 6'4" (and 170 pounds - kid needs to talk to Igor about ways to gain weight eating W&M cafeteria food) Thornton averaged 23.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg and 1.7 steals per game while shooting 44% from beyond the arc in his senior season. Litos calls him the CAA's Newcomer of the Year. All that, and he's a prolific and silly user of Twitter (@MarcusWM3). If he can play defense at the college level, Tribe fans are in for a treat. And Tony Shaver will have the really pleasant problem of trying to find minutes for a bunch of talented guards.
Shaver's less pleasant problem will be finding size and strength inside to make it hard for opposing defenses to extend to pressure the Tribe's perimeter players. Even with Marcus Kitts' physical presence last season, W&M was one of the worst rebounding teams in the country. Kitts and his 6'9", 240-pound frame have graduated, leaving a question mark. It's our fervent hope that 6'9, 230-lb sophomore and Muppet lookalike Tim "Beasthoven" Rusthoven's (5.5 ppg, 2.8 rpg, numerous floor burns per game) added strength will elevate his high-energy game and require opponents to account for him on both ends. Rusthoven shot nearly 60% from the field over the final 20 games of 2010-11, showing glimpses of what might be. Early returns on 6'8 freshman Tom Schalk are good, but he may be too raw to contribute in the early going. 6'8" junior Kyle Gaillard (5.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg) has been more of a wing in his career, but the Tribe's most athletic player will find himself playing more 4 in 2010-11. Soph Fred Heldring's 6'9, 240-pound frame will come in handy off the bench.
Last, and most certainly not least, W&M's odd center-guard Dr. Frankenstein creation JohnMark Ludwick returns for his final season in the 'burg. The 6'8, 230-pounder ranks 4th in W&M history in three-point percentage, and may rank first in NCAA history in three-point shots as a percentage of all shots taken. 92 of his 102 shots in 2010-11 were longballs. Ludwick gives Shaver a unique offensive weapon - the variety of sets W&M can run with its talented guards and a perimeter-based big will give teams fits, especially those who haven't seen much of the Wrens (you hearing me, St. John's?). The big questions, as they often are for Shaver's Tribe squads, will be defense and rebounding.
In any case, this team will be fun to watch, mixing more athleticism that we're accustomed to seeing in William and Mary Hall (at least since our Pi Lam A-side Hockey squad won that intramural championship thriller against PiKA) with Shaver's innovative offense. And if you weren't paying attention, this is a very, very young team that'll be hell to reckon with in another year or two. Truly, this is a golden age. Or at least a shiny one.
Television programmers seem to agree, slating the Tribe for 9 games for national or regional coverage, including the season-opener on Monday, November 7 at St. John's. That one's on ESPNU, as is the Tribe's January 19 tilt at VCU.
Finally, in semi-related news, seems W&M has heeded my plea and decided to put some clothes on the damn Griffin. And you can help: go download the iPhone and Android app today and waste your employers precious time and money.