Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Carleton: Going for 6 and their first without Oz

A somewhat-common annual refrain could be heard, usually a few weeks after Carleton Ravens had wiped the champagne off their uniforms and awards after celebrating their latest National championship: "Now that Jafeth Maseruka and Rob Smart are gone...", "How are they going to replace Josh Poirier and Paul Larmand ?" ... "they're in trouble without Mike Smart...". After last season's fifth championship in a row, it was "How are they going to do it without Oz?" refering to five-time CIS champion and two-time Mike Moser Award winner Osvaldo Jeanty. I know because I was one of the so-called "experts" asking the questions. Still, prior to this season, given the return of 6'7" Aaron Doornekamp and 6'4" Ryan Bell, a pair of Canadian National team program members, the entry of a stellar recruiting class and the ongoing guidance of Coach Dave Smart, many whispered that this season's might be the deepest and best edition of the Ravens yet ! If their record this season is any indication, it may not be a stretch to annoint this edition as the best Carleton team ever. The current group is the only Ravens team to enter the Nationals undefeated against CIS competition. In fact, Carleton has lost only 6 OUA league games in 6 seasons and suffered only 11 losses overall during that time. Despite those gaudy numbers, this season's team is the only one in the five-plus year championship run that is undefeated entering the tournament.

SEASON Overall, League, Losses
2002-03 33-1, 21-1 at Laurentian (league)
2003-04 34-1, 22-0 at UBC (non-conference)
2004-05 34-1, 22-0 vs. UVic (House-Laughton tournament)
2005-06 30-4, 20-2 at Brock & Ottawa, York at home, St.FX (NC)
2006-07 32-4, 19-3 vs./at Ottawa (2), York, at Windsor
2007-08 31-0, 22-0 UNDEFEATED

Although Doornekamp is clearly Carleton's most talented scorer with his ability to post-up, get to the rim off the dribble or knock down shots, the most underrated part of his game is his passing, either out of the double team or in transition. Doornekamp has no trouble with being physical inside when rebounding as well. Bell can be unselfish almost to a fault but down the stretch has made virtually every big shot he needed to make and as always guards the opponent's toughest perimeter scorer. 6'3" Stu Turnbull broke out in his fourth season and is now a legitimate 1st team all-star. Always gritty and mentally tough, Turnbull's ability to get in the lane at will and use his body to finish and/or draw contact is almost impossible to contain. He also sets the tone for Carleton, drawing charges, scrapping for loose balls and playing harder than anyone. 6'3" Rob Saunders is another tremendous ball defender who cannot be left alone beyond the arc. 6'5" fifth-year forward Jean-Emmanuel Jean-Marie has a lower-body injury all season long but is capable of providing his reliable offense from 10 feet and in (with the occasional open make from downtown). 5'10" Mike Kenny is very reliable point guard off the bench with great basketball instincts who also usually makes open 3's when left alone. Kenny's high school teammate, 6'7" Kevin McCleery, who also battled a lower-body injury throughout the season, is another fundamentally-sound post player who finishes inside and rebounds. Among the freshmen, 6'3" Elliot Thompson has progressed the most as a scrappy wing who can defend, knock down open shots and rebound. In the most simplist terms, the Ravens have won 5 in a row by defending and rebounding, taking good shots, making free throws and being mentally and physically prepared to play virtually every possession. The coaching staff has the team well prepared for every game; for example, last season's opening game of the Nationals against Acadia required a concerted effort to convert defensively to stop the Axemen's vaunted transition attack and never had anyone seen the Ravens sprint back to the quarter-court with such conviction and velocity. Playing in Ottawa in a venue where they have already had a pair of games in front of large crowds may or may not be an advantage. Nonetheless, clearly, at this point, the tournament is Carleton's to lose.

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