Game 1: St. John's vs WIlliam & Mary Tribe (Coaches vs Cancer regional round)

Mood music: Nas, New York State of Mind (video, opens in new window. NSFW audio, naughty language)
Tip Off: 7:00 PM, Eastern
Vs: William & Mary Tribe (0-0)
Location: Carnesecca Arena, New York, NY
TV: ESPNU | Radio: Bloomberg Radio AM 1130
Opposition blog/ message boardGheorghe: The Blog | CAA Hoops (the excellent Colonial Athletic Association blog) | CAA Zone - William & Mary forum

See also5 Questions, Q & A with Gheorghe: The Blog

The College of William and Mary is old, old school, founded for and named after King William III and Queen Mary II.

The school is even older than Rutgers, and it has maintained a selective, elite academic reputation. Thomas Jefferson went there, as did John Tyler and James Monroe. So did Glenn Close, Patton Oswalt, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin (he played football there), and the Daily Show's Jon Stewart (he played soccer at W&M). It's an elite academic institution.

But you're not here to discuss academics. No one puts academics on ESPN, right? (Except for the spelling bee, if that counts.)

The William and Mary basketball team, unlike their academics, have been far from elite. The Tribe are one of a handful of programs in Division I who have never played a game in the NCAA Tournament. Since the beginning of their basketball history in 1905, the Tribe have made a tremendous two NIT appearances in 1983 and 2010. That's 105 years of no-postseason futility.

Eat your heart out, Cubs.

Despite the years of futility, hoops are on an upswing. The Tribe have an all-Colonial Athletic (CAA) First-Team member, a developing and talented roster, and an ability to score. Tonight, they get to show how much they have changed in front of a national audience; the 7 pm matchup is college basketball's first game of the 2011-12 season as part of the Coaches vs Cancer/ 2K Sports Classic.

With Mike Dunlap continuing to coach in Steve Lavin's stead as he recovers from surgery, will the Tribe be a test for the Red Storm with their perimeter shooting and deliberate style - or the running game their head coach has hoped to implement?

Learn more about the Tribe, their stars and injuries, and what the Red Storm need to watch out for in tomorrow's matchup... after the jump.

Storm Warnings: William and Mary Tribe

William_and_mary_logo_medium Head Coach Tony Shaver enters his ninth season at the helm of William and Mary with two winning records, one .500 record, a pair of ten-win seasons, and his first three years, where he won 7, 8, and 8 games after taking the job. Not a great record, but better than what came before his tenure.

Shaver's teams at Division III Hampden-Sidney played fast, aggressive ball, winning over 350 games on that level and continuously making the D-III NCAA Tournament. That style didn’t translate to D-I hoops with the kind players he could get to attend William and Mary.

So Shaver slowed the pace, spread the floor, found some shooters, and hoped to defend well enough to get by.

His teams attempt a lot of outside shots, pass the ball well, and when they're falling, the Tribe are an offensive assault from all directions on the court. The issue for Shaver's teams have been getting a defense that is good enough to win on the floor with that offense. In a sense, the Tribe are a version of the Big East’s Notre Dame. Or maybe Northwestern; as mentioned, William and Mary have also never been to the NCAA Tournament like their purple Illinois brethren.

Last year, youth, poor interior defense, and difficulties in holding on to the ball hurt the Tribe, dooming them to a 10-22 overall record with 5 conference wins.

But this year, W&M has been picked sixth in the CAA's media/ coaches' poll. The Tribe return 88% of their minutes, 85.6% of their scoring, and 81.9% of their rebounding. And Coach Shaver feels that he may finally have the athletes to play a more aggressive, athletic, uptempo style.

There is a hope that familiarity and age combines to build something special on the campus in Williamsburg; but sometimes, the needed change isn't time, it's talent.

Did you know? The Tribe has lost to St. John's three times... but the last time was in 1960.

William and Mary: Profile + Injuries

This year the hope is that the lessons served as a young team will mean more success the second time around. But there are injuries to three key players who were expected to be in the starting lineup:

Quinn McDowell - the leading scorer and all-CAA performer may not make will be limited in tomorrow’s game; he is nursing back and knee/ meniscus injuries.

Tim Rusthoven - the king of floor burns and floppy hair nursed a shoulder injury last year, and suffered a foot injury in the Tribe's preseason.

Kyle Gaillard - has a cracked femur, and should be out for the year.

Still, the Tribe has a style that can be dangerous to any team - they take threes, and opposing big men have to chase the Tribe far from the basket. The Tribe are also willing to play 3- and 4-guard looks to create mismatches on offense. There are a number of shooters, some experience, and even a hotshot athletic freshman in Marcus Thornton from the DC Assault AAU program. 

They have never been a great defensive team under Shaver; but they are happy to outscore their opponents.

Tribe StrengthSpacing and shooting. The Tribe feature three returnees who shot 38% or higher from the perimeter - forward Quinn McDowell (45.5%), guard Julian Boatner (40%), and center JohnMark Ludwick (38%). Ludwick takes 90% of his shots from outside of the arc. Point guard Brandon Britt isn't shy about shooting. He can get hot, despite his 31.2% shooting last year. Tim Rusthoven's play means that the Johnnies can't ignore the paint, either, even if he's 6'8 and 210 pounds.

Note that McDowell can score inside the arc as well (49.4% shooting), draws fouls, and doesn't cough the ball up; if his knee injury allows him to play his full game, he can be an explosive scorer. The Red Storm could be in for a tough defensive night if McDowell can get comfortable and get his shots.

Tribe StrengthNot fouling. W&M, despite not preventing shots from being made in their zone, didn’t foul very much, allowing a 29.8% Free Throws attempted to Field Goals attempted ratio. The Chicago forwards Rusthoven (5 fouls per 40 minutes) and Fred Heldring (4.7 fouls per 40) are the most foul-prone of the Tribe returnees.

Tribe WeaknessField goal defense. The Tribe have never been particularly adept at defense - they will rebound, they won’t help the opposition out by bailing them out with fouls. But they’re mostly ineffective at forcing misses (allowing an effective FG% of 50.1, 226th in the nation), forcing turnovers (15.5% of opponents’ possessions, 342nd in the country), or blocking shots (8.3% of opponents’ shots, 207th). The most physical player, Marcus Kitts, has graduated; but there’s hope that Rusthoven can provide some gritty interior defensive play.

Tribe WeaknessThe crispy turnover. William and Mary lost a number of close games in conference play. And the Tribe turned the ball over on 20.8% of their possessions. If the Tribe dropped that number to 18% of their possessions, that’s at least one extra possession they have to get a good shot off - and one less possession for the other team. In a 2-3 point game, that would have given William and Mary a chance at a win. At many wins, actually.

Storm Warnings: St. John’s

The Johnnies enter the season with a completely new, completely athletic, and completely green squad. Nurideen Lindsey is the pilot, the driving ballhandler for the team, with God`sgift Achiuwa and Maurice Harkless as the first and second options when he's not taking the shots.  

D`Angelo Harrison is the outside shooting option, even if his shot hasn't been falling yet; perhaps like Paris Horne in his first few games as a freshman, it may just take a few weeks for Harrison to settle in. Phil Greene is the other outside shooter off of the bench.

There's little depth in the paint, so the defensive effort for the Johnnies has to come in between the three-point arcs, with extended pressure, traps, and coordinated gambles for the ball. 

The danger for the Red Storm is on defense. The zone allowed over 37% shooting from the perimeter last year. Despite being taller and longer defensively on the perimeter, the Red Storm look as if a coordinated and prepared team with good passing could strafe them on the same level this season.

At their best, William and Mary are a coordinated, prepared team with good passing. Keep that in mind.

See our preseason Storm Warnings for more on what the Red Storm showed in exhibition play.

The Five Points a/k/a Keys to the Game

Force turnovers. As a team, William and Mary was mistake-prone team that turned the ball over on over 20% of their possessions (216th in the country). The fewer chances Quinn McDowell and the deep-shooting Tribe has to score, the better for St. John's. Kendrix Brown is a senior who plays some point for the Tribe; he is very turnover prone, as was returning guard Matt Rum.

Score in transition. The Johnnies' style is predicated on being able to run and attack with excellent transition athletes. God`sGift has a unique combination of size and agility, and he should be able to outrun the Tribe's young and perimeter-oriented, slim forwards. Getting into W&M's soft forward depth and getting easy shots is a win-win; and St. John's needs to impose its identity of the Tribe early and often.

Disrupt the passing. The Tribe expect to make shots from distance, and they will hit a few long jumpers. So it's important to keep their players from spotting up comfortably. The Red Storm have to make sure each pass is made under some pressure, so the ball doesn't land in a shooter's hands right when and where he wants it for a shot attempt. For good shooters, being in their face isn't enough.

Rebound the misses. St. John's wants to get second chance looks, especially if some members of the team shot as poorly as they did in exhibition play. William and Mary was actually a solid defensive rebounding team, though they do it by committee. It'll take work to get at those offensive rebounds, and smart shooting as well.

Stay cool. There's a lot that both teams don't know about each other going in to the game. Many adjustments will need to be made, and college play needs execution, smarts, and a cool head. The Johnnies have fought back from deficits against low-level exhibition opponents, and they have to be ready to do the same against the Tribe, especially if William and Mary comes out with hot shooting.

Prediction: with so many Tribe players nursing injuries, and the Tribe's struggles last year, it's hard to see St. John's losing. But everything about this team is new, and the Tribe may be looking to run with the Storm. That said, I'll predict a limited Quinn McDowell and 71-64 St. John's win.

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