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St. John's/ William and Mary preview: 5 questions with Gheorghe the Blog

Like we always do about this time...

A St. John's basketball season - and the first basketball game of the 2011-2012 season - means that we're firing up the 5 Questions tradition that we did on the Rumble (and when this blog was the East Coast Bias) for a new season. This time, our guests are TJ and Rob from Gheorghe: The Blog (TJ also works at SB Nation DC).

Deep thanks to this pair of William and Mary grads who don't take themselves too seriously for helping Red Storm fans understand this William and Mary Tribe squad a little better. Following a team that has never made the NCAA Tournament while still enjoying college basketball has to include an appreciation of the ludicrous, I suppose.

Despite being W&M grads, they won't speak on the awesomeness of William and Mary women's rugby, which probably has a better history than the Tribe's basketball team.  Still, we discuss William and Mary's 10-22 record last year, their former Native American nickname, star Quinn McDowell, and Tony Shaver's killer mustache, below the fold.

Make sure to look out for our game preview by tomorrow morning, and the in-game thread for fans' commentary tomorrow around 6.30 pm before the game.

RUMBLE: 1. So... what's up with this team? How did the Tribe lose so many games? As in, what went wrong, over and over again? Even those ten wins look suspect - a non-Division 1 team, a weak MEAC team, a weak Radford team, James Madison twice... the good win is over Drexel. Were the Tribe young or just kind of... bad?

Gheorghe: The Blog: Not only was the Tribe young, they were very young.

As well as young.

Tony Shaver’s offensive system is fairly complex, and the CAA – as most of the country has figured out now – is a tough league that’s especially hard on youthful teams. That youth showed up in a number of endgame situations, as 12 of the Tribe’s losses in 2010-11 were by 6 or fewer points, including a dagger overtime loss at the hands of Hofstra’s Charles Jenkins.

This year’s team is still fairly wet behind the ears, but sophomore guards Brandon Britt and Julian Boatner have a full year under their belts, and freshman Marcus Thornton is the most dynamic player to enroll in Williamsburg since Thomas Jefferson was chucking apples through the old cooper’s barrel stays.

2. Quinn McDowell is efficient (119.7 offensive rating, all-CAA selection, 45.5% from 3-point percentage, 15.5 ppg). Why doesn't he get more shots?

Gheorghe: McDowell’s a terrific teammate and a nearly perfect fit in Shaver’s offense, but that sometimes means that he doesn’t look for his own shot as aggressively as Tribe fans might like.

When he’s feeling it, he’s capable of performances like the one he dropped on JMU in the first round of last year’s CAA Tournament. His 35-point performance broke the conference tournament record, and included a fadeaway heat-check three-pointer in the waning stages of the first half that looked for all the world it belonged in Michael Jordan’s demolition of the Blazers in Game 1 of the 1992 NBA Finals.

W&M fans are eagerly anticipating McDowell’s senior season, though an early-camp injury will slow him in the first few games – the Johnnies may not get to see the real deal.

3. What's the best way to stifle the William & Mary offense, besides chloroform and a burlap sack?

Hope the Tribe misses shots.

3a. So who on this team can't shoot?

A few of the bigs, like Fred Heldring and Tim Rusthoven, aren’t much outside paint, but just about everyone else, including Coach Shaver, can light it up.

4. What kind of defense does W&M run? Should the defense be better, and what kind of players team the Tribe defense up?

Shaver made his bones at Hampden-Sydney with a high-pressure man-to-man style, but W&M’s athletic deficiencies make that a very difficult system to run in Williamsburg. It’s a testament to Shaver’s coaching acumen that he found success after completing scrapping the offensive and defensive systems that got him elected to his previous employer’s hoops hall of fame.

The Tribe run a number of different defensive sets, changing to suit their opponent’s strength, but defense is still not the squad’s hallmark. They don’t turn opponents over very much at all, give up fairly high shooting percentages, and don’t rebound all that well. While the 2011-12 squad looks to be one of the more athletic in W&M history, the Tribe will still live or die by their ability to shoot the three and outscore the opposition.

5. Ok, so give us the story of the name changes and mascot searches for William and Mary. Are they still using the Griffin mascot? A mythical creature, like sports success? (ed: note -You know who else has the Griffin as a mascot? Sarah Lawrence College. Did you even know they had sports teams?)

The Griffin is a bit of a sore subject for the boys at Gheorghe: The Blog. We wrote about it at some length when the announcement was made. Our anti-Griffin rant even got picked up by The Atlantic.

Wm_indian_logo_medium W&M’s mascot history has some similarities with that of St. John’s.

We were the Indians forever, then the Tribe since the mid-1980s. As recently as the mid-90s we had a squaw running around at sporting events. And until the mid-2000s, feathers adorned our interlocked WM logo until the NCAA, in its infinite and totally, completely fair wisdom told us that they were offended.

Chief Osceola still gets to put on warpaint and chuck a flaming spear into the field at Doak Walker while halfwit Seminole fans drone on in their phone native war cry, but W&M’s feathers make NCAA mucketymucks cry. But we don’t have any hard feelings.

Bonus question: So, is the program better than when Tony Shaver started coaching them?

Yes, oh my God, yes. Tribe fans have suffered through some of the worst coaches in modern hoops history. Chuck Swenson guided W&M to a 9-45 mark during my first two years in Williamsburg, for Chrissakes.

That’s not a typo. That’s historically awful.

Not only does Shaver have a killer mustache, but he’s developed a style perfectly suited to the type of intelligent, athletically-limited players W&M traditionally gets. Now that the Tribe’s had some success, Shaver’s starting to get better recruits – and the CAA’s raised profile certainly doesn’t hurt. This Tribe team is picked to finish 6th in the CAA, and we’re calling that the highest expectations in decades. Says something about the hole Shaver had to dig out of when he got to Williamsburg.

Bonus question: If you have an opinion, what's the best and the worst thing about William and Mary as a school?

The worst, by a longshot, is the self-seriousness of too many of the people involved with the school, which translates into both a limited social scene and a corresponding reputation. The best, besides the alumni segment represented by Gheorghe: The Blog, is the setting – it’s a gorgeous campus in a neat little historical town.