WILLIAMSTOWN -- It may be an opening-round game in the NCAA Division III men’s basketball tournament, but Williams coach Mike Maker said Saturday’s matchup with Wesley College doesn’t feel like it.
"We’re happy to be in the tournament and to be playing at home. I can’t say I was happy with our draw," said Maker. "I’m happy we’re in. This time of the year, you should be facing really good teams. This is more like a Sweet 16 game or an Elite Eight game than an opening-round game, in my opinion."
Williams and Wesley will tip off at 7 p.m. in Chandler Gym. The winner plays March 9 against the winner of the College of Staten Island and Catholic University game.
Saturday’s game is a contest between two at-large teams in the 61-team tournament field.
The Wolverines (20-7) from Dover, Del., lost to St. Mary’s (Md.) in the Capital Athletic Conference title game. Wesley fell 79-78 in overtime and had to wait to see if it would earn a bid to the tournament.
Williams (23-4) pushed Amherst to the limit before losing 74-73 in the NESCAC title game when Taylor Epley’s potential game-winning shot was blocked by Amherst’s Allen Williamson. The Lord Jeffs earned a first-round bye with the win.
"Nobody was moping after that game," said Maker. "It certainly was a hard one to lose, no doubt about that. But we played extremely well.
"I’m not sure we could play better than we did over the weekend. Any time you beat a top-five team and take another top-five team to the wire in back-to-back games, as a coach, you can’t ask for more than that."
Maker and his staff have been watching tape all week to prepare for the Wolverines. Wesley plays a different brand of basketball, something Maker called more NBA-ish than what one sees in NESCAC
"They’re extremely different than the [teams] we see on our schedule," said Maker. "They’re very, very athletic. They have two studs on the interior.
"They have the quickness and athleticism on the perimeter and they try to turn you over in the offensive end, and they’re real good at it."
The key player for the Wolverines is a young man that Maker and his staff have dubbed "Charles Barkley." Paul Reynolds is a 6-foot-4, 245-pound senior forward, who was also described as Barkley-esque by his coach at Wesley. Reynolds is this year’s CAC player of the year, entering the game averaging 20 points and eight rebounds per game. He is the school leader in rebounds and free throws made and with 1,803 career points, is second on his team’s all-time list.
"Reynolds is a handful. I think he’s the best player we’ve faced all year in addition to [Curry’s] Sedale Jones," said Maker. "They can get their own shot anyway they want -- on the perimeter, by driving it, by shooting it. They have a high basketball I.Q.
"[Reynolds is a] wide body. It’s a difficult matchup for us, or for anybody."
Reynolds isn’t a one-man show. Junior center David Langan stands 6-8 and weighs 260. He averages 12 points and 10 rebounds per game.
Williams will put a first-team All-NESCAC player on the floor in 6-9 center Michael Mayer and a second-team selection in 6-5 forward Taylor Epley. Epley leads the Ephs in scoring with an 18.7 average and Mayer is second at 17.4.
"I had heard Williams had a good program. After watching tape, they have a really, really good program," said Wesley coach Jerry Kobasa. "One of our coaches made the evaluation that this might be the best starting five of anybody that we have faced. We played Virginia Wesleyan when they were No. 1 and [nationally ranked] St. Mary’s twice, and Christopher Newport. To say that’s the best starting five we’ve seen all year is a hell of a compliment."