Looking Forward: William & Mary

While your calendar may show the year as 2015, William & Mary basketball fans will forever refer to this year as Year One A.M.T. (After Marcus Thornton).

While the Tribe’s all-time leading scorer and ‘14-‘15 CAA Player of the Year is busy balling down under with the Sydney Kings (after being drafted by the Boston Celtics), William & Mary must now pick up where Thornton left off in its chase for an ever-elusive ticket to the Big Dance.

Although the Tribe has the unenviable task of replacing one of its all-time greats, there are two very substantial pieces of good news:

  1. William & Mary is certainly not the only CAA squad that must replace a game-changing talent (see Lee, Damion and Eatherton, Scott).
  1. To borrow a phrase from nearly every other ’15-’16 Tribe basketball season preview that has been written (or will be written): “The cupboard is nowhere near bare.”

That’s right — minus Thornton, all the key players from last year’s regular season championship group return, with a few new faces to boot.

The task of upholding William & Mary’s newfound hoops tradition will rest squarely on the shoulders of senior forward Terry Tarpey. Last season, Tarpey was the ultimate “glue guy” — he flew around the court and did all the dirty work: collecting rebounds, diving for loose balls, dishing out assists, and even made a few adorable attempts at dunking the ball. For his efforts, Tarpey earned the distinction of being the first Tribe basketball player win the CAA Defensive Player of the Year award.

The question remains, though, how much Tarpey’s role will change this season. Up to this point, he hasn’t been a prolific scorer — you sort of look at the box score at the end of the game and realize that all of his scrappy offensive rebounds and fast break scrambles somehow added up to 15 points.

To put it more colorfully: Tarpey was an amazing Robin to Thornton’s Batman, but will he be able to serve as this year’s Caped Crusader? And better yet, does Tribe head coach Tony Shaver even want Tarpey to be Batman, or would he simply prefer that Tarpey continue being Tarpey, and replace Thornton’s scoring with a strong supporting cast of three-point shooters?

To that end, the Tribe may to look to a pair of junior sharpshooters for its offensive mojo. Omar Prewitt had a nice follow up to his sensational freshman season, especially in the CAA Tournament, and will be a focal point of the Tribe offense.

Daniel Dixon started off as a defensive savant, but has slowly morphed into a deadly three-point shooter who was responsible for one of the most thrilling finishes in recent Tribe basketball memory (#SorryHofstra).

Senior forward Sean Sheldon was steady yet unspectacular last season, and the Tribe could definitely use a scoring boost from down low. If Sheldon merely maintains the 6.2 points per game he averaged last season, the Tribe will be just fine. Also, very glad to see that Sheldon will continue to sport the league’s most adored and oft-chronicled man bun.

Perhaps the most interesting player this season is Colorado State transfer David Cohn. Tribe fans have been buzzing about his potential this offseason, but there’s really no way to know until he hits the court.

Cohn is touted as the elusive “true point guard” that the Tribe has been searching for since the days of Sean McCurdy (who also transferred in from Arkansas). Instead of playing three shooting guards at the same time as he has been wont to do, Shaver may be able to run a more traditional offensive system with Cohn at the point. He averaged 3.9 points in 15 minutes a game (38.5% from the field) at Colorado State, so there’s hope that he can help chip in from a scoring perspective as well.

Shaver has a little more leeway on the bench than he’s had in years past, and could end up having an eight-man rotation by season’s end.

Guard Greg Malinowski averaged 16 minutes a game last year, and could pitch in a stray 3-pointer here and there. Forward Jack Whitman will reprise his role as Sheldon’s backup, and could see more time if Sheldon fades down the stretch. Guard Connor Burchfield earned more and more playing time as last season wore on, and you can pretty much pencil him in for at least one three a game.

From there, the question marks begin. Oliver Tot and Michael Schlotman have both shown potential at guard, but will need to overcome injuries to break through. The message board faithful love redshirt freshman forward Paul Rowley, but there’s no way to know his capabilities until he plays his first game.

Freshman forward Hunter Seacat is the first Tribe big man in recent memory that doesn’t need to immediately visit all the pancake houses on Richmond Road to put on 45 pounds — he’s already listed at 6’9”, 235 pounds — but he could be headed for a redshirt season.

The Tribe has been slated to finish in fourth place, and that’s a pretty fair projection. In most respects, this appears to be a classic Tony Shaver team — there’s a surplus of shooters, a desperate need for impactful big men, and a healthy dose of optimism.

The question remains: will Shaver’s rag-tag group of sharpshooters be able to outduel Hofstra, Northeastern and JMU?

— Mike Barnes (@mjbarnes24)

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