WILLIAMSTOWN -- They may not be completely up to speed yet, but the Williams College men's basketball team that Mike Maker looked to have in November is back on the court now.
And that could help the Ephs, as they battle this weekend for their first NESCAC championship since 2010.
"We're 22-3. We're ranked in the top 10. We're second in our region. The challenges that this team has had and has overcome along with the expectations of all the preseason hype and to play the kind of schedule we have, we're prepared," said the head coach. "We're playing a really good opponent. Our schedule has certainly prepared us for moments like this."
The Ephs will play the second game of the NESCAC semifinal doubleheader at Amherst College today at 4. In the first game, top-seeded and two-time defending champion Amherst will play No. 5 Trinity at 2 p.m. The second-seeded Ephs will play No. 3 Middlebury at 4.
Tickets for the doubleheader are $5 for adults and $2 for students and children. The two semifinal winners will play Sunday at noon.
The four teams that will gather in LeFrak Gymnasium today own every NESCAC title since the conference started playing for a crown in 2001. Amherst has six titles, Williams four, Middlebury two and Trinity has one.
Williams and Amherst both tied atop the NESCAC standings this past season with identical 9-1 records. Williams' only league loss came to the Lord Jeffs, and coach Dave Hixon's team got the tiebreaker, the regular-season title and the top seed in the tournament.
Williams enters play as the hottest team in the conference's Final Four. Williams hasn't lost since dropping a non-conference 82-70 decision to Amherst on Jan. 22. Since then, Williams has won nine straight games.
A 64-61 victory at Middlebury came in the middle of that winning streak.
In that game, Williams trailed 61-60 when Mike Mayer was fouled with 39 seconds left and made two free throws. Midd lebury's Hunter Merryman missed a 3-point shot and Williams' Daniel Wohl rebounded. He was fouled and hit two free throws to make it 64-61. But Middlebury's Dylan Sinnickson missed a trey with two seconds left and Williams escaped with the win.
"We have great respect for Middlebury," said Maker. "They've had a lot of success in the past five years. I'm sure the game will be down to the wire again, as it has been for the past few years against us."
Williams has five double-figure scorers in the lineup, but the Eph head coach said he'll be bringing one off the bench. Freshman Mike Greenman will continue to start at point guard, which allows junior Hayden Rooke-Ley to come off the bench.
"Hayden is clearly one of our better players and has been a very important player for us," said Maker. "We're not going to make a change to our starting lineup because we've won nine in a row and we have great rhythm right now."
Mayer continues to get into game shape. The 6-foot-9 senior center missed five games due to a sprained ankle. He is coming off a 30-point, 8-rebound performance against Tufts in the conference quarterfinals.
"Michael is going to be our focal point for us on the block and away from the goal," said Maker. "He'll have his hands on the ball a lot. We want to have balanced scoring and take high percentage shots, and hope that the game is in the 70s or the 80s."
To reach Howard Herman:
or (413) 496-6253.
On Twitter: @howardherman.