Sunday, 13 January 2008

Weekend Observations

Among the interested observers in the near-capacity crowd at Saturday's uOttawa at U of T Varsity Blues game were Toronto Raptors Head Coach Sam Mitchell and Assistant Coach Jay Triano. Mitchell and Triano sat courtside and Mitchell in particular was rather animated throughout the game, especially excitable when 6'6" Ahmed Nazmi, who had one of the best games of his career against the Gee-Gees, made several shots. Triano, some will recall, had U of T Coach Mike Katz on his staff for several years on the Canadian National team and Triano and Gee-Gees coach Dave DeAveiro have had an affiliation during Triano's National team tenure. It is tremendous to see Mitchell and Triano support Canadian university basketball; their presence creates great profile for the game. Incidentially, U of T's crowds have been steadily growing and are beginning to attract city high school kids and players to the games... Friday's game at U of T was billed as a battle between two of the top teams in the CIS and some observers even gave the Blues an opportunity to play with and/or defeat the unbeaten Carleton Ravens. The game was a complete sell-out and the pre-game atmosphere was electric. Unfortunately, as many have heard by now, the game degenerated into a free throw shooting contest, with several top players on each team saddled with foul trouble. By the end of the game, U of T coach Mike Katz had been ejected and the Ravens shot 8 free throws in a row and got the ball back after a flurry of "t's", part of 61 total fouls (31 to 30) called and over 70 free throws shot by both teams. If we are to sell our game in the biggest market in the country with two top teams and many fans attending a CIS game for the first time to see what all the hype is about, thought should be put in to ensure that all aspects of the product are resourced properly with the best talent. Judging by the reaction of numerous observers, the CIS missed a great opportunity to raise the profile of the game and it could have been avoided. Let's hope everyone learns from this experience and that a more positive impression can be made the next time the CIS is fortunate enough to have a chance to raise their profile... Brandon Bobcats came up with a huge road win at UBC on Friday and the game was another example of the impact 6'3" Dany Charlery can have with his athleticism and big shot making ability. Charlery made what could have been the key play in the entire game in the first half when, with his team down double digits and all the momentum and large crowd riding with the hometown T-Birds, he stretched out to steal a pass in transition then went in and slammed the ball home to change the momentum. UBC Coach Kevin Hanson, probably knowing how critical the play was, immediately called time out to calm his troops, but the Cats still finished the first half on a 10-0 run and then took over in the second half, with Charlery, the game's leading scorer with 27 points, closing the game with a long 3 late to give Brandon a 10 point lead. Big players make big plays to win big games and Charlery did just that on Friday in a big spot on the road... It also appears that 6'6" Tyler Hass saved his "best game as a Vike" in the words of Head Coach Craig Beaucamp, for the Bobcats the following night, helping UVic rally to get a big win that allowed the Vikes to move back to within 1/2 game for first place (1 in the loss column) in the Pacific in advance of this coming Friday's showdown between the Vikes and the T-Birds in Victoria which very well could settle first place and home court advantage throughout the Pacific Division playoffs. Prior to Friday's third and final meeting of the regular season between UBC and UVic, the T-Birds host Simon Fraser on Tuesday night... Calgary now has a three game lead in the Central Division standings and owns the tiebreaker with second-place Alberta, meaning for the Bears to have any chance of finishing first in the division, they must essentially sweep their remaining 8 games and hope Calgary goes only 4-4. The Dinos do have to travel to Brandon next Saturday and finish with a pair of road games at Saskatchewan on the final weekend of the regular season so anything is possible. However, the Bears do have a trip to B.C. remaining on their schedule including a game at UBC. Saskatchewan all but eliminated themselves from first place consideration with a pair of losses this weekend at Winnipeg and at Manitoba and are 5 games behind Calgary... Things are extremely tight in the OUA West as three teams have 4 losses atop the division after Guelph lost a pair of games at home this weekend while Brock, 2-1 after the holidays, now plays 8 of their final 11 games in the friendly confines of Bob Davis Gymnasium including avoiding the difficult trip to Thunder Bay to play a very much improved Lakehead squad, which got a 38 point effort from 6'4" Kiraan Posey on the weekend. Don't sleep on the defending OUA champion Windsor Lancers either who took the game by the horns very early at Mac and despite foul trouble to Ryan Steer and Kevin Kloostra in street clothes methodically defeated an improved Mac team right in Burridge Gym. Coach Chris Oliver had to be happy with his team's defense and contributions from his bench but more importantly with such a complete showing away from the St. Denis Center... Carleton remains the class of the OUA East and indeed all of Canada as they were able to handle Toronto in Toronto in a game that was closer than the score indicated but as we have intimated already several times probably not a great barometer of how each team stacks up against each other due to the officiating. The Ravens took any frustrations they may have had out on Ryerson the next night, holding CIS leading scorer 6'7" Boris Bakovic to only 5 first-half points and raced to a 24 point halftime lead to win by about 40. Carleton is deep, has an underrated star in 6'3" Stuart Turnbull, who has refused to let anyone tell him what he can't do and is now arguably the leader of the Ravens with his all-out hustle and now emerging scoring abilities... Ottawa Gee-Gees have had a productive year out of 6'4" Josh Gibson-Bascombe, watched 6'3" Sean Peter develop into a "go-to" guy offensively and developed 6'9" Dax Dessureault into a legitimate, upper echelon CIS post player both offensively and defensively. However, depth and leadership issues may challenge this group as they enter a key stretch including the Capital Hoops Classic in about two weeks time. Once fighting for first place with Carleton, the next three weeks will tell whether or not the Gee-Gees have any shot at finishing first or fighting for fourth... With all due respect to the talented and competitive 6'1" Damian Buckley of Concordia, if 6'8" J.P. Morin wasn't regarded as the top player in Quebec this season prior to this weekend, it will be virtually impossible to not consider him that now with his terrific performance at Concordia on Saturday afternoon. Les Rouge et Or have now won five in a row and lead the "Q". Concordia got the news that they feared yet likely knew was coming when it was announced that 6'3" Dwayne Buckley will miss the remainder of the season with a knee injury. Dw. Buckley will undergo surgery in the near future after another MRI to further reveal what kind of damage was done to the knee that he reinjured late in the Stingers overtime loss to Ottawa in the semi-finals of the recent Rod Shoveller Memorial tournament in Halifax over the holidays... The Acadia Axemen keep on rolling, hammering UNB twice this weekend and were helped indirectly this weekend as the Manitoba Bisons swept a pair of games from Saskatchewan and an Alberta team that many considered to be Top 10 calibre. The Bisons strong weekend makes Acadia loss to Manitoba less taxing on their ranking for my perspective. Acadia has 6'1" Paolo Santana back in the lineup and according to Head Coach Les Berry during his interview on the Scrum podcast, Santana is still battling pain when he plays and may have to play with pain all season long. The Axemen host UPEI next Saturday in advance of their first-place showdown at home on Sunday with Cape Breton.

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