Men’s basketball season preview: Young team eyes CAA Championship

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Forward Paul Rowley is the only returning senior on a young but talented team this season. COURTESY PHOTO / TRIBE ATHLETICS

Last season, William and Mary finished fourth in the Colonial Athletic Association and lost in the CAA semifinals, 83-73, to eventual champions Charleston. This season, the Tribe was once again picked to finish fourth in the CAA, behind Northeastern, Charleston and Hofstra. The team will look to win its first CAA Championship this season after making the championship game four times during head coach Tony Shaver’s 16-year tenure.

The Tribe lost several seniors after last season, including starting guards David Cohn ’18 and Connor Burchfield ’18. Cohn was the undisputed leader of the team after playing his last three seasons at the College when he transferred from Colorado State after his freshman campaign. Cohn averaged 14.2 points and 6.7 assists per game in his senior season. Burchfield had the top three-point percentage in the country last season, shooting 52 percent for the season and 50.7 percent over the course of his career.

“We lost two great offensive players, [there’s] no doubt about that,” Shaver said.

The College will have a young roster this season, with experienced leadership from All-CAA second-team junior forward Nathan Knight, junior forward Justin Pierce and redshirt senior Paul Rowley. Rowley is the lone senior on a team with a total of eight underclassmen. Last season, Pierce averaged 14.7 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. Meanwhile, Knight had a career high of 31 points on multiple occasions last season en route to averaging 18.5 points and 7.3 rebounds.

“I’m going to need to help coach Shaver keep the offense at the speed it was last year,” Knight said.

Some younger returning players from last year will play a key role, including sophomore guards Jihar Williams and Luke Loewe. Both players saw limited action last season, but with Cohn and Burchfield graduated, both players are likely to see more time on the court. Shaver has been especially impressed with Loewe’s performance so far this offseason.

“Luke’s playing at a really high level,” Shaver said. “I have a lot of confidence in Luke Loewe. [He’s] a tough young man, very team-oriented, really good defender on the ball … he’s consistently shooting the ball for us.”

The College will also get a boost from its six freshmen, especially freshman guard LJ Owens. Other freshmen include guards Thornton Scott and Chase Audige.

“This whole season is predicated towards winning those three games in March to get us to the tournament.”

The Tribe will start off the season with a difficult non-conference schedule that will challenge a fairly inexperienced roster. Some key matchups include its season-opener against High Point Nov. 7 at home, road matchups against Atlantic Coast Conference powerhouses Notre Dame and Virginia, Nov. 17 and Dec. 22, and rematches from last season on the road against Marshall and Old Dominion, Nov. 28 and Dec. 5.

“Our non-conference schedule is the most difficult that I’ve faced here at William and Mary,” Shaver said. “It’s really going to be important for our staff and for our team to realize that this non-conference schedule is designed to make us better.”

In conference play, the College will play each of the other CAA teams twice, once at Kaplan Arena and once on the road. The Tribe will start CAA play Dec. 28 at home against James Madison. The College will welcome preseason favorite Northeastern to Williamsburg Jan. 12 and two weeks later, defending CAA champion Charleston will come to Kaplan Arena Jan. 26. The Gold Rush game will be Feb. 2 against Delaware, the same team the College beat in the Gold Rush game last season. The CAA tournament will take place March 9-12 in North Charleston, South Carolina. The winner of the CAA tournament will receive an automatic bid to the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The Tribe is one of four original Division I programs that has never qualified for the tournament.

“This whole season is predicated towards winning those three games in March to get us to the tournament,” Rowley said.