Monday, 24 September 2007

Canada's Top Teams: A First Look

Virtually all CIS teams have completed their tryouts and have made roster selections in preparation for early October when most teams will get into full stride, playing pre-season tournaments and exhibition games. This site is scheduled to publish the entire non-league schedule for all teams in the next week or so. In the mean time, here is first look at Canada's top teams on a regional basis. We expect to publish our first Top 10 in early October.

In CANADA WEST, defending champions UBC Thunderbirds must replace graduated 6'4" All-Canadian Casey Archibald, now playing professionally in Austria, but return a number of key players led by 6'3" Chris Dyck, who will likely be counted upon to pick up the bulk of the scoring plus 6'8" veteran post Bryson Kool. UBC brought in another typically-strong recruiting class including 6'2" guard Nathan Yu and 6'5" forward Graham Bath, both of whom started in the T-Birds victory over Boise State over the Labour Day weekend. While not yet having the type of leader and "go to" scorer like Archibald established as of yet, the T-Birds could be even deeper top to bottom than they were last season. UVic Vikes must replace key graduates in 6'4" Brandon Ellis, 6'6" Grahame Bollinger and 6'2" Steve Moore and the surprising late summer loss of 6'6" Jacob Doerksen and 6'3" Josh Whyte. While losing 5 top players would generally set most programs back significantly, the Vikes still return one of the better athletes in Canada West in 6'6" Tyler Hass and brought in three potential rotation players in 6'1" Brandon Dunlop, 6'4" Ryan MacKinnon and 6'4" Julian Spear Chief-Morris. UVic will stay in games with their disciplined offensive sets and, while they won't be as deep as in the past, should contend for Canada West honours. The Simon Fraser Clan may be ready to take the next step in competing for a Pacific Division title with a big team, especially at the guard spots with 6'4" point guard Sean Burke and 6'4" shooting guard Kevin Shaw, a pair of big guards entering their third seasons who have played together since they were freshmen. Up front, the Clan has another pair of veterans in 6'8" Nolan Holmes (5th year) and 6'7" Greg Wallis (4th year). The core of this team has been together for multiple seasons and look for the Clan to make a move up the standings. In the Central Division, defending champion Saskatchewan Huskies return all key players with the exception of 6'2" Sam Lamontange, who came off the bench to provide solid minutes and leadership. In 6'8" Andrew Spagrud, the Huskies have a Moser candidate who will be their scoring and rebounding leader but also return 6'1" veteran Rob Lovelace, who didn't play last season, to run the point, complementing returning guards and wings 6'2" Rejean Chabot, 6'2" Kyle Grant and 6'1" Jordan Harbidge. The Huskies are deep, experienced, have a definitive "go-to" guy, a solid athletic point, solid outside shooting and came very close last season. The Calgary Dinos had arguably Canada's top recruiting class this side of Carleton and have the talent in positions 2 through 5 with the Bekkering brothers (Henry & Ross), 6'6" Robbie Sihota, 6'4" Cody Darrah, 6'1" Jeff Price and 6'9" freshman sensation guard/forward Tyler Fidler, to compete with any team in Canada. The Dinos must find a consistent performing point guard who can step in for the under-rated Josh Feist and get production from the lead guard position. In the Great Plains conference, national finalists Brandon Bobcats must replace their top two perimeter shooters in 6'2" Chad Jacobsen and 5'10" Taylor Cherris-Wilding and welcome new coach Mike Raimbault but return Canada West Player-of-the-Year candidate Dany "Rip" Charlery, dynamic 6'1" point guard Yul Michel, under-rated 6'6" forward Adam Hartman and two very solid bigs in 6'11" Yuri Whyms and 6'9" Stevens Marcelins. The 'Cats also add 6'3" Nick Quick, who has sat out the past 3 seasons, but averaged 14 ppg as a sophomore.

After a season in which the OUA East was the better ONTARIO conference top-to-bottom, expect the scales to tip back in favour of the OUA West this coming season as most top East teams from a year ago deal with heavy losses to graduation and other while most West teams return key pieces and have added significant talent. Windsor Lancers return all main contributors from a year ago and add 6'3" Issac Kuon, an athletic wing who will free up space for 6'5" all-conference star Kevin Kloostra. Competitive 6'0" Ryan Steer enters his fifth and final season with a long playoff run manning the point behind him and 6'8" Greg Surmacz is one of Canada's top big men. Burly 6'6" Greg Allin provides toughness plus defensive presence in the paint and on the glass while 6'0" Corey Boswell came alive offensively during last season's playoff run and is always a tremendous ball defender. The Brock Badgers return OUA West Player-of-the-Year 5'10" Brad Rootes, one of the nation's top defenders in 6'2" Mike Kemp, 6'0" Scott Murray, who has scored over 1,000 points in his university career and have emerging 6'7" forward Owen White, who became an offensive force down the stretch last season and continues to improve and gain confidence. The Badgers also solidified their interior by bringing back 6'7" Dusty Bianchin and 6'5" Matt Bassett-Speiers. Brock may even add one more impact transfer who, if it works out, will be eligible immediately, adding to the experienced talent base. Peter Campbell's Laurier Golden Hawks returned a stable of young talent led by 6'5" all-OUA West forward Matt Walker plus a pair of forwards named to last season's OUA West All-Freshman team in 6'8" Andrew Pennycook, one of the better shot blockers to enter the league in some time, and 6'5" Justin Golob, a solid perimeter shooter. 6'0" Jesse MacDonald matured tremendously toward the end of last season as a point guard who can create off the dribble. The Hawks also bring in a solid recruiting class including 6'4" athletic wing Dominique Brown from Henry Carr in Toronto and 6'1" point guard Austin Walsh from Hamilton St. Mary's. Western had as deep and talented of an incoming recruiting class as any program in Canada, adding to a young group that was maturing. 6'3" Andrew Wedemire managed to avoid major injury last season and showed his all-conference skills while 6'2" Matt Curtis is a flashy, exciting point guard who finds people. Western also returns 6'5" lefty scoring forward Brad Smith and 6'1" sharp shooting guard Jason Milliquet. But three NCAA Division 1 transfers highlight possibly the most significant of a talent influx in the CIS with 6'6" Keenan Jeppesen, from Brown University (eligible in late November), 6'10" Colin Laforme, from Youngstown State and 6'2" Alex Brzozowicz from the University of Michigan. The talent appears in place to return the 'Stangs to the top of the OUA West standings. Despite the shift in talent westward, the top team in Ontario and the country remains the Carleton Ravens, returning two Canadian National team players in 6'7" Aaron Doornekamp, a Moser Award candidate, and 6'4" guard Ryan Bell, who as much as anyone appears to have benefited from a summer playing against top players. 6'5" Jean Emmanuel Jean-Marie, entering his final season, appears to have extended his game further out on the perimeter. 6'3" Stuart Turnbull is a scrappy winner while 6'8" Kevin McCleery came into his own last season, finishing everything inside and maturing as a presence defensively. Under-rated 6'3" Rob Saunders could be Carleton's top defender this side of Bell and makes his open shots. Carleton also had one of Canada's top recruiting classes in 6'8" Aaron Chapman, 6'3" Elliott Thompson and 6'5" Cole Hobin. All three showed flashes during the Labour Day weekend that they will fit into the Raven system at both ends, adding to the talent and depth of the 5 time defending champions. One of the few teams in Ontario East that does return a number of key players are the rapidly-improving Queen's Golden Gaels, a team on the verge of cracking the CIS Top 10 in late January of last season before settling back. In 6'6" Mitch Leger, Queen's has a legitimate scorer inside and out. The Gaels also return three solid back court starters in 6'4" Simon Mitchell, a former OUA East Rookie-of-the-Year, 6'3" Ryan Hairsine, arguably one of the more improved two men in Ontario last season and tough 6'2" guard Baris Ondul. The Gaels also added a number of potential impact freshmen including 6'7" Travis Mitchell. With their ability to find open looks from downtown, Queen's is always a threat to be in most games. Ottawa Gee-Gees, a Final Four team last season, loses three top graduating seniors in 6'5" Curtis Shakespeare, 5'11" Alex McLeod and 6'5" Jermaine Campbell plus 6'0" Willy Manigat but returns 6'4" OUA East First Team All-Star Josh Gibson-Bascombe, who starred on Canada's entry at the FISU games in Thailand this summer. 6'9" Dax Dessureault and 6'3" Sean Peter must make the leap to "go-to" player status while 6'3" Jacob Gibson-Bascombe is probably the Gee-Gees top recruit. It is unlikely that Ottawa will be able to use their customary pressing, up tempo style that served them well in the last few seasons, given the reduction in depth. Instead, Ottawa will likely have to ride the elder Gibson-Bascombe, who has been somewhat fragile in the past, for 30+ minutes per game each night to contend.

The Quebec league has at least three teams that should push for the league title, led by defending champions Concordia Stingers, led by 6'1" Damian Buckley and 6'3" Dwayne Buckley. 6'7" Jamal Gallier needs to take over at least some of the inside scoring that will be missing with the graduation of last season's Quebec Player-of-the-Year Patrick Perrotte while 6'1" Andre Johnny must step into a leading role at both ends as well. 5'9" Levi Vann will be looked upon as the key perimeter threat, replacing the graduated 6'3" Ben Sormonte. Concordia also has potential for solid depth with 6'3" Sebastien Martin, 6'7" Desmond Murphy and 5'10" Pierre Thompson. Laval has a Moser candidate in 6'7" J.P. Morin, who benefited from a summer with Canada's Student team in Thailand and also returns last season's CIS Rookie-of-the-Year in 6'3" J.F. Beaulieu-Maheux. Les Rouge et Or also brought in one of CIS's top recruiting classes led by 6'4" Jerome Turcotte and 5'9" Xavier Barbeau, both from CEGEP Sainte-Foy. After a couple of years reloading, the young but rapidly-maturing Rouge et Or should be in a position to challenge for Top 10 status once again. Coach Craig Norman appears to be turning the McGill program into one of Canada's finest with another solid recruiting class and a solid effort against Illinois over the Labour Day weekend. 6'4" veteran Sean Anthony is still the top offensive threat while 6'4" sophomore Matt Thornhill should be more of a force now that he will likely play the wing full time. The Redmen now have a pure point guard in 6'2" U.S. import Sam Goulet. McGill also brought in another immediate impact player in U.S. college transfer, 6'3" Mustafa El Zanaty, who should start from Day One. 6'5" Pawel Herra also showed glipses of all-conference talent during his freshman season and should continue to improve.

Defending AUS champions Acadia Axemen, who made an improbable run to the conference championship last season, only 2 years removed from being one of the lowest-ranked teams in Canada, should again push for a spot in the CIS Top 10, led by 6'1" All-Canadian and reigning AUS Player-of-the-Year Paolo Santana. Acadia is also scheduled to bring in 6'5" Leonil Santil, a former CIS rebounding champion who sat out last season after transfering over from Memorial. In fact, the Axemen, who lose only 6'2" Jordan Sheriko to graduation, are scheduled to return their entire starting lineup including 6'4" Luckern Dieu, 6'8" Achuil Lual, 6'1" shooting guard Peter Leighton and 6'2" point guard Andrew Kraus, in addition to Santana. Acadia also brought back the greatest player in the history of their program, Brian Heaney, as Athletic Director. The uncertainty regarding the suspension of Head Coach Les Berry, which is scheduled to be reviewed by the AUS, is the only question mark for a program that clearly appears to be on the rise. Another surprising team late last season was Ross Quackenbush's St. Mary's Huskies, who rode basically five guys to within a minute or two of advancing all the way to the CIS championship game, defeating #1 ranked Concordia Stingers along the way. The Huskies heart and soul is 6'2" guard Mark McLaughlin while last season's hero in the middle 6'5" Ike Uchegbu will get some much needed help from a number of new faces that will make St. Mary's much deeper and talented than last season. 6'1" guard Shane Morrison, originally from Toronto, has a chance to be one of the top guards in Canada from Day One, while a pair of U.S. imports look to make immediate impacts including 6'8" Derrick Coleman, a native of Detroit and a transfer from NCAA Division 1 Oakland University and Schoolcraft (MI) Junior College should see action up front immediately while 6'4" Brandon Mullins, from Spalding University, an NAIA school in Louisville, KY should see time on the wing. As well, 6'4" Aaron Duncan, who pushed a triple double numerous times last season before an off-court altercation prematurely ended his season, will also return, giving the Huskies much more depth and talent than last season's Final Four team. Although St. FX loses two of Canada's top players from last season in 6'3" Garry Gallimore and 6'10" Neil MacDonald, X does return last season's fabulous recruiting class featuring 5'11" Christian "T-Bear" Upshaw, 6'5" Terrence Taylor, underrated 5'9" guard Will Silver and emerging 6'8" post Alberto Rodriquez, one of the most improved of X's players over the course of the summer. However, this is 6'2" fourth-year guard Tyler Richards' team and for X to compete for a championship, leadership and scoring must come from him. 6'3" Dwayne Johnson is also in the mix. Newcomers who are sure to make an impact include 6'7" Islam "Luiz" de Toledo, a native of Brazil who played two seasons of high school basketball in Modesto, Ca. and accepted an NCAA Division 1 scholarship from Brigham Young University before returning home to care for his ailing mother in Brazil. de Toledo is a potential impact player along the lines of former X star 6'9" Richard Bella, who led the X-Men to their first CIAU national championship under Coach Steve Konchalski in 1993.

Fraser Valley - reigning CIS Coach-of-the-Year Barnaby Craddock starts his first season in Abbottsford with plenty of athleticism including 6'0" Tristan Smith, a solid point guard from California.
Alberta - Veteran coach Don Horwood always has a competitive team but must replace a number of solid graduating seniors.
Winnipeg - With Cam Hornby ready to play almost the entire season and All-Canadian candidate Erfan Nasajpour, the Wesmen have as much talent at the top of their lineup as anyone.
Guelph - Assuming that injuries don't continue to plague the Gryphons, their ability to defend as a team, their depth and hopefully a contribution from Jonathan Moscatelli, a prized recruit from 2 years ago, will keep them in the hunt.
York - The Lions still have 6'3" All-Canadian candidate Tut Ruach and solid 6'3" wing Amde Evans plus a number of younger players who will have an opportunity to assert themselves with more minutes.
Dalhousie - The Tigers took a step closer to pushing for a spot atop the AUS with a solid performance down the stretch and with the depth and quality of their incoming class, led by 6'1" Simon Farine, the Tigers should move into the top half of the AUS this season.

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