Commentary: A future worthy of hope lies ahead of a frustrating present for Tribe

0
721
The bench reacts during William and Mary's CAA semifinal loss to Charleston, its second such loss in two years. EMILY CHAUMONT / THE FLAT HAT

At the Colonial Athletic Association tournament, the No. 4-seeded William and Mary squad advanced to the semifinal with the help of a couple key senior stars. The next day, the Tribe ran with the No. 1 seed, playing tough basketball and getting chances to change the momentum of the game. However, the team was unable to get a key stop or a bucket to take the lead late, and a very close game turned into a double-digit loss for the College and a bitter end to the seniors’ careers.

Wait, you thought I was talking about this year?

Little of this year’s Tribe resembles last year’s team. The 2016-17 Tribe team was a veteran group with a deep bench that sometimes struggled to score in key situations. The 2017-18 team was young apart from a couple crucial seniors and couldn’t get the stops it needed to put conference teams away, a trait exacerbated by the necessary short bench deployed by head coach Tony Shaver.

Even so, the stories of these two teams and their respective demises in postseason play are remarkably similar. Both teams were bounced in the semifinal against a favored No. 1 seed in a game in which they played well, but not well enough to win.

I don’t know if I can draw some great conclusion about how two teams built so differently could suffer the same exact fate in the conference tournament. Maybe the conclusion is that the men’s basketball program is cursed. Zero bids to a tournament that has been around since 1939 and now invites a whopping 68 teams might very well be the result of a supernatural force. More likely is the influence of random luck, but they’re basically the same thing, right?

The best way to go after a National Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament appearance, if you’re a coach of a program like the College, is to build a consistent winner year in and year out. At-large bids to the NCAA Tournament are not a viable goal in today’s CAA. A team that wins in the conference regular season will always have a chance in its conference tournament, and therefore will always have that flickering flame of hope that this will be the year.

Some may look at Shaver’s 15 years at the helm of the Tribe, see the lack of NCAA tourney bids, and automatically declare his time in Williamsburg a failure. But he has turned the College into a perennial contender for the CAA crown and by extension an NCAA tournament appearance, something that has rarely been the case over the 109 years of Tribe basketball.

Some may look at Shaver’s 15 years at the helm of the Tribe, see the lack of NCAA tourney bids, and automatically declare his time in Williamsburg a failure. But he has turned the College into a perennial contender for the CAA crown and by extension an NCAA tournament appearance, something that has rarely been the case over the 109 years of Tribe basketball.

Even this year, with its finish that still stings to the heart of the Green and Gold faithful, should be considered a huge success. Picked by the CAA’s coaches to finish eighth in the conference before the season, the Tribe started 5-0 in CAA play and proved itself a force to be reckoned with. The team would then put an exclamation point on the regular season with its Senior Day win against Charleston. How fitting that the same team who would eventually hand the Tribe its most painful loss also provided the College with its most fulfilling win.

The Tribe is set up well for next season to be just as good, if not better. Three starters and, arguably, two of the College’s best three players will be back. Freshmen guards Luke Loewe and Jihar Williams will have to play much bigger roles, but program history suggests they will be up to the task, as the Tribe’s player development is one of the strong suits of the program. And, with the addition of a new class of freshmen, the Tribe should be able to roll with a larger rotation.

Who knows; maybe next season will end just like this season and the one before that. It’s possible, even probable, that next year’s Tribe will not win the CAA or advance to March Madness. But it’ll have as good a shot as anybody else.

For tonight, and probably a good while longer, this loss is going to hurt. It’s going to be tough for Tribe fans to see the team take the floor without senior guard David Cohn, who has been a mainstay for the College over the last three seasons.

But the strength of the Tribe program as a whole should be a point of light. The College will be in the conversation as a contender for the foreseeable future. The Tribe has been in the thick of things for the past number of years. That, in and of itself, is a testament to the strength of the Tribe.

There’s somewhat of a joke between Tribe fans: “There’s always next year.” It’s never a good thing to hear that, because it means that the Tribe has fallen short yet again.

But this time, that phrase is more than just a joke. It carries more weight than a way to make a loss hurt less. The prospects of next season are truly worth honest hope.

And so, Tribe fans, earnestly and hopefully: there’s always next year.