Monday, 25 February 2008

Weekend Thoughts

AUS It appears that the Saint Mary's Huskies are making their seemingly-annual push to playing deep into March. The Huskies spent the early season as a Top 5 CIS team, winning 10 of their first 12 games including 9 in a row in one stretch that included a pair of wins against AUS regular season champions Acadia Axemen. The Huskies then had some roster churn as 6'6" Clint Bateman and U.S. import 6'4" Brandon Mullins left the team and 6'5" Ike Uchegbu, a vital part of the Huskies interior play, battled some nagging injuries. As a result, Saint Mary's went through a 9-6 stretch that dropped them out of the Top 10. However, recently the Huskies have won 6 of their last 7 including a pair of critical weeeknd wins at home against Cape Breton, offsetting a pair of losses at CBU in November, allowing Saint Mary's to finish third in the AUS. 6'1" Shane Morrison and 6'5" Aaron Duncan took turns being the hero over the weekend against the Capers and both natives of Toronto bring more athleticism to a Huskies lineup that went no more than six deep usually last season. With the Toronto tandem supplying transition excitement and ability to get to the rim, Saint Mary's can play up tempo but can also be successful in quarter-court sets with the wonderful ability of 6'3" Mark McLaughlin to use screens and rise to shoot and the steady caretaking and decision-making from glue-like point guard Mark Ross. With more depth and athleticism than last season's Final Four team, the Huskies could easily catch fire again and find themselves again peaking at the right time... Acadia Axemen showed down the stretch that they should be the favorites entering the AUS tournament. Acadia is deeper than last season and have a potential AUS Player-of-the-Year in 6'5" Leonil Saintil as a difference maker at both ends. 6'5" Sean Berry, who came off the bench last season, is a much more solid part of the rotation and with last season's AUS POY 6'1" Paolo Santana rounding into form, Acadia has as much talent as any team in Canada. The Axemen love to get out and run and attack the offensive glass and when they do they are tough to beat. An achilles heel for Acadia all season long has been free throw shooting - Acadia shoots only 60% from the stripe as a group - so if there is any weakness that may come to fruition in a tight game, making their free ones could be it. Acadia is likely to play the winner of Cape Breton vs. Dalhousie in the semi-finals on their way to a shot at their second consecutive AUS crown.

Awards Time I had several emails questioning my selection of 6'4" Kiraan Posey as an OUA West Second Team all-star, including an inquiry from Lakehead Head Coach Scott Morrison. Posey's numbers are easily 1st Team-like: OUA West leading scorer, several 40+ point games and a deserved reputation as probably the best pure scorer in the division. The criteria I used for selecting my honours candidates considered other parameters including how well the team did overall, how well the player did in games against top opponents, how well the player did down the stretch in February when playoffs were on the line and intangibles beyond simple points and rebounds. Some of my reasons for sticking Posey on the second team despite his tremendous offensive stats included his showings against top teams like Carleton, Ottawa and Toronto (all at home), his under average (for him) play and production down the stretch (Lakehead lost their last 5 games in a row - 3 at home) and an inconsistent defensive effort in the games I watched (for example, Guelph's Jay Mott had a career day with Posey guarding him for much of the game). I have no doubt that the Lakehead program is on the rise under the hard-working and enthusiastic Morrison and that with normal progress next season Posey, entering his fifth and final year, will be a very strong candidate for OUA West Player-of-the-Year and lead the T-Wolves back into the playoffs and possibly beyond. However, for this season, I thought there were at least 5 players who fit the criteria I used in rewarding a season's efforts for honours more deserving than Posey. On another note, I was very impressed with the classy manner in which Coach Morrison presented his opinion to me and the amicable way we discussed what can clearly be a sensitive issue for a Coach justifiably standing up for his player. Having worked with Scott last season on a webcast of the Windsor/Brandon game at the Nationals and spoken to him several times since, we know each other and how Scott dealt with this issue makes me think even more highly of him than before. We get a chance to see how my view potentially differs from that of the OUA West coaches when the OUA announces the OUA West All-Stars tomorrow... Another controversial choice, judging by the emails and comments I've received, was the OUA East pick for Coach of the Year which was given to Toronto's Mike Katz with a strong honourable mention for Queen's coach Rob Smart. Again, my criteria may differ from what others would consider for Coach-of-the-Year but I would be lying if I said that I didn't take for granted the top-notch work of Carleton Coach Dave Smart in shepparding his team to an undefeated 22-0 season despite losing two time Mike Moser Award winner Osvaldo Jeanty to graduation. Sometimes when one wins as often and as consistently as D. Smart does and has the overflowing trophy case to show for it, the bar gets raised higher than others - justifiably or not - and even the fine work of a perfect season can get lost in the shuffle. For what it's worth, in my selection of Coach-of-the-Year, I take a look at the rosters at the beginning of the year and where teams are projected to finish and then compare to their actual finish at the end of the season as a critical criteria in my selection. Both Katz and Rob Smart experienced huge losses to their rotations from 2006-07 and in my books, circa the pre-season, were projected to struggle to even host a home playoff game in February, let alone get a bye or cruise to a first round victory. Both teams exceeded expectations and in my opinion was what warranted my personal consideration for COY. In Carleton's case, much of the pre-season talk was, despite losing the greatest CIS player of his generation in Oz, the Ravens, top to bottom, might even be deeper and more talented than last season. But it is extremely difficult to argue with 22-0...

Canada West The Calgary Dinos looked like a machine on the weekend in dismantling a very good Alberta team and with the Final Four in Calgary this weekend and the way the Dinos are going, they will be a very tough out. But UBC has the experience of several recent Final Fours and a big-time player in 6'3" Chris Dyck. The T-Birds front line led by 6'8" veteran Bryson Kool will be under pressure to perform, especially defensively, from the beginning given how well the Dinos front line, led by 6'8" Henry Bekkering has played. Kool especially is looking to shed his recent pattern of slow starts on Friday night games followed by a comparative explosion on Saturday's for UBC to have any chance. The Brandon/Alberta game will likely be a barnburner as well as both teams are stocked with great athletes and the teams combined for almost 200 points in their only meeting this season in Edmonton. Interestingly, Canada West has quietly done away with their third place game at the Final Four. Although not officially annoucing the reason for not staging the game, it is clear that there was very little to gain for either team in that game and much to lose in the context of a CIS Nationals wild card selection.

Enjoy the rest of the playoffs...

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

You fumbled the ball with COY in the original post, but recovered it nicely with that retort.
I learn more about CIS basketball here more than any other site.
Well done.

canadel62 said...

I detect a lack of X-Ring on right hand here. X has flirted with the CIS top 10-15 rankings all year although the rankings can hardly be statistically relevant. The statistically relevant rankings had them in the top 10 or 15 I believe in all cases. They have obtained byes, (either 1/2), for the last 9 yrs in the AUS which produced many CIS Silver medallists although statistics here maybe irrelevant for they also had in the view of the upper canadians more representation hosting the tournament. This yr they have performed well against top 10 teams except Acadia who blew them away I saw the game on the web, although Acadia has been very highly ranked I believe they are carrying the entire credibility of the AUS right now Cape Breton a very good team, have been slipping and SMU has been coming on as you mention like gangbusters. I like most of your stuff but my X-Ring is ...burning my ...precious.

Anonymous said...

I'm a Carleton alumnus but I definitely agree with your COY choices. As much as Smart has done again this season, the bar gets set higher, especially when this team looked like his best one on paper over the past six years.