Jones goes for the basket

GILLIAN JONES — THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE

Jovan Jones (23) and the rest of his Williams basketball teammates play for the 17th-ranked team in Division III. The Ephs are scheduled to open NESCAC play this weekend against Hamilton and Amherst.

WILLIAMSTOWN — There might be a new number one team in Division III college basketball, but the 17th-ranked team is a familiar one and in a familiar spot.

The Williams College men are, for the second consecutive week, ranked 17th in the D3hoops.com national Top 25. The voters of the poll had the Christmas holiday off as the vast majority of teams stopped playing from before Christmas until just before New Year's Day.

The Ephs, who are 9-0, started the season unranked. They moved into the Top 25 at No. 20 in Week 2, and slotted in at 17 in Week 3. Despite not having played in nearly a month and having three New Year's week games either canceled or postponed, coach Kevin App's Ephs remain at 17.

"We're happy to be where we are. We have a great group. They really enjoy playing," App said. "Our one year in the Final Four, we spent one week in the Top 25, so I'm not too concerned about the Top 25. Especially in a year like this, where things are going to be sporadic and chaotic at times. 

"We have a great group. They've been a pleasure to watch compete and work with every day."

App was referring to the 2016-17 season, when Williams was ranked for one week on its way to the Final Four. The Ephs were ranked 25th in the fifth week of the season, but fell out the next week. They did not return until the final poll of the season. Williams made its way to the NCAA Division III Final Four in Salem, Va., by beating Becker and Scranton in Williamstown and then defeating Susquehanna and Middlebury in Vermont. Augustana ended up beating Williams in a Final Four matchup.

The Ephs did not move because they were unable to play three times over the Christmas break. Williams had a trip to the Washington & Lee tournament erased, so the Ephs quickly scheduled SUNY Poly and Utica College in place of the tournament. Both games were canceled.

In addition, a Jan. 2 game against then top-ranked Yeshiva was postponed. 

The Ephs are scheduled to host Hamilton Friday night and Amherst on Saturday afternoon in their first NESCAC conference games of the season. The games were still on as of midweek. As of Wednesday, only those within the Williams testing bubble will be permitted to attend.

The new No. 1 team is Randolph-Macon. The Yellow Jackets moved up from No. 2 by going 2-0 during the holiday break. Yeshiva, No. 1 since the first week of the poll, dropped to fifth after third-ranked Illinois Wesleyan came into New York City last Thursday and beat the Maccabees 73-59. The game wasn't even that close.

Illinois Wesleyan moved up from fourth to third. 

Wisconsin-Platteville is the new No. 2 team, up from No. 3. Wisconsin-Oshkosh is ranked fourth, with the rest of the Top 10 being Yeshiva, St. Joseph's (Conn.), Washington U., Marietta, Wheaton (Ill.) and Christopher Newport.

St. Joseph's is the top-ranked New England team and one of four in the Top 25. Williams' NESCAC rival Wesleyan is 23rd and WPI is 24th. Neither team was in the Top 25 before Christmas. RPI rounds out the Top 25.

App's team, meanwhile, has been in Williamstown and doing what it can amidst COVID-19 protocols to get ready for the conference schedule.

The Continentals are 6-4, and are scheduled to come to Williamstown after beating SUNY Geneseo 76-65 on Monday night.

The 8-2 Mammoths, who dropped out of the Top 25 this week, had won their first eight games before dropping a 70-59 decision at LeFrak Gymnasium on New Year's Eve. Then on Monday in Amherst, Little Three rival Wesleyan scored a 95-85, triple-overtime win over the Mammoths.

"We'll find out," said App, when asked if the slightly extra-long break will be a help or a hinderance. "It's a unique time, where everybody's in different stages and have played. Hamilton and Amherst were able to play before this weekend. We haven't. If you play well and look fresh, you say it's a good thing. If you don't play well, it's not. We'll see.

"This group, I trust them that when we get opportunity to play, they'll be ready to compete that day."

Howard Herman can be reached at  hherman@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6253. 

Sportswriter-Columnist

Howard Herman is a sports columnist at The Berkshire Eagle. The dean of full-time sportswriters in Western Mass., he has been with the Eagle since 1988, and is a member of the New England Baseball and Basketball Hall of Fame.