SALEM, Va. - The four teams that have gathered in an effort to win an NCAA Division III title have basketball on their minds. For a time on Thursday, the players from Williams and the other three college teams here had a chance to do some good.
As part of the weekend's activities here, the Ephs went out Thursday morning for some community service work.
The four teams - Williams, Amherst, Illinois Wesleyan and Wisconsin-Whitewater - all went to different elementary schools. It was the calm before the basketball storm, so to speak.
"We went to an elementary school and hung out with kids of all different grades," said Eph guard Daniel Wohl. "We read to them. We actually did some projects with them and just answered questions."
It was actually the first thing the Ephs, Lord Jeffs, Warhawks and Titans players did after arriving in southern Virginia for the Final Four. The players all went to a banquet Thursday night at the Salem Civic Center, sandwiching practice and media interviews in between.
"It's fun to interact with these kids. We were all in that position at one time in our lives where we revered college athletes," said Wohl. "It's nice to be able to be put in a position where your words are impactful, so you send a message along to some kids who are listening."
The first game of tonight's doubleheader features the Titans of Illinois Wesleyan and the Warhawks of Wisconsin-Whitewater. The winner gets the Williams-Amherst winner on Saturday.
Three of the four teams here are Pool C At-Large teams. Wisconsin-Whitewater and Illinois Wesleyan are two of them.
The Titans (27-4) lost to Wheaton in the College Conference of Illinois title game. The Titans went 4-0 in the tournament, winning each of the last three games by double figures.
Guard Andrew Ziemnik is the Illinois Wesleyan top scorer at 12.5 points per game and was a D3hoops.com All-Region pick.
"Two years ago when we were here, they ended up bringing home the big prize," Illinois Wesleyan coach Ron Rose said. "They're very athletic. They play really hard. We know we're going to have to play exceptionally well to win."
Pat Miller's Warhawks lost to Wisconsin-Stevens Point in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title game. Wisconsin-Whitewater won its first two games at home and, like Williams went on the road for the Sweet 16. The Warhawks blew out Texas-Dallas and Emory in a regional at Stevens Point.
"We're very familiar with them. We played them in 2012 and 2013," said Miller. "They have a great balance of inside play and perimeter play. They're very physical. They're well coached. They shoot the basketball well. They have great depth."
Guard K.J. Evans is the team's leading scorer, averaging 16.8 points per game.
All four of the teams here for the Final Four have National Championship banners hanging in their respective gyms.
Williams won its title in 2003, beating Gustavus Adolphus 67-65. Wisconsin-Whitewater won its title in 2012, beating Cabrini 63-60, while Amherst has won two titles - beating Mary Hardin-Baylor 87-70 last year and Virginia Wesleyan 80-67 in 2007.
Illinois Wesleyan won its lone title in 1997, beating Nebraska Wesleyan 89-86 in overtime. That was the year Williams made its first trip to Salem.
Harry Sheehy's team, led by Mike Nogelo, lost to Nebraska Wesleyan 101-90 in the semifinals that year..
For those of who have children who grew up to "Sesame Street," it's time to play the game "One of these things is not like the other." The subject is the four teams in this year's Final Four.
Williams, Amherst, Illinois Wesleyan and Wisconsin-Whitewater are all here in Salem playing for a D-III national championship. The correct answer to the question is Wisconsin-Whitewater.
As a school, Wisconsin-Whitewater is far bigger than any of the other three competitors here. In fact, Wisconsin-Whitewater is bigger than all three combined.
The school's reported undergraduate enrollment is 1,757 students. Williams is actually No. 2 with 2,077, followed by Illinois Wesleyan (2,009) and Amherst (1,791).
All four of these teams have pretty storied postseason histories.
According to the NCAA Division III media guide, in 13 seasons of NCAA tournament play, Williams is 37-12, with one national title, two second-place finishes and three, third-place results.
Wisconsin-Whitewater has been in 18 tournaments with a 31-16 record. The Warhawks have won three NCAA D-III titles.
Amherst has been to 15 tournaments with a 33-16 record. The Lord Jeffs have two titles and one second-place finish.
Illinois Wesleyan has played in 22 tournaments with a 49-22 record. The Titans have four third-place finishes and that one title.