COACH: Tony Shaver (11th season at W&M, 116-189; 28th season overall, 474-310).
OPENER: Nov. 8 at Hampton U.
5 GAMES TO WATCH: Nov. 14 at Wichita State. A valuable early test of where they stand among upper-tier programs.
Dec. 4 vs. Richmond. The Tribe let one get away last year in double overtime at UR.
Dec. 29 at West Virginia. Another interesting national test, this time against a Big 12 program.
Jan. 8 vs. Drexel. CAA opener against a nemesis and a team they hope to supplant.
Feb. 15 vs. Towson. First of two against the CAA preseason favorite.
STRENGTH: Experience and balance. Four of five starters return, along with several key reserves. G Marcus Thornton (18.8 ppg, .435 pct. 3-point) is all-league and teams with Brandon Britt (13.9 ppg) for one of the CAA's best backcourts. F Tim Rusthoven (14.4 ppg, 7 rpg) is productive and versatile and is the Tribe's most important player. F Kyle Gaillard is effective when aggressive. Athletic soph Terry Tarpey should step into the role vacated by Matt Rum. Reserve 'bigs' and a good recruiting class figure to challenge the starters in practice.
WEAKNESS: Inside depth and defense. Rusthoven is one of the league's best big men, but production has been spotty behind him. Part of that is due to the way the Tribe plays — outside-in, with perimeter shooters, and spacing and cutting that create open shots. W&M led the CAA in effective FG percentage, according to numbers guru Ken Pomeroy, but was last in defensive efficiency and effective FG percentage defense — which contributed to a 3-8 record in games decided by six points or fewer, or overtime.
PREDICTION: This feels a little like the 2009-10 team that won 22 games, beat Wake Forest and Maryland, lost in the CAA final and went to the NIT. There is balance and experience, as well as quality. Shaver points out that while there are similarities in terms of depth and experience, the 09-10 team defended, while this one has yet to demonstrate that it can do so consistently. If the Tribe can establish a fourth consistent scorer, or a collection of points from several outside the Big Three, it will be a bear to defend because of its playing style. If W&M doesn't finish in the top half of the league and challenge the best teams, the season will be a disappointment.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun