D-III men's hoops finalists from Midwest don't have history of Williams, Amherst
SALEM, Va. -- Of the four teams that are here at the NCAA Division III Final Four, two are familiar with each other.
Wisconsin-Whitewater and Illinois Wesleyan, who played in Friday's first national semifinal game, have seen each other in the tournament a couple of times in the past five years. Their coaches have traded tapes, and set their game plans.
They are not, however, Williams and Amherst. Those two NESCAC rivals played each other in Friday's second semifinal game at the Salem Civic Center.
Wisconsin-Whitewater and Illinois Wesleyan are 3-3 in their history. Williams and Amherst have played 213 times since 1901 with Williams holding a 117-96 advantage.
Of course, the Lord Jeffs are on an 8-0 run against the Ephs.
"I am not an expert on that matchup. From what I've heard, it's a fairly heated matchup," Wisconsin-Whitewater coach Pat Miller said with a laugh. "I think I like the position we're in, having some familiarity with our opponent."
Ask a player the other game, and they wouldn't particularly want to see one of their rivals in a national semifinal.
"I would rather play someone else, to be honest," said Whitewater guard Alex Merg. "I love matching up with the best teams in the country and [Wisconsin] Stevens Point is one of those and some of our other rivals are.
"We don't get a chance to play some of the powerhouses from the East Coast like your Amherst Colleges and Williams. Being able to play them is a unique opportunity. I can speak for the team, and I think we take our challenge just as highly as we would against our rival."
Wisconsin-Whitewater played its in-state rival from Stevens Point three times this season. The Warhawks went 1-2, winning at home in overtime while losing on the road and in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament championship game.
Illinois Wesleyan played its biggest basketball rival, Wheaton (Ill.), three times. The Titans beat Wheaton twice in the regular season, but lost in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin title game.
"Oh, man. It would be really surprising I guess, shocking, crazy," said Illinois Wesleyan guard Andrew Ziemnik. "I think it's great to be here and the situation we're in, facing a team like Whitewater, and I know all the guys are looking forward to it."
As players for Williams and Amherst both walked off the LeFrak Gymnasium floor after the Lord Jeffs won the NESCAC championship game, neither team wanted to see the other before getting to the Civic Center. They got their wish.
But it does add an extra level of pressure that the Illinois Wesleyan and Wisconsin-Whitewater players don't have to worry about.
"For them, that's crazy," said Ziemnak. "I don't know what to do. How many times do you play them, three or four times in one year? You know them so well. When you're freshman to when you're a senior, you play them four years.
"For us, it would be like playing a Wheaton or an Augustana. I know the blood's got to be flowing through them. There's some nastiness."
Illinois Wesleyan coach Ron Rose didn't have to think very long when he was asked if he would rather be in his position or in the position of Williams coach Mike Maker and Amherst coach Dave Hixon.
"I don't think any of us are in great position because we're going to have to play a really good team here," said Rose. "I think it is awfully unique to play a conference team, a rival, in the Final Four. We did it a year ago in the Sweet 16, and we know how difficult it is to play a team for the fourth time. It is a different dynamic."
Williams is 4-0 against Amherst, including an 86-81 win in the 2004 Final Four. The Ephs lost to Wisconsin-Stevens Point in the national title game that year.
"Once you get to this point, I don't think anything is easy, to be perfectly honest with you," said Wisconsin-Whitewater's Miller. "I think that a heated rivalry presents some issues. I think just the fact we're playing a great Illinois Wesleyan team presents issues for us."
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