The College of William and Mary isn’t satisfied with its runner-up status.
Eight months after the Tribe’s first-ever CAA championship game appearance, the College uses its nine-point loss to George Mason University as a motivational tool for the new season.
“At our first meeting this year, I showed them the highlight tape from last year and then I crashed it on the wall and said ‘That’s behind us,’” Head Coach Tony Shaver said. “The fact is, as exciting as it was for us to play in a championship game, we didn’t win it.
“Our theme became unfinished business from that moment on.”
Returning to the title game will be no easy task for the Tribe in 2009. Northeastern University returns five starters, including preseason first-team all-CAA honoree Matt Janning, from last year’s ballclub (14-17, 9-9 CAA), while Old Dominion University and the University of Delaware each return four starters. Add perennial conference contenders Virginia Commonwealth University and George Mason plus an improving Georgia State University program, and it’s easy to see the College won’t have any gimme games in the CAA.
“The one thing I’ll tell you about this league is I’d say four through 12, you can toss a coin in the air as to who’s going to finish fourth and who’s going to finish 12th,” Shaver said. “It’s absolutely the deepest quality of teams of any year I’ve been here. It’s scary.”
The Tribe should find itself right in the middle of the CAA once again this season, fighting for a top-four finish and a coveted first-round bye in the CAA Tournament. According to CAA coaches, sports information directors and media members, the College — picked to finish eighth this season — won’t be a contender for a top-four finish. But the College holds little faith in the polls, especially considering it returns three starters and adds University of Arkansas transfer Sean McCurdy. Last year the Tribe finished fifth in the CAA after being picked ninth in preseason.
“They haven’t been right the past three years,” Stein said. “We ignore that.”
The Tribe opens the season on the road against a major conference opponent for the third consecutive year when it faces Big Ten member Penn State University Friday at 6:30 p.m. From there, the College plays seven non-conference games in a row, including three home games.
Last season, the Tribe played six of its first seven games on the road and won just two of those games. This year’s schedule is more balanced and more favorable for the Tribe, keeping the College in Williamsburg for nearly all of December.
Its CAA opener with Virginia Commonwealth University Dec. 6 will be the first rematch between two teams that met in the CAA semifinals March 9. The Tribe came away with a 56-54 victory that day.
“I definitely think [VCU] will be out to get us,” junior forward Danny Sumner said. “[Last season] we knocked them off. That basically [kept] them from going to the [NCAA] tournament.”
The Tribe also faces Harvard University in a non-conference battle between the country’s two oldest colleges Dec. 31 before the Tribe heads into the meat of its CAA schedule.
Breaking down the Tribe’s rotation
Junior guard Sean McCurdy — Head Coach Tony Shaver calls him one of the quickest ball-handlers he’s had at the College. Count on him to make an immediate impact, driving into the lane and finding the open man.
Junior guard David Schneider — The two-year starter will benefit from playing alongside McCurdy in the backcourt. He’ll still handle the ball a lot, but should have more scoring chances.
Junior forward Danny Sumner — Sumner exploded onto the conference scene in the 2008 CAA Tournament. He averaged 15.5 points per game throughout and will be expected to deliver comparable production this year.
Senior forward Peter Stein — The Tribe’s most consistent post defender will once again be counted on to hold opposing big men (i.e. ODU’s Gerald Lee) in check. He’s improved each year he’s been at the College.
Senior forward Chris Darnell — Showed flashes of his ability last year (see game-winner against Northeastern University Jan. 16) and provides the College with another veteran player. Shaver says consistency will be key for Darnell this season.
Off the bench
Junior forward Alex Smith — Should be back for the Tribe come Christmas, adding much-needed muscle and energy to the frontcourt.
Sophomore forward Marcus Kitts — Another big body down low for the Tribe. Kitts earned more minutes down the stretch and had six rebounds in nine minutes against VCU.
Freshman guard Kendrix Brown — He’s missed a few practices due to a groin injury, but Shaver says Brown has quickly adapted to college basketball. Brown gives the College another quick ball-handler.
Freshman guard Quinn McDowell — Shaver says McDowell put himself in the Tribe’s top nine players thanks to his maturity and versatility.
CAA at a glance: Team-by-team analysis from first to last
VCU — CAA player of the year Eric Maynor returns for his senior year to lead a young, talented Rams squad. Can Maynor’s young teammates like guard Joey Rodriguez and forward Larry Sanders continue to improve and provide consistent scoring?
Northeastern — The Huskies return five starters, including preseason first-team all-CAA guard Matt Janning. As one of the most experienced teams in the conference, Northeastern is tested and ready for CAA play.
ODU — The Monarchs have four starters back, but graduated two of their top three scorers from last year’s team.
George Mason — Its top two scorers, Will Thomas and Folarin Campbell, graduated after remarkable four-year careers, leaving senior guards Dre Smith and John Vaughan to guide a young team through the CAA.
Delaware —Third-year coach Monte Ross’s team started hot last season, but fizzled during midseason. Expect them to finish stronger in 2009.
Georgia State — Six major conference transfers should give second-year coach Rod Barnes plenty of talent. Three returning starters help, too.
Hofstra — The Pride should more closely resemble its 20-win teams between 2004-2007 than last year’s 12-18 team.
JMU — First-year Head Coach Matt Brady (formerly of Marist University) inherits a team with talent, including four returning starters.
Towson — Head Coach Pat Kennedy may finally have the pieces in place for his first winning team.
UNCW — The Seahawks lost four seniors who averaged double-digits in points last season.
Drexel — A mostly upperclassmen roster should give hot-headed Head Coach Bruiser Flint hope for more than five CAA wins this year.
Chris Weidman contributed to this report.