Gameday Preview: #22 Men's Basketball @ Williams College-2/3/20
Updated: Feb 4, 2020
Ignore the record.
That’s a message which will apply in two incredibly important—but vastly different—ways when the #22 Yeshiva University Maccabees head to Northwest Massachusetts on Monday afternoon to take on the Williams College Ephs. A perennial powerhouse in DIII, Williams advanced all the way to the NCAA quarterfinals last season, before losing to Christopher Newport. The Ephs compete in the NESCAC, which boasts three Top 25 teams, and is considered by many to be the best conference in DIII.
According to a metric which judges Strength of Schedule based on opponent’s efficiency—adapted from the one created by Ken Pomeroy, who is well known for his analytical research of Division I College Basketball—the Ephs have had the fifth-toughest schedule in all of DIII this year; a similar rating says that they have faced the second-toughest. That may explain why Williams is just 10-10 in 2019-20, a far cry from the last three seasons, in which they have won 23 games each, and not lost more than nine times in one year.
However, don’t get caught up in their mediocre record. The Ephs may not be as good as some of their program’s recent teams, but they can more than hold their own. Williams defeated Amherst twice, with both victories occurring when the Mammoths were in the Top 25. In addition, six of the Ephs losses have come against some of the best teams in Division III, including #9 Colby, #13 Middlebury, #23 Springfield, Albertus Magnus, St. Joseph (Conn), and Hamilton. Williams is also 6-2 when they compete at home; the Chandler Gym is a very difficult environment to play in. The same Kenpom-esque model used above says that Williams is the 43rd most efficient team in DIII, and it would be foolish to give much of any weight to their .500 record.
Coming into tonight, the Macs have won 17 games in a row. That’s tied for a program record, set last year. This matchup against Williams has major implications for Yeshiva, as a win would prove that they are a legitimate contender for the National Championship, while a loss would knock them out of the Top 25. Additionally, there is still the outside shot that, should the Macs fail to win the Skyline Conference Championship, they still grab an automatic bid; while unlikely (due to a very low Strength of Schedule), they will need to be victorious tonight in order to maintain this possibility. With so much on the line, it is imperative that the Macs ignore the fact that another W would set a program record for most consecutive wins, and focus on the task at hand: defeating Williams.
The Williams College Ephs: Literal Giants
Many Macs fans remember last season’s home matchup against the Ephs, who at the time were ranked #8 in DIII. Eight players on that roster were listed at 6’7” or above, including Kyle Scadlock, who averaged 13.7 points/game and led the team in rebounds, and James Heskett, who shot over 41% from beyond the arc. Bobby Casey’s departure left this year’s Williams team without any of their top three scorers from last season.
While the Ephs ‘only’ have six players this year who are at least 6’7”, a few ‘short’ underclassmen have stepped up. Freshman Cole Prowitt-Smith is the second-leading scorer for this team, and—just like the Macs’ Ofek Reef—he is receiving the fourth most minutes, despite typically not starting. Prowitt-Smith can shoot the three pretty well, but Williams’ main options from downtown are freshman Alex Stoddard and sophomore Spencer Spivy. Both guards are listed at 6’5”, and receive about 20 minutes/game. Stoddard, who comes off the bench, has the potential to get hot and go off; overall, he is making exactly ⅓ of his threes this season. Spivy starts for the Ephs, but is only making just over 30% of his shots from outside. Lastly, after having no role last season, 6’5” small forward Jovan Jones has made the most of the opportunity presented to him. Now in his second year at Williams, Jones has taken over the void left by Heskett and Scadlock, and is hitting 48% of his two-point attempts this season.
Similarly to the Macs, the Ephs have a great balance of youth and experience. Seniors Matt Karpowicz, Mickey Babek, and Henry Feinberg have been with Williams since 2016, and it is finally their time to lead this historic program to greatness. The Ephs offense runs through Karpowicz, who at a whopping 6’8”, 250 pounds is a colossal presence in the middle. Despite playing 1899 minutes in his collegiate career, the big man has yet to take a single three-pointer; he’s shooting 62.2% from the floor this year. PG Babek receives the most playing time of any Eph, and his main role is to get the ball inside to Karpowicz. Feinberg plays at the four, has the best shooting percentage of any starter other than Karpowicz, and has the ability to shoot from outside as well. Expect to see these seven players on the floor for the vast majority of the game, as Williams typically only goes to the rest of their bench to give their starters a breather.
Not only are the Ephs tall and talented, but they are also extremely disciplined on offense. They love to set ball screens, typically at the free throw line or elbow, and drive baseline. They also run baseline backdoor cuts, as well as curl cuts around their screens, trying to get inside layups and post up opportunities. To Williams’ credit, they stick to what they run, and don’t go off script; you should expect to see the same sorts of plays for them throughout the game. Defensively, the Ephs are great at guarding penetration. Not only is it difficult to get good looks close to the basket against Williams; their opponents often run into trouble simply trying to get into the paint in the first place.
Keys to the Game:
1) Play aggressively in all facets of the game
If the Macs don’t play aggressively against the big boys of Williams, they’ll stand no chance
On the glass, Dani Katz must forcefully box out and clear out the paint for Gabriel Leifer; if we don’t rebound, it will not be a pleasant night for Macs fans
Defensively, the YU players must be willing to put their bodies on the line, and either force Karpowicz out of the post or get him into foul trouble
Due to Leifer’s ability to shoot the three-ball at a high percentage, I would expect Jones to defend Gabe, which would likely leave Karpowicz on Dani
If this is the case, then Leifer can’t be afraid to take the ball inside, and Katz should try to establish himself as a threat from outside, in an effort to force Karpowicz out of the paint
2) Cut, cut, cut
The Macs aren’t going to beat Williams by trying to drive inside every possession
The reason why Yeshiva’s offense has been so dominant this season is because of their motion
If the Macs get away from their motion—like they did against Sarah Lawrence—they stand no chance against the Ephs
YU must run cuts throughout the night, and try to use their off-ball movement and screens, as well as their relative speed advantage, to create open looks
3) Pressure the ball
The Macs need to minimize the damage which Williams’ size will present us, and the best way to do that is to pressure the ball
Williams tries to get the ball into Karpowicz in the middle or post every possession, and the only way to prevent this is to apply pressure to the ball, particularly when it's picked up
Of course, the Macs must still play fundamentally sound defense, and if they are able to both do this and sometimes stop Williams from constantly running the same plays over and over, they will have a good chance of winning
How to Watch/Follow:
This highly-anticipated non-conference matchup will tip off at 6:00 PM. Williams College will be broadcasting the game; click here to watch. Click here to access our in-game scoreboard. A couple of hours after the game, head to MacsLive.com for recap and analysis. Let’s Go Macs!