In 1997-98, the William & Mary Tribe men's basketball team - almost out of nowhere - went 20-6 in the regular season, 13-3 in conference play. Hopes were raised in a place where hope was as rare as a rational Tea Party voter.
And as those hopes crested in Richmond at the CAA Tournament, an injury-hobbled Tribe team, with star players Jim Moran and Randy Bracy ailing, lost to seventh-seeded American University and their hot-shooting guard, Nathan Smith. Or, Nathan Fucking Smith, as he's known in W&M lore*.
* possibly only to me
Eighteen years later, a W&M team in somewhat different circumstances, having made consecutive CAA Tournament finals and four in the last eight years, finds itself among the elite teams in the league. Tony Shaver's boys are 17-6, 9-3 in the league, and winners of four straight. W&M is currently ranked 37th in the RPI, and have a non-conference resume that matches up with any mid-major and a lot of power conference teams. People are talking about this squad, and not just us. John Feinstein wrote perhaps the longest non-GTB piece I've ever seen about the Wrens.
Tonight, the Green and Gold begin perhaps their toughest stretch of the season.
Hofstra, boosted by likely CAA Player of the Year Juan'ya Green and double-double machine Rokas Gustys, travels to Williamsburg tonight in a battle for second place. The Flying DutchPride hammered the Tribe by nearly 30 points in Hempstead late last month on the strength of an otherworldly offensive performance in the game's second half. Hofstra trails W&M by one game in the league after blowing a big lead and losing at JMU in overtime.
Two days from now, W&M travels to Towson, hoping to avenge their only home loss of the season. Like Hofstra, the Tigers are only a game behind the Tribe in the CAA standings.
And a week from tonight, league leaders UNCW come to the Tribedome hoping to sweep W&M. The first matchup between these two was a classic, the Seahawks topping the Wrens, 97-94, in overtime.
Omar Prewitt was just named CAA co-Player of the Week after a pair of 20+ point games. The Tribe is balanced, with six players averaging at least 8.0 points per game, and a seventh, sophomore Connor Burchfield, averaging 6.0 and leading the nation in three-point shooting percentage (.614). Sophomore point guard David Cohn is averaging 7.0 assists/game over the last seven games, with an assist/turnover ratio of 4.1:1 over that span. Over the team's four-game winning streak, the Tribe has averaged 1.24 points/possession while shooting 50.6% from the floor. (The NCAA leaders in offensive efficiency, Saint Mary's, average 1.19 ppp on the season. W&M is 37th at 1.09.) There is reason to believe this team is better than last year's.
You can see where this is all going, can't you.
Three wins, and W&M is the odds-on favorite to win the regular season title. Three losses would suck, and burst the #1bid4wmtribe at-large bubble, but wouldn't really have a material impact on the Tribe's CAA tourney chances - W&M's probably already done enough to avoid having to compete in the tournament's play-in round. Neither of those outcomes is terribly likely, given the vicissitudes of this conference season.
At the end of the above-mentioned Feinstein piece, which chronicles the pain many of us have felt personally over the past several years, Shaver allows himself to dream just a little bit. Asked what he might do if W&M finally gets over the hump, he said, “I’m pretty sure I’ll hug my sons and [wife] Ann first. Long hugs. I know there will be tears.”
Dammit. The way this year is shaping up, there will be tears, alright. Just hard to tell which kind.