Former Champions Highlight Field of Four
HADLEY, Mass. – Williams College will look to become the first team to win five conference crowns when the defending champion Ephs host the final rounds of the 2011 NESCAC Men's Basketball Championship this weekend at Chandler Gymnasium in Williamstown, Mass. Saturday's semifinals, which feature four teams that each have at least one NESCAC title to their credit, begin at 2:00 p.m. when top-seeded Williams takes on fourth-seeded Trinity, followed at 4:00 p.m. with second-seeded Middlebury facing third-seeded Amherst.
Saturday's winners will advance to Sunday's championship with a scheduled tip time of 12:00 p.m. Tickets for each day are $5 for adults and $2 for students. A live webcast along with live statistics will be offered for all games this weekend courtesy of Williams College.
For Williams (24-1, 9-0 NESCAC), the 2010-11 campaign has already had quite a few similarities to last year's remarkable season. The Ephs marched through the conference schedule undefeated for the second year in a row, capping it off with a hard-fought, 74-70 victory over rival Amherst at home on Feb. 12, and head into the semifinals once again with a 24-1 record after dispatching Bowdoin in the quarterfinals this past Saturday, 82-62. Williams' lone loss came at the hands of Amherst during the annual non-conference meeting between the two back on Jan. 8, a 92-89 overtime decision in favor of the Lord Jeffs. Eph fans would like to see this season continue to mirror the last with yet another NESCAC title at the end of the week. For Williams, the biggest difference between last year and this year has been the loss of standout guard/forward Blake Schultz to graduation. Schultz piled up the honors in 2010, coming away as the NESCAC Player of the Year, a First Team All-American, and the winner of the Jostens Trophy, all while leading the league in scoring with nearly 20 points per game. Replacing that kind of point production is never easy, however the Ephs haven't missed a beat thanks to the strong play of senior Troy Whittington (Brooklyn, N.Y.) and junior James Wang (Sydney, Australia), both of whom rank among the top five scorers in the conference. The prolific Wang is a threat to score from anywhere on the floor and heads up the Eph offense with 18.4 points per game. Whittington, who missed four games midway through the year due to injury, is second for Williams in scoring at 16.8 points, as he leads the nation in field goal percentage at .714 (130-182), while also grabbing a team-best 9.3 rebounds per game. The two former All-NESCAC honorees are not only strong candidates for this year's All-Conference First Team but are also top contenders for the league's Player of the Year award.
Looking to prevent the Ephs from reaching Sunday's final will be fourth-seeded Trinity (14-11, 4-5 NESCAC). While the Bantams knew heading into the last weekend of the regular season that they would be home during the quarterfinal round, they also knew that facing Williams and Middlebury would not be an easy road trip. After falling to the Ephs on Friday, Feb. 11 by an 86-60 score, Trinity turned around the next afternoon and held the league's top defensive team to its lowest point total of the year in a tight 57-56 loss to the Panthers. It may not have been the result the Bantams wanted, but it did provide them a bit of momentum heading into a first round showdown with a resurgent Tufts squad which they handled on Saturday, 70-47. The victory over the Jumbos returned Trinity to the semifinals for the first time since it ran all the way to its first conference crown in 2008. This weekend features the top four teams in the NESCAC in terms of defense, with Trinity and Williams tied for second having both allowed 60.9 points per game this year. When it comes to offense, the Ephs are second to none as they have outscored foes by 22.1 points per game - roughly 17 points more than the Bantams. Saturday's first semifinal will be the second meeting between the two in tournament history after Williams upended Trinity 91-89 in the semis en route to the 2007 title. Leading the way for the Bantams this weekend will be the senior tandem of Luke MacDougall (Baldwinsville, N.Y.) and Brian Ford (Bronx, N.Y.). The pair lead Trinity in scoring this season, with MacDougall scoring 13.3 points per game and Ford averaging 12.6 points.
The past four years have been some of the most historic for Middlebury (23-1, 8-1 NESCAC). The Panthers earned their first tournament victory in 2008, claimed the program's first NESCAC championship in 2009, won the most games in program history 2010, and reached the NCAA Tournament in all three years. This season, Middlebury completed its conference schedule with an 8-1 mark for the third consecutive year, suffering its only loss of the overall season in a 69-64 setback at travel partner Williams on Jan. 29 in a rematch of the 2010 title game. Defense has been a key component to the Panthers' recent success and this year is no exception. Middlebury sits atop the conference and is among the top 10 nationally in points allowed, averaging a league-low 56.6 points per game, while also holding opponents to a .346 shooting percentage and a .294 showing from beyond the arc, both conference bests. During Saturday's quarterfinal against seventh-seeded Connecticut College, the Panthers left little doubt as the Camels only managed 41 points on just .222 shooting - the lowest totals in tournament history. Looking to lead their team to two more victories this weekend will be the tandem of junior Ryan Sharry (Braintree, Mass.) and senior Andrew Locke (Seattle, Wash.). Sharry paces the Panthers, averaging a double-double with 13.8 points and 10.2 rebounds per game on .556 shooting. The 6-10 Locke, who missed Saturday's first round due to injury, is third in scoring at 10.8 points and first in blocks, as his 4.05 per game headline the conference's best swat team.
Amherst (22-2, 7-2 NESCAC) controlled its own destiny heading into the final weekend of the regular season. The undefeated Lord Jeffs sat tied atop the NESCAC standings with the rival Ephs with two games left to play, both daunting road contests against Middlebury and Williams. In order to guarantee itself the tournament's top seed Amherst would need a pair of victories, however the Jeffs came up short as they lost two close contests, 69-61 at Middlebury on Feb. 11 and 74-70 at Williams on Feb. 12. Amherst returned to its winning ways during the quarterfinals, eventually pulling away from sixth-seeded Bates in a 77-61 final. The Lord Jeffs have won more tournament games than any other team in the conference, 22 in all, and are tied with Williams in conference crowns with four apiece. It's been awhile since Amherst last celebrated a NESCAC championship, though. After taking the title in 2006 the Jeffs have fallen in the final to Williams (2007) and Middlebury (2009). Hoping to reverse the recent trend is one of the deepest Jeff squads in recent memory with five players averaging in double-figures, including senior Conor Meehan (Meriden, Conn.) and freshman Aaron Toomey (Greensboro, N.C.). The two are atop the Amherst stat sheet with Meehan scoring 13.0 points per game and the rookie phenom Toomey at 12.4.
2011 NESCAC MEN'S BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIP
Quarterfinals - Saturday, Feb. 19 at Higher Seeds
at No. 1 Williams 82, No. 8 Bowdoin 62
at No. 2 Middlebury 61, No. 7 Connecticut College 41
at No. 3 Amherst 77, No. 6 Bates 61
at No. 4 Trinity 70, No. 5 Tufts 47
Semifinals - Saturday, February 26 at Williams
No. 4 Trinity at No. 1 Williams - 2:00 p.m.
No. 3 Amherst vs. No. 2 Middlebury - 4:00 p.m.
Championship - Sunday, February 27
Semifinal winners - 12:00 p.m.