Thursday, 20 December 2007

AUS First Half Recap

The first half of the AUS season went reasonably close to what many had been predicting in the pre-season: Acadia and St. Mary's at or near the top of the conference, the young St. FX X-Men, replacing two stalward four-year starters from last season, maturing as the season progressed and Dalhousie Tigers moving up to contender status. However, there definitely was one surprising team, Cape Breton Capers, given the heavy losses due to graduation and a relatively-unproven backcourt. The Capers (6-1, 12-4 overall) had a tremendous first half, capturing the UPEI tournament, and then overcoming the loss due to injury for much of the first half of 6'4" Paul Blake, one of only two returning starters, to hold down first place in the AUS. 6'5" Eric Breland (21.2 ppg - leads AUS, 11.0 rpg - 2nd in AUS) has been the main focus of the offense and has delivered in the higher profile role with 7 double/doubles overall including 4 in league play. Breland has had a pair of 29 point games and, despite getting the most looks on his team, still shoots .574 from the floor. Taking over at the point despite a knee injury that he will have to play all season with, 6'1" Mark McGarrigle (11.7 ppg, team-high 18 3's in conference play) has been steady. 5'10" freshman Tremaine Fraser (12.4 ppg/4.3 apg) has played with poise of an experienced player almost from the beginning and has been pegged by some conference coaches as the top newcomer in the conference thus far. Blake (12.3 ppg/6.0 rpg) has come back from his groin injury and continues as one of the league's top three point threats. 6'4" sophomore Phil Nkrumah (9.8 ppg/7.0 rpg) also has suffered through injuries but contributed late in the first half while 6'3" Chris Noddle (11.4 ppg in conference play) flourished when asked to play more minutes during Capers injuries. 6'7" sophomore workhorse Scott Jaspers-Fayer (11.3 ppg/.597 shooting) has played much better during AUS regular season games and is rounding into the form many thought he would have since coming in as a touted freshman from Guelph, ON. Cape Breton will reconvene in December and hold a training camp in Sydney in preparation from re-starting their AUS regular season at home in the new year against UNB and UPEI.... 6'5" Leonel Saintil has picked up where he left off two seasons ago and, as a result, Acadia (5-1, 10-2 overall) has emerged as one of Canada's top teams, despite not having 6'1" defending AUS POY Paolo Santana for the entire first half of league play due to an ankle injury. Saintil (19.1 ppg/13.5 rpg overall), the Ottawa, ON native who transfered over from Memorial, like Breland is also averaging a double double including a season-high 22 rebound effort against UNB. 6'5" Sean Berry (14.4 ppg), sixth man last season, has moved into the starting lineup with the injury to Santana and is the team's second leading scorer. 6'2" sophomore point Andrew Kraus has been steady while three-point shooting specialist 6'1" Peter Leighton continues to stretch defenses. Another long-range threat off the bench, James Burke has hit 10 3's in league play while steady 6'5" Luckern Dieu (15.2 ppg/6.2 rpg) has been key up front. Both of Acadia's losses have been to St. Mary's and, while the Axemen's margin of victory in many games has been impressive, besides their season-opening win over St. Mary's way back in early October on a neutral court, they have only one other win against a team with a better than .500 record. Acadia will get a chance to correct that at the Winnipeg tournament later this month when they face Calgary Dinos (9-1 in Canada West) in the first round.... After a nine game winning streak was snapped during a stretch of 3 losses in 4 games, St. Mary's Huskies (4-2, 13-4 overall) rebounded to win their final three games of the first half and remain in the mix for top spot in the conference. Slick, steady off guard 6'3" Mark McLaughlin (17.6 ppg overall but 22.0 ppg in league play) continues to be the offensive catalyst, especially down the stretch of most games. McLaughlin, thus far a strong candidate for AUS POY with Breland and Saintil, is savvy enough to properly use screens to get himself open and can get his shot off in a number of ways. He's had 2 games of 30+ including 33 against Acadia, the majority in the second half in a key four-point league win. 6'5" Aaron Duncan, after a slow start, is averaging 17.2 ppg in league play and is back rebounding, leading the break when necessary and scoring around the rim. 6'1" newcomer Shane Morrison has not disappointed, logging big minutes in the back court and showing his strength and athleticism around the rim. 6'5" Ike Uchegbu (7.0 ppg/5.5 rpg) has suffered through minor injuries in the first half and despite humble numbers when healthy is a key Huskie especially for his ability to matchup defensively with the Eric Brelands and Leonel Saintils of the AUS. As has been mentioned several times here, 6'0" Mark Ross, who set an AUS record with 17 assists at MUN earlier this season, is steady, underrated experienced veteran presence in the backcourt who has the ability to change the tempo and make intelligent decisions when necessary on the floor. Look for Ross's minutes and time handling the basketball at key moments to increase if the Huskies are to repeat and exceed their strong performance down the stretch last year. St. Mary's will also be hurt by the loss due to injury of 6'5" Eric Glavic; as most know, Glavic is the quarterback on the Huskies football team and this season captured the Hec Crighton Trophy as Canada's top football player in leading the Huskies to the Vanier Cup final. Unfortunately, Glavic tore his ACL in the semi-finals against Laval and will miss the entire basketball season. The Huskies begin their second half at the Dal tournament, facing off against Ottawa.... After somewhat of a slow start, St. FX (4-2, 10-6 overall) are back near the top of the AUS, mainly on the strength of 6'2 fourth-year wing Tyler Richards (19.1 ppg), who has had 9 games scoring 20 or more points. However, X has one of Canada's top freshmen in 6'7" Islam de Toledo (13.9 ppg), who has been a tremendous presence at both ends but especially defensively and on the glass. Islam, who is very active on the offensive glass and can step out beyond the 3 to knock shots down, is also becoming much more comfortable scoring with his back to the basket in the half court and promises to be one of the best players ever to come through X before his career is over. Probably the most underrated X-Men through the first half has been 6'3" Dwayne Johnson (15.5 ppg/7.5 rpg in league play), finally fulfilling the promise he had after a stellar high school career at Ottawa Woodroffe. Johnson has extended his offensive game out to the mid-range, adding to his already strong prowess around the rim and on offensive glass, adding significant offense to the X lineup. 6'4" Terrance Taylor (10.2 ppg/4.7 rpg in league play) has also stepped up, improving his numbers in league play while 5'10" Christian "T-Bear" Upshaw continues his ball-hawking "d" and is at his best when leading a trapping, gambling X "d" to create the kind of tempo where he can create offensively. X will be at the Shovellor tournament in Halifax in late December with Laurier Golden Hawks being their first-round opponent.... Another candidate for AUS POY who has burst onto the scene is 6'1" Simon Farine (16.3 ppg/6.0 rpg/7.8 apg) at Dalhousie (3-3, 8-7 overall). Farine ordinarily pushes a triple double and is a big, strong guard who can get in the paint and create, rebound and make shots. However, teams were able to key much more on Farine after 6'1" shooting guard Andrew Sullivan broke his wrist on the eve of the AUS regular season in an exhibition game at the University of Maine and missed the entire first half. Sullivan and Farine were just getting comfortable with each other, with Farine usually providing the necessary space and creativity that Sullivan, a solid perimeter shooter, needs to get clean looks. 6'5" Germaine Bendegue (12.3 ppg/7.7 rpg) continues to strive for consistency in his game and when he is clogging the lane defensively, running the floor in transition and finishing inside, Farine has yet another option and Dal is that much better. Bendegue flashed his potential with a 17 rebound effort at UNB during the first half. 6'7" sophomore Sandy Viet (5.8 ppg/5.3 rpg in league play) has been getting increasing minutes and is rounding into a solid offensive performer; his time should increase as he becomes more assertive defensively. Role players Ryan deWinter, Devin Norris and Drew Stratton must continue their development to also help take some of the pressure away from Farine, who averaged 38+ minutes per game in the first half. 6'3" freshman Yannick Walcott got his feet wet in the first half and as he matures physically should become a top AUS player going forward. Dal starts off the second half hosting their annual Rod Shovellor Memorial tournament at home and gets Laurentian in the first round.... After losing the majority of their scoring due to graduation, UPEI (3-3, 4-13 overall) has restocked with a solid recruiting class featuring one of Canada's top freshmen in 6'6" Manock Lual (13.2 ppg and 7.5 rpg in only 28.5 mpg). Lual is very creative around the rim and uses his explosive athleticism to his advantage, especially on the offensive glass. Expect his time and touches to go up in the second half. 6'3" Seneca College transfer Andrew Black is putting up big numbers in limited minutes, averaging 11.2 ppg and 8.2 rpg in only 22.3 mpg while shooting 48.1 fg% and 57.1 3pt%. Black contiues to adapt to CIS basketball and expect Black to carve out more time and play a more prominent role. 6'3" sophomore Jonathan Cooper (7.3 ppg, 2.8 rpg, and 2.2 apg while shooting 46.4 fg% and 72.0 ft% in 21 mpg), another explosive athlete, has produced as both a starter and 6th man. Cooper is a slasher who ordinarily plays the role of defensive stopper. Look for Cooper to evolve his game further earning some time as the primary ballhandler. The Panthers pair of experienced veterans 5'10" Brent McLaren (14 ppg) and 6'0" Jared Budd (8.0 ppg) are their two leading three point shooters and have an ability to keep the floor spread and the paint open for Lual, Black and Cooper to operate. UPEI is building a solid program supported by hard work from the coaching staff and look for this program to continue to push toward the top of the AUS.... As one rival coach described the UNB Varisty Reds (0-7, 2-14 overall) "they're not the biggest, most athletic or talented but they're scrappy, never say die, are well coached and they are going to win some games at the Pit." That said, it has been a tough start to the season for the Reds, who rely on the 3 point shot offensively. The Reds have been very pleased with two freshmen, 6'4" Alex Desroches and 6'0" Adam Creaghan. Creaghan especially has played well as a first year point guard. 6'0" Thor Jensen leads the Reds in scoring at 12.2 ppg adding 4.5 rebounds per game while 6'2" Colin Swift (11.2 ppg) had one of the top shooting efforts in the first half, going 6 for 8 from downtown in a loss to Acadia. Up front, 6'5" Colton Wilson (5.5 rpg/.550 shooting) has been efficient. UNB is at the Dal tournament after Christmas.... Memorial (0-6, 1-15 overall) is also struggling but the Seahawks tend to play well at home, taking St. Mary's to double overtime in St. John's in one of the most exciting games of the first half will attest. MUN's Robert Grant had an AUS season-high 38 points in that game including 6 for 8 from downtown, which also tied an AUS season high. On most nights, the Seahawks are led by Grant Harvey (12.6 ppg/7.3 rpg - 5th in the AUS). Harvey is also shooting .557 from the field. Memorial has a decent first five but the talent level appears to drop significantly beyond that.

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