For Part II, we start in the South and work our way to the new conference championship site:
South Carolina – The role of perennial threat to win the conference ended on December 11th, when The College’s best player, Brevin Galloway, went down for the year with an injury. He was their returning leading scorer, far and away their best defender and essentially the glue of the team. Charleston already lacked the talent of prior Earl Grant teams. Now they find themselves a middle of the pack Colonial team.
Earl Grant is in his seventh year in Chucktown. He was an assistant to Pat Dennis, Greg Marshall and Brad Brownell. His pedigree is impeccable. He has turned the program around, however, I was disappointed with him last year. He has stuck to his guns and not changed things up a la Greg Kampe or Bob Huggins to best match his players. He remains a very good coach, just not elite, like I once thought he was headed. I give him credit for switching to a zone defense in the second half of the Drexel game, but it seemed more out of desperation as Drexel got whatever they wanted in first half.
That comeback against the Dragons got the Cougars to 3-1 in conference, but they were fortunate to face a crippled Delaware team and a very giving Drexel team. They are not very good. Improvement is not likely either. Still Grant has got the max out of this bunch sans Galloway. As written prior, the league is weak. They are now the hunters. You never know.
North Carolina – Wilmington got it right this time. They went back to what won before and hired Kevin Keats assistant, Takayo Siddle. The CB McGrath era happily is over. Hint to other mid majors: Do not hire Roy Williams’ assistants, especially if they plan on following his blue print. Elite athletes tend not to not roam the Colonial. Mid major coaches need to be either different, intelligent or both. Siddle has brought back the pressing style of Keats. He has taken last year’s roster added Holy Cross transfer, Joe Pridgen, who in his first game at East Carolina played 41+ minutes, scoring eleven points and seven rebounds, and has them playing to the third highest rated team in the league. They are doing this without their starting point guard, Shykeim Phillips. When normalcy returns, crowds will be rocking again at Trask.
Also in the South Carolinian “we made a great hire” department; we give you Mike Schrage. An assistant to Johnny Dawkins and later and likely where he improved, under Chris Holtman, he was hired to replace Mike Metheny, who made the mistake of improving a program every year, until he did not.
Schrage found some gem recruits and got them to buy into the concept of a team. Elon runs great stuff. They defend with intelligence. Schrage tweaks things each and every game. He did an incredible job in his rookie year. Watch this teams constantly moving, flowing offense. It is a thing of beauty. The Phoenix were hampered, when the appropriately named Butler transfer, Jerald Gillens-Butler, was lost for the year on December 16th. Still, Shrage has recruited well. He has players that have bought in to the team concept. He will win the Colonial within three years. He will then get a bigger job. Elon should enjoy the next few years, while they can.
Elon was swept at now league favorite, Northeastern. It was not unexpected. They have Covid issues now. Their next 2 games are home versus Drexel, on January 23 and 24. Elon is a notch below the best this year, but watch out starting next year. Shrage is the real deal.
Virginia – Those who have read my words, know of my unrelenting respect for former coach, Tony Shaver. His dismissal remains one of the most despicable of my 62.5-year lifetime. He took a program that was dead in the water, at a school that will not bend their academics to allow better basketball players to attend, and made them relevant. What made it even more moronic is that had they given him one more year, they had a team that had Top 20 potential nationally. If you think that statement is rash, Luke Loewe, one of the few that did not transfer, is their best player this year. Chase Audige is playing well in the Big Ten. Justin Pierce transferred to North Carolina! Nathan Knight who remained, recently signed with a small program known as the Atlanta Hawks. Thornton Scott when not injured improved enough to be a very good starting point guard. There were two others that transferred that were very good role players. This would have been a CAA team with the talent of a High Major, instead it became transfer U, right up until their most recent transfer – Samantha Huge.
William and Mary hired long time Dave Paulsen coach, Dane Fischer. It is an excellent hire. It matters not. Shaver had worked miracles at a school that is impossible to win. They would have had far and away the school’s best team ever, not close. There was not one good reason to can Shaver, given the team he was returning. Unless of course, someone wanted him out. Had they let him stay, he would have won the conference. They likely would have been ranked. He was there until he wanted to retire. That did not sit well with an influential alumnus. If the AD wants money, Shaver must go. Incredibly, the AD caved. Most of the team transferred. Fischer did an excellent job just to earn the two seed in the CAA Tournament.
Now in year two, Fischer faces the same battles that all have at William and Mary. Frosh Yuri Covington has done an excellent job in taking over for the often-injured Thornton Scott, who is rumored to have left the program. Scott would be a good fit for an Ivy league school. Another freshman, Connor Kochera, has also played well. There is no doubt Fischer will do an excellent job. He worked under a brilliant basketball mind. That matters not. Had Shaver stayed, William and Mary would have made the eventually cancelled NCAA tournament for the first time in school’s history. Whatever evil happened, screwed young men out of that joy, they screwed a loyal, classy and brilliant coach out of his job, and hurt a fanbase that has simply waited too long to get hit by their own administration like that. The program would have had relevance. Finally. Recruiting would be easier. Yes, it’s worth repeating. All that is done. An example needs to be made of The Tribe’s front office.
In conference play William and Mary lost both games at Hofstra. They beat a crippled Delaware team. They are not very good this year, but Fischer knows what he is doing. They will be OK. It matters not. Shaver should be there with Audige Loewe Scott and whatever new and better recruits that would have been available after last year’s home run team. Shaver would have made them all better. He did it for many years. Even if they build a new arena, the school will never be the cream of the crop. They were last year, until whatever back room discussion occurred. I wish William and Mary, nothing but mediocrity. For once, my wishes will come true.
Over in Nova, another program that made has made a good hire, after struggling with the prior regime. Louis Rowe was worth a gamble. He played at JMU. He is both well-liked and respected. He was in over his head.
Enter Mark Byington, who under the radar, had worked miracles at Georgia Southern. The give him a new arena. The move is already paying dividends. The Dukes are playing to a higher rating than last year.
Boy, does the future look good as Byington now starts all three freshman recruits, Terell Strickland, Terrance Edwards and seemingly the best of the three, Justin Amadi. With terrific senior point guard Matt Lewis, running the show, improvement this year is very likely. Without Vado Morse, JMU went to top 20 VCU and lost by 1. JMU has not played a conference game yet, but they will be a threat to win every night.
The Colonial is down this year, but not for long.