[Note: I’ve added a TON of new links so I’ve taken the liberty of moving this post up]. Congrats to the Williams men’s basketball team for making its fifth final four (most of any team in the country since the Ephs became NCAA eligible) since 1997, and first since 2004. Williams, led by Josten’s winner Blake Schultz’s 29 points, played a great game to pull out a gritty victory against a determined, veteran Brandeis team and earn the trip to Salem, Virginia. Schultz, by my count, is 17 points away from becoming only the fourth Eph to score 1500 career points. Coach Mike Maker (coach of the year), Schultz (player of the year) and James Wang (first team) all earned regional honors. Schultz, already an NABC all-American, (and possibly even Wang) is expected to earn additional all-American recognition as well on Saturday. Sports Info has prepared several great features leading up to the game: this story introduces the Ephs’ assistant coaches, here is a story on the Ephs as they prepared to depart for Salem, and this story chronicles the Ephs’ activities leading up to game time.
The Ephs play Guilford (which survived a very tough sectional) at 5:00 Friday; the game will be webcast by the NCAA, and if the Ephs win, Saturday’s championship will be televised. If the Ephs lose, seniors Blake Schultz and Joe Geoghegan will play in Saturday’s senior all-star game. Get pumped up for tonight’s semifinal by watching Eph highlights here, here, and here. You can also find many more highlights and interviewes with coaches and players at the archived men’s basketball shows. Also read Ben Coffin 04’s thoughts on what it takes to be a champion. Both Guilford and Williams prepared extensive game notes for this afternoon’s game. The Ephs will aim this weekend to become the first New England team to capture two national titles.
Second-ranked Williams will face its toughest foe of the year in Friday’s semifinal. Guilford, ranked third in the country (and ranked first for a good portion of the year) has, like Williams, had a dominant year. They are experienced, relying on three senior stars who played in last year’s Final Four and helped lead the team to NCAA tourney appearances the prior two years. They are also likely to have a huge crowd presence in Salem, as Guilford is only two hours from the Salem Civic Center (Guilford recently won the ODAC conference tourney, which is held in the same building, so they are well-acquainted with the court), and almost its entire roster consists of local players. Guilford’s top player is all-American (and South regional player of the year) center Tyler Sanborn, who is a load inside at 6’10, 260. He is by far the toughest interior player the Ephs have faced this year, and probably for several years. If Williams’ own stellar center tandem of Joe Geoghegan and Troy Whittington can handle Sanborn without much help inside (or better yet, get him in foul trouble on defense), the Ephs will have a very good shot. Sanborn is scary good, averaging 20 points, 14 boards, and two blocks in 26 minutes per game. Joe and Troy, both fantastic players in their own right, COMBINE to average 18-14-2.5 in 37 minutes per game. Guilford’s other star is all-region guard Clay Hanson, who is nearly as productive as Williams’ own likely all-American Blake Schultz, and like Schultz is a deadly outside shooter (he is Guilford’s all-time leader in threes) who can also take it to the hole. Finally, both teams have very good point guards in James Wang for Williams and Rhett Bhonner for Guilford. Wang is a bit more dynamic as a scorer, and this is a match-up the Ephs will likely need to win if they hope to take Guilford down. Each team has a future star off the bench in precocious frosh Josh Pittman for Guilford (a great shooter / scorer) and Nate Robertson for the Ephs (more of a playmaker, less of a scoring threat). The x-factors for the Ephs may be Harlan Dodson and in particular Alex Rubin, both of whom are capable of scoring in bunches and will hurt any team that focuses too intensely on stopping Schultz and Wang. The teams look VERY even on paper and it should be a great match-up. You can see highlights of one of Guilford’s recent NCAA victories here. I especially enjoyed the announcer’s proclivity for shouting “give a dog a bone!”
If the Ephs can get past Guilford, they’ll play the winner of the Wisconsin Stevens-Point vs. Randolph Macon (like Guilford, a member of the very tough ODAC conference) semifinal. Both teams are, unfortunately, familiar to Eph fans. WSP won the first of two straight national titles by knocking off Williams in dramatic fashion to end the Ephs’ most recent Salem trip. They don’t have the same star power as the 2004 edition (two all-American players) but they are very balanced and efficient on both offense and defense, and have tons of tourney experience (they are playing in the tourney for the fourth straight year). They play in the WIAC, the best D-III conference in the country most years, so they are certainly battle tested. WSP’s top players are veterans Matt Moses ’10, Louis Hurd ’11, and Jared Jenkins ’11, but like the Ephs, they have seven legit players, all of whom can do some serious damage if given the opportunity.
WSP will be favored against RMC, which handed the Ephs their only loss of this season back in December, when the Ephs fumbled away a huge second half lead in a game they had been dominating. During the post game interview on Saturday, the Ephs revealed that they’ve kept a copy of the RMC program in the locker room, and they look at it before each game to remind them to value every possession. RMC’s Danny Jones ate the Ephs alive, but Williams has improved on defense considerably since then. RMC is another team which doesn’t feature one or two stars, but rather relies on very balanced scoring, a deep bench, players who know their roles well, and fantastic defense. They won’t wow you in warm-ups, but they are well-coached and play within themselves. Defensive stopper Jordan Brown is a tough match-up for any offensive player and will likely be assigned to Blake Schultz should the teams face off again. Eric Pugh is a stellar outside shooter who earlier this year had a big game to help RMC beat D-1 American, and also lit up F&M in the elite eight. Brandon Braxton is a talented 6’9 center, and Jones can score in bunches, as the Ephs learned first hand. But really, RMC, who as another local school will surely have a huge crowd on hand in Salem, has 8-9 guys that it relies on almost equally, which makes them difficult to prepare for.
The Ephs’ fan support was absolutely tremendous last weekend. Great to see the type of school spirit and community bonding that a big-time sporting event can engender on campus. I hope at least some students and community members are able to make the long trip to Salem on Friday, to help counteract what will surely be a massive crowd of Guilford supporters. [Update, based on the post comments below and this article, it sounds like a small but hopefully boisterous group of supporters will be on hand]. Will we see and hear more magical moments like this shot, five years ago, from Guilford’s Jordan Snipes, or Tucker Kain’s famous game-tying three vs. Amherst? We’ll find out in a few hours! Good luck to the Ephs!