For our last official post in the Summer Sessions series, our friend Mike Barnes, a recent William & Mary graduate, has lent his analysis of the 2013-2014 Tribe.
Assignment: In 2012-2013, William & Mary had one of the strangest seasons in recent memory. The Tribe started off well, but struggled down the stretch — especially late in games — as its young stars went through a bumpy maturation process. Explain how William & Mary’s 2013-14 season is a critical moment in the program’s history.
If you were to write a book about William & Mary’s ’12-’13 season, the title would be 101 Ways to Lose Basketball Games in Three Minutes or Less.
William & Mary showed an immense amount of promise, and showed that it could play with the big boys — right until the 3:30 mark in the second half. At that point, no lead, no matter how big, was safe. The season was a strange mix of agony and ecstasy — watching a young team struggle to close games was devastating, but there was always a small, yet omnipresent silver lining amid all the losses:
Next year could be the year.
The ’12-’13 season was a bit of an understated coming out party for the Tribe. No, there were no signature wins (except for the season sweep of long-time rival Old Dominion), but all-everything guard Marcus Thornton began to burst on to the scene, center Tim Rusthoven finally bulked up and gave the Tribe a respectable big man under the basket and guard Brandon Britt showed immense improvement.
But as well as the College’s Big Three played — they were pretty much it. Thornton, Rusthoven and Britt combined to score 69% of the team’s total points and rarely received help from their supporting cast. The other two starters — forward Kyle Gaillard and guard Matt Rum — were frequently offensive liabilities, although Gaillard slowly regained his form as the season went on.
More often than not, the pattern became clear: The Big Three would keep the squad competitive for the majority of the contest, but suddenly collapse in the final minutes. We saw everything in the waning minutes of the second half — missed free throws, turnovers, easy misses, defensive lapses — you name it, we saw it. Eleven of the Tribe’s 17 losses came by 10 points or less.
While late-game mistakes and a lack of depth hurt the Tribe in 2012-13, the good news is this: Both are fixable, and if corrected, the College could do some serious damage in the CAA.
The College returns the bulk of its ’12-’13 squad, including its four leading scorers (Thornton, Britt, Rusthoven and Gaillard). The hope is that these four can continue to improve together, and find a way to close out games.
Britt is a slashing guard who prefers to go inside. He’s been the de facto point guard, although he’s doesn’t quite fit the mold of a traditional point guard. Rusthoven does everything a big man should do — he’s good under the basket and good defensively. Gaillard is a big, athletic forward who has good moves, but he needs to be more aggressive, and needs to look for shots other than an alley-oop slam. Thornton is a game changer and world-class shooter, but could be a little more consistent late in games and on the defensive end.
The College will also look to its bench for more help this year. Guard Terry Tarpey has a great motor, but is also turnover prone and went through long scoring droughts. Fred Heldring had a good year as Rusthoven’s backup, but the drop-off was noticeable on both sides of the ball. Head coach Tony Shaver thinks highly of Tom Schalk, but he was largely ineffective. The jury is still out on Sean Sheldon.
If the Tribe can get quality minutes out of those guys, especially Heldring and Schalk, it will give the team some much-needed depth and take pressure off the starters. Ultimately, in my mind, there’s one guy who needs to have a big year: guard Julian Boatner. Boatner is a classic Shaver player — tough, gritty, and a lights-out shooter. Boatner burst onto the scene as a freshman in 2010 by shooting 40.0% from beyond the arc.
The intervening years haven’t been kind to Boat. He scored 219 points in ’10-’11, 137 in ’11-’12 and just 85 in ’12-’13. If Boatner can regain his form, he would provide the perfect complement to the Big Three. Having Boatner shooting from the outside could open things up under the basket and stretch the defense.
The good news is that the Tribe doesn’t lose much. The only starter and player who played any notable minutes was Matt Rum. Rum was a defensive expert, and often drew the opposite team’s best guard, but his offense often negated his defense. Andrew Pavloff, Doug Howard and Brett Goodloe, the other seniors, played sparsely.
If you are a William & Mary fan, you have to be an eternal optimist, so it gets a little weary when every incoming recruiting class is hailed as the second coming. But this one actually might be worthy of the hype.
Don’t believe me? A quick fact for you: The Indiana-Kentucky High School All-Star game featured three William & Mary commits — just as many as Indiana, and more than Notre Dame and Kentucky.
Doesn’t mean anything yet, but it could be a very good sign.
Mike Schlotman, a 6’4″ guard from Munster, Indiana, is the odds-on early favorite to be an impact player. He’s a true point guard and a floor general — something the Tribe hasn’t had for a while.
Daniel Dixon (Great Falls, Virginia) will join the ranks of the College’s other skilled shooting guards. At 6’5″, Dixon is a solid defender, and can shoot the three-ball well.
Omar Prewitt, a 6’6″ wing from Mount Sterling, Kentucky, is a versatile player who can slot in as a guard and a forward. Rated as the 12th best player in the state of Kentucky, Prewitt can shoot well, but is also athletic under the basket.
Jack Whitman, a forward from Lexington, Kentucky, is a big man who can shoot. Whitman, like many other Tribe bigs before him, is a bit skinny at 6’9″, 210 pounds, but has solid talent.
While recruits are usually hit or miss, this looks to be as solid of a class as the Tribe has seen in a while. Fortunately, Shaver and Co. will have the opportunity to see what they’ve got in an August trip to the Dominican Republic. If this group can contribute, it will only help add depth, improving the College’s chances to finally break through.