W&M Counting On February Thaw
Posted: February 6, 2013
HARRISONBURG - After a 1-4 stretch that nearly knocked his team out of tournament contention in 2011, Virginia Commonwealth coach Shaka Smart took a calendar and burned February, indicating to his team that it was time to move on to March. The Rams famously flipped their season and reached the first Final Four in school history.
William & Mary coach Tony Shaver recently took a page out of Smart's book - and out of his own calendar.
After his team finished last month with a 1-8 record, Shaver instructed the Tribe to slash January.
"January was a brutal month for our team," Shaver said Tuesday. "Our travel was crazy, hard. I think physically and mentally it drained our team during that month. If I'm right, I think we were on the road 20 of 30 days in January. We played seven out of 10 games on the road.
"…We had them tear up the January calendar and said to them, 'The schedule is more favorable to us - the last half of the conference slate here. Good things ahead for us,' and I do believe that."
W&M is 1-0 in February as it gets set to play James Madison on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Convocation Center. The Dukes, who won their last four games in January, started this month with a loss to George Mason and are also looking to turn the page.
"As I said last week, [the Mason] game isn't the Super Bowl for our season," JMU coach Matt Brady said. "Whether we won or we lost, we were going to turn the page and the next game is going to become vitally important to us, very critical that we win on Wednesday."
Brady believes William & Mary (9-12 overall, 3-7 in the CAA) is much better than its record. The Tribe is the only team in the CAA with two of the league's top 10 scorers.
Dreadlocked sophomore guard Marcus Thornton ranks third in the CAA with 18 points per game and junior forward Tim Rusthoven averages 15. Junior guard Brandon Britt adds 13.3 points per game, while junior forward Kyle Gaillard puts in 9.2 on 57.1 percent shooting (which would be tops in the league if he shot enough to qualify).
"In a lot of ways, this might be his best team," Brady said of Shaver's group. "But strangely enough, here he is, he's still trying to figure it out. I think he's got a really athletic backcourt. … They have the added dimension of being able to throw the ball [to Rusthoven] into the low post and score, which they've never really had."
So why has W&M struggled? Defense is the main culprit. The Tribe allows a league-worst 1.077 points per possession in Colonial games. During an eight-game losing streak that started at the end of December and covered much of January, W&M yielded 75.9 points per game.
In the last three games, William & Mary has limited opponents to an average of 60.3 points. The Tribe has won two of those games.
"We're defending much better right now - that's probably the best thing," Shaver said. "We've had three good defensive games in a row and won two of those three. We're defending better, and if we shoot the ball well, we feel like we can be a good basketball team."
William & Mary began the season 7-3, but it came against the one of the nation's weakest schedules, to that point. It then had to play on the road at Purdue and Vanderbilt before starting its CAA schedule, which began with a home game against George Mason followed by three straight roadies.
W&M will be on the road again Wednesday, but it's not like Harrisonburg has been a house of horrors for the Tribe. W&M has won three of the last four meetings against JMU, including two of the last three in the Convo.
"Throughout my years here, we've always had a hard time with William & Mary," said leading scorer Rayshawn Goins (13.8 ppg), who's been with the Dukes for three seasons but missed last year with a shoulder injury.
Goins hurt a muscle in his right foot last weekend but expects to play against the Tribe. He's seen enough of W&M to be wary of the team's Princeton style offense, which features sharp back-door cuts, crisp passing and spot-on shooting, when all goes according to plan.
Defending William & Mary is such a different animal that Brady said he plans to alter his starting five for this specific game, possibly reinserting agile 6-foot-5 forward Alioune Diouf into the lineup in place of the 6-9 Taylor Bessick.
"Every year this game is a big game for us," JMU senior A.J. Davis said. "… Just knowing the style of offense that they play and the things that they do, we really have to be dialed in and focused on guarding those guys."
Guarding W&M will likely involve pressing - which the Dukes have done more often at home than on the road. The Tribe has committed a turnover on 16 percent of its possessions this season, which ranks among the worst 10 percent of all teams in college basketball.