Hamilton (22-3, 7-3) @ Williams (20-5, 7-3)2/24 7:30 PM @ Amherst, MA
This could be the matchup between the two best NESCAC teams, but it happens to only have a ticket to the finals and not a banner on the line. Williams travelled to Hamilton just two weeks ago with the Ephs coming out on top in a big way, pulling away by 14 in the second half, winning 81-67. Although both teams are shoe ins to make the NCAA tournament, only one is going to have a chance at the NESCAC title and home field advantage in the opening rounds of the NCAA tournament still hangs in the balance. Hamilton shot unusually poorly last time these teams met at 37.3% while their season average is 46.4%. Williams, on the other hand, shot 45% from deep and 54.3% overall, way up from their 47% season average.
Hamilton has turned it back around after a brief scuffle at the midway point of conference play, showing the rest of the league that their season may be far from over. They beat Middlebury handily in the last weekend of the year 102-83 and knocking off Tufts without much struggle 91-82 in the quarterfinals despite shooting horribly. If they play anything like they did against the Panthers, they will be unstoppable as they lit it up (52.5% FG, 62.5% 3 PT) and only turned the ball over 11 times. Despite their win against the Jumbos in the quarterfinals, they only shot 16.7% from deep which won’t do the trick against the Ephs as their shooters have been on fire in their own right. Bobby Casey and James Heskett won’t stop scoring, so don’t be fooled by their narrow margin of victory over a weak Trinity team 73-71. Coupling Williams’ recent lack of depth with Hamilton’s recent shooting inconsistencies, this game could swing in any sort of direction.
Williams X-Factor: Centers Matthew Karpowicz/Michael Kempton
Despite James Heskett’s breakout season as a PF, his outside shooting combined with a recent lack of rebounds leaves a deficit in the front court for the Ephs. Not a single Williams player had more than six boards in any of their last three games. Centers Michael Kempton and Matthew Karpowicz are a major key to this matchup as they need to battle down low against Peter Hoffmann, Michael Grassey, and Kena Gilmour who combined for 37 boards against Tufts. With the possibility of Hamilton shooting their way to over 100 points like against the Panthers, Williams is going to need to grab offensive boards for Heskett and Casey to have big enough games to keep the Ephs on top. Karpowicz has hauled in double digit boards three times this season and is going to need to bring his A game this weekend as the Hamilton bigs are a big presence down low.
Hamilton X-Factor: F Michael Grassey ’19
Kena Gilmour and James Heskett are sure to score back and forth in this game, while Grassey needs to get close to matching the production of the new sharp shooting Bobby Casey. Gilmour should be the top scorer for the Continentals, although Grassey is the biggest three point shooting threat for Hamilton. He makes 40% of his shots from beyond the arc and scores nearly half of his point per game on such shots. He has also had some duds along the way though, going 1-7 from deep in a loss against Bowdoin and just 1-6 last weekend. Casey, like Grassey, has had some streaks, including a 14-25 run from deep in his last three games and a 1-10 performance against Bowdoin. The shooting scales will tip in the direction of whichever deep threat is more accurate.
Both of these teams have played remarkably well all year, culminating in what is sure to be a barn burning head to head matchup. Hamilton made a long awaited transition to a powerhouse team while Williams battled injuries and adjusted perfectly with players stepping into new roles and Coach Kevin App leading the way. They have had some tough losses down the stretch—Williams to Amherst and Hamilton to Bowdoin, but they looked good in their opening round playoff games. Hamilton has a deeper scoring arsenal and more big game threats than Williams (due to their injuries) and looks to be more balanced headed into this semifinal. As mentioned, Bobby Casey has come out of nowhere recently to carry the Ephs. Cole Teal has played terribly as the fourth highest healthy scorer behind Heskett (19.6 PPG), Casey (16.2 PPG), and Karpowicz (9.2 PPG). He finally found his shot against Trinity, going 5-9, and without Kyle Scadlock or Mike Greenman, he can’t have any more 4-24 shooting stretches at this point in the season.
The combination of Kena Gilmour, Tim Doyle, Peter Hoffmann, and Grassey who all average over double-digit PPG should stretch out the Williams defense on the perimeter. They do turn over the ball and don’t distribute well, ranking in the bottom half of the NESCAC in both stats. This game is going to be a game of runs, with both teams finding streaky performances throughout their seasons. Both have top of the ‘CAC talent and potential POYs on the court in Heskett and Gilmour, and whichever team wins is going to likely win the conference.
Writer’s Prediction: 83-78 Hamilton