Thursday, 21 December 2006

OUA East Update: Top Conference in Canada ???

Some have already called it the toughest conference in Canada after years of arguably being the worst and the OUA East does currently boast two teams in the CIS Top 5 and another 2 or 3 that are minimum top 15 material. The arrival of numerous new coaches to the league over the past few years and some stellar recruits, including this season when at least 2 freshman from the OUA East deserve mention as National Rookie-of-the-Year candidates has equaled steady collective progress as a conference. Regardless of how the OUA East compares against the other conferences in Canada, it has an array of teams with different styles and a number of teams on the upswing, promising that the next 3 months should be very interesting.

Here is a team-by-team first half summary and thoughts on what must happen for success in the second half:

#1 CARLETON RAVENS (8-0 in OUA East, 16-0 overall vs. CIS): It was Labour Day Monday morning earlier this year at the Raven's Nest and about 12 hours prior the 4-time defending national champion Carleton Ravens had squeezed out an overtime victory over NCAA Division 1 Atlantic 10 stalward LaSalle Explorers after losing at the buzzer the night before against Louisville Cardinals from the Big East. Ravens All-Canadian guard Osvaldo Jeanty, Carleton's unquestioned leader who had played a total of 85 minutes (two entire games + an overtime) against the NCAA schools in the past 36 hours and made numerous big shots, knocked down 2 clutch free throws to send the La Salle game into overtime and had a body full of floor burns from taking charges and grabbing loose balls, nonetheless was in his practice gear, putting himself through a rigorous personal work out despite the fact Carleton's next game was not for another 6 weeks.

This one quiet scene epitomizes the main reason why the Ravens are the favorites to win "one for the thumb" and five-peat as CIS champions in 2006-07. Jeanty (17.9 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 3.2 apg in 33 mpg) is again having a tremendous season in his fifth and final year, doing the things that show up on the score sheet (2nd in OUA East scoring) but more importantly, the things that don't. Stats like "charges taken" and "loose balls dove for" are not ordinarily kept, but you can bet that if they were Jeanty would be among the leaders in Canada in these important categories that lead to winning. And when your best guy, a four-time champion and the defending Mike Moser Memorial Trophy winner, prepares and plays like that, it is impossible not to follow, which is another reason why no opponent ever plays harder than or is mentally tougher than the Ravens.

Although Carleton had a couple of close calls in the first half, they proved once again they are the class of the OUA by withstanding anything opponents threw at them. The Ravens are getting it done despite, by his standards, a less than stellar first half from 6'7" third-year forward Aaron Doornekamp (13.4 ppg on only 36% shooting from 2's and 27.8% from 3's). Still, even if his numbers don’t show it, Doornekamp is still taking and making big shots, creating mismatch problems for opponents and generally wrecking havoc at both ends. 6'4" Ryan Bell (8.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.0 apg) excels when playing at high speeds but had an inconsistent first half shooting the ball while 6'3" Stuart Turnbull (5.3 ppg) suffered through injuries, having to don a Jacques Plante-esque original face shield, which no doubt caused him duress shooting the ball (2/24 3's, < 25% shooting overall). Probably Carleton's most consistent performer outside of Jeanty was the underrated 6'5" Jean Emmanuel Jean-Marie (14.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 68% fg), who creates matchup problems in the post and had an all-conference type first half. Carleton should also get more out of 6'5" Sheldon Stewart in the second half. As well, rookie point guard Mike Kenny saw meaningful time in big spots in the first half and there's no reason to think he won't contribute in the second half of his freshman season with his ability to take people off the dribble and create, regardless of his matchup. Ravens Web Site

#5 OTTAWA GEE-GEES (7-1 in OUA East, 16-1 overall vs. CIS): After losing 4 players to graduation, the Gee-Gees appeared to be in a rebuilding phase this season but, behind last season’s OUA East Freshman of the Year, Josh Gibson-Bascombe, Ottawa has shot out to a 7-1 record, again creating over 20 turnovers per game by their opponents (tops in Canada) and leading the entire OUA in 3 point shooting (not to mention significantly upgrading the coaching staff: addition by subtraction). An undefeated pre-season schedule against dubious competition and then a decisive loss at Windsor on the first weekend of the season cast doubts on Gee-Gees' competitiveness but since the loss to the Lancers Coach Dave DeAveiro's side has run off 6 consecutive victories including 5 of at least 15 points or more and 3 by 30 or more. Gibson-Bascombe (15.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.0 apg, 12/26 3's) has looked for his offence much more this season and Ottawa is much less reliant upon the three point shot, instead playing inside out through their two fifth-year forwards Jermaine Campbell (10.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and Curtis Shakespeare (11.4 ppg, 4.8 apg). 6'3" Sean Peter (12.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg) has been much more assertive offensively while 5'11" Alex McLeod (9.9 ppg) now picks his spots more effectively but is still relied upon to make big shots and has delivered. Sophomore Donnie Gibson is firmly in the rotation and deservedly so after rebounding from an injury-plague freshman season. 6'10" Dax Dessureault represents one of the biggest wild cards for Ottawa; if he can just finish with more consistency, let alone start to draw double teams, Ottawa could be tough to beat. The success of the Gee-Gees could be predicated on the example set by their three fifth-year seniors and/or Gibson-Bascombe and how they respond when adversity hits, which for Ottawa has been about mid-January in past seasons. Despite being in the CIS Top 10 for much of the past 3 seasons, this group has only won two really big games in their careers: two season's ago at York to qualify for the Nationals and last season's victory at Carleton and the group needs a leader in the mould of the Moser winner across town to emerge. They have about 2 1/2 months to change some observer's perceptions and leave a lasting impression on the CIS. web site

YORK LIONS (6-2 in OUA East, 10-5 overall vs. CIS): With the return of Tut Ruach after Christmas, the Lions boast one of the top starting fives in Canada with fifth-year all-stars 6'8" Dan Eves (19.9 ppg to lead the OUA East, 6.3 rpg) and 6'10" Jordan Foebel (16.5 ppg, 9.1 rpg). Veteran Rohan Steen (17.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg) successfully took on more of a scoring role with Ruach out focusing on academics and 6'3" Amde Evans brought his usual array of athletic skills to the table. The third guard 6'1" Eylon Zemer did a credible job in Ruach's absence and will be an asset coming off the bench for York from where he is better suited. The Lions continue to hope 6'8" Matt Terejko can log more minutes to spell Foebel while freshman Jason Hoult will ideally be asked for about 10 minutes per game of effective play down the stretch. The Lions, who play an exciting brand of fast-paced offensive basketball, peaked at just the proper time last season and rode the hot hand of Ruach to the OUA East title and a spot in Halifax. York would have been the third OUA East team in the Top 10 had they not slipped again Western at home in the last game prior to the break and without a doubt they have the horses to get it done again this season to put coach Bob Bain in position for his first-ever CIS title in March. Lions Web Site

QUEEN'S GOLDEN GAELS (5-3 in OUA East, 10-4 vs. CIS overall): When the Gaels lost 6’10” Neal Dawson as a transfer to Carleton and several others to graduation, the cupboard appeared bear despite Queen’s first playoff victory in many years last season. However, Queen’s had a recruiting coup when local star Mitch Leger stayed home and, combined with former OUA Rookie-of-the-Year Simon Mitchell, Turkish freshman import Baris Ondul and solid work from an unheralded group of forwards including Glen Smith and Rob Shaw, the Gaels have been impressive in the early season, using deft shooting from downtown to author some solid performances including victories at Mac (when they went 15 of 23 from three point land), at Guelph and a narrow overtime defeat at the hands of #7 Windsor. Leger (15.1 ppg, 8.6 rpg) has had some dominant performances, especially early and the Gaels hope that he can continue to produce through the extra attention he will bound to be paid by well-prepared opponents. Mitchell (11.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.5 apg) remains the key and Gaels toughest matchup as a big, solid guard who shoots it, finds people and is physically imposing from the backcourt. Ondul (9.5 ppg) is a three point threat as is emerging Ryan Hairsine (11.2 ppg, 42.9% 3's) who can flat out stroke it when his feet are set and he's wide open, which has been the case in Gaels' draw and kick game. Queen's also has veterans Jordan Balaban and Cameron Eby, who have reduced roles but are still solid contributors. How well Leger responds in the second half, especially in games away from Bartlett Gym, and how well teams guard the ball against the Gaels will determine if Queen's can compete for a first-round bye. Official Queen's University Site and Queen's Basketball Alumni Site (very well done)

TORONTO VARSITY BLUES (4-4 in OUA East, 8-5 overall vs. CIS): The Varsity Blues have hovered in and around the CIS Top 10 for the first half of the season but consistency has been an issue for Coach Mike Katz’s troops especially away from home where the Blues are just 1-3 including a pair of upset losses at Western and at Waterloo. When right, the Blues are a Top 10 calibre team which if not for a complete breakdown at the foul line late would have triumphed at #7 Windsor and also have impact wins vs. #8 Brock, McMaster and Alberta. The Blues are led by 6’9” fifth-year center Mike Williams (13.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg), one of the OUA’s better shot blocking and paint-protecting big men in recent memory while lightning quick Dwayne Grant (12.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.0 apg), a top ball defender, continues to expand his offensive game. Fifth-year transfer Ben Katz (9.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg), who replaced last season’s starter Paul Sergautis in the starting lineup, missed the final weekend of the first half with an ankle injury and the Blues suffered at Waterloo. One of Coach Katz’s big challenges is to get Sergautis (2.6 ppg) back toward his expected, historical production while coming off the bench. Point guard Mike DeGiorgio remains steady, solid and capable of keeping his club in games from beyond the arc when he gets it going. Much was expected this season from Nick Snow (5.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg), who based on the last half of last season, looked to be developing into a potential star of the future; Toronto would benefit from a solid 20-22 mpg from Snow and more offensive production. Sophomore guard Nick Magalas also showed tremendous maturity toward the end of last season but he still shows some inconsistency this season. This team has shown signs of competing on a national level but must iron out the inconsistent patchs to have a chance of winning in arguably Canada's toughest conference Varsity Blues Web Site

RYERSON RAMS (3-5 in OUA East, 4-10 in CIS overall): Long gone are the days of the multi-year losing streaks in downtown Toronto as coaches Taylor and Dean have assembled an array of athletic talent, primarily from the GTA but also a couple of three point shooters from outside Toronto. Leger's main competition for OUA East rookie-of-the-year, 6'7" Boris Bakovic (15.4 ppg, 11.4 rpg) has a chance to be a program changer with his array of inside/out skills. Brother Igor (12.5, 9.8 rpg) has had a solid OUA career as a low post player. Add in another freshman, Khrys Montague (8.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg) a slashing wing from Toronto high school dynasty Eastern Commerce and Rams front line can compare with any other in Ontario. Rye also has a pair of long-range threats that make teams pay for doubling down in 6'2" Brandon Krupa (12.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg) and Scott Neil (5.8 ppg including 11 3's to lead the team). There is also depth up front in last season's top rookie, 6'9" Joey Imbrogno (4.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg) and 6'5" Peeter Veltman (3.8 ppg). However, guard play, especially at the point, usually dictates success late in the season and how well that role is filled on Ryerson will determine how quickly the Rams genuinely compete in the upper echelons of the OUA East. Ryerson Rams Web Site

LAURENTIAN VOYAGEURS (2-6 in OUA East, 5-8 in CIS overall): After a solid pre-season that included a victory over #6 Concordia Stingers in Montreal, part of capturing the NIKE Concordia tournament championship, the Laurentian Voyageurs were creeping up the rankings (achieved an honourable mention) and appeared poised to challenge for a top spot in the OUA East. Unfortunately, what could go wrong has in the first half including an overtime loss to Laurier in which Hawks' freshman Andrew Pennycook hit the first 3 pointer of his career at the buzzer and a couple of other tough losses. Laurentian did look strong in pounding an improving Western team by 21 on the last weekend of the season but Coach Virgil Hill needs to get more production from his big guys and the team defence must improve. College transfer Craig Bauslaugh leads a balanced Vees lineup at 12.7 ppg while U.S. import Jason Brown (12.1 ppg, 7.6 rpg) has been Laurentian's top overall performer. Laurentian is solid at the point with Brody Bishop (10.0 ppg, 2.6 rpg) who can heat up in a hurry from beyond the arc Laurentian Voyageurs Web Site

RMC PALADINS (1-7 in OUA East, 1-16 vs. CIS overall): The Paladins had their first win in a couple of years edging Lakehead and have been more competitive in games this season but likely will continue to struggle to claim a playoff spot this season. 6'5" Adam Asquini (13.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg) is their top player and an all-conference candidate who can play with anyone in the league. Veteran Paul Hungler (14.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg) is back to take graduate courses and is welcomed for his offensive skills while freshman Andrew MacIntosh (8.1 ppg, 2.6 rpg) provides hope for the future. The Paladins, who are well-disciplined and play hard on every possession to the end, unfortunately require an injection of talent to begin to move up in the very tough OUA East conference RMC Web Site

The first weekend of the second half of the season will see Toronto and Ryerson make the difficult trip to the Nation's Capital for games against Ottawa and Carleton while York and Laurentian are in Kingston to meet RMC and Queen's. Stay tuned for more on these games early in 2007.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is a very good summary of things at the half way point. I would say that some of the key questions for the second half of the season would be:

1) Can Carleton stay healthy? If so, they will be very difficult to unseat. They depend very heavily on their top four players with a fairly limited role for the bench.

2) Will Toronto put it together? On paper they look stronger than last year but the results have not been as impressive. It hasn't come together on the court, with a surplus of guards and small forward types and not enough power players.

Sergautis' numbers are down and they need Snow to put more on the board as a second big man with Williams.

3) Can Ottawa keep it up? They have a strong veteran presence and probably pose the biggest threat to Carleton.

4) Will Queen's continue to improve? Leger, Hairsine, Mitchell and Ondul have been very good but after that there is a major drop off. Will be interesting to see if teams start to crowd Leger, whose preference is to catch and shoot. However, he has shot it very well and has also shown as a rookie that he can also play in the paint and grab rebounds.

They need a healthy McCleary to provide another veteran scoring option.