Tuesday, 18 March 2008

More Thoughts on the Nationals

The progress made by the Acadia Axemen over the past two seasons has been nothing short of sensational. Coach Les Berry inherited a program reeling from a 2004-05 mid-season coaching change that left the team in the hands of a coach who's first sport was football. In Berry's first season in Wolfville (2005-06), the Axemen went only 5-23 overall including 2-17 in the AUS but even then Coach Berry was laying the foundation for success, bringing in 6'1" Paolo Santana as his prize recruit from Toronto but also 6'5" Shawn Berry from Brampton and 6'5" Luckern Dieu from Montreal to join 6'8" Ash Lual (Ottawa), the one holdover from '04-'05. Berry had his challenges in the his first year but added a tremendous recruiting class in time for his second year led by 6'2" Andrew Kraus at the point, allowing him to move Santana to the wing for spurts, and giving more time to 6'1" Peter Leighton, who the country found out Saturday night what basketball fans on the East coast have known for a few year: he can flat out shoot the ball. 6'0" Pat McIver also arrived last season but 6'5" Leonel Saintil, thus far Acadia's most prized recruit, came in last season but was forced to sit out after transfering from Memorial. With that, Acadia had the pieces in place to make a move up the AUS table, which they did last season, making the playoffs and then ripping through the AUS tournament en route to the conference championship. But, in retrospect, one game could likely be pointed in which the Axemen matured: last season's loss at the Nationals to Carleton. It turned out to be a watershed moment in this young team's progress and the group could have gone one of two ways. Leighton's reaction, shooting 300 jumpers a day in the summer to get ready for this season and a possible rematch with Carleton, epitomized the resiliant attitude of the Axemen. With the move into the starting lineup this season of Saintil after sitting out for transfer rules, Acadia had a legitimate post threat and the puzzle pieces were virtually all in place. The Axemen started the season with an early October win in Moncton against Saint Mary's in what turned out to be a preview of the AUS championship. The teams met again in the championship game of the UNB tournament with the Huskies claiming a three point win followed up shortly thereafter by a 4 point win in Wolfville to start the AUS season. The Axemen went to the Christmas break ranked in the Top 5 but promptly lost their opening game of the tournament to Calgary by 11 in a game in which they trailed by 20 very early. Acadia rebounded to defeat Brandon in what turned out to be a game that likely tipped the scales toward them in the wild card. However, the Axemen hit the low point of their season the following day in a double overtime loss to Manitoba, which was destined for a last-place finish in Canada West's Great Plains division. With the national scribes questioning how good this team was, the Axemen showed their resolve and won the first 6 games back after the break including victories over Saint Mary's in the first game after the break and Cape Breton. However, the Axemen lost the rematch to the Capers back in Sydney and faced St. FX the next day in Antigonish. Coming off a road loss during a long trip playing back-to-back and with first place and a high national ranking on the line, the Axemen produced by far their best effort of the season to that point, blasting X right out of the Oland Center 92-63, X's worst home loss in decades. Jumping out to a 14 point halftime with 8 different Axemen hitting the board, the Axemen proved they were for real, starting an eight game winning streak that ended in the AUS tournament championship game. By now, you know most of the rest as Acadia put on a gutty defensive performance led by Lual and found their range from the perimeter behind Leighton to slay the mighty Carleton Ravens. Acadia will have to replace a pair of starters in 6'8" Lual and 6'5" Berry but the other six players in their main rotation are scheduled to return including the past two AUS POY's in Saintil (going into 4th) and Santana (going into 5th). Kraus, who has improved steadily throughout his career and did a very underrated job handling, defending and looking for his offense this weekend, has 3 more years as the Axemen's floor leader. With Leighton (4th) and McIver (3rd), Acadia has proven clutch shooters from the perimeter and Dieu (5th) should move back into the starting lineup, pending the arrival of any new recruits. Acadia is back as an annual contender in the AUS and on the national scene... Bitter disappointment gripped a number of Carleton fans we were able to see and talk to immediately after the game in a couple arena watering holes. Having watched their Ravens continually defy the odds and win virtually every close game, the sense in the building was, at least midway through the fourth quarter of regulation that Carleton would right things and come back. But as Acadia met every Raven challenge and/or the Ravens missed several opportunities to win the game with final possessions or at the foul line, for the first time in several years the mood in the building appeared to change and the inevitable didn't happen. Carleton Head Coach Dave Smart was understandably disappointed but very gracious in quickly giving full credit to Acadia, especially shooting guard Peter Leighton, for making numerous big plays when they mattered most. Smart appropriately seeked out Leighton after the game on the floor after the handshake line to personally congratulate the Nova Scotia native on a tremendous effort. He gave full credit to Acadia for making big plays and doing a solid job defensively, especially 6'8" Ash Lual on 6'7" Aaron Doornekamp. Offensively, down the stretch, he felt his group "got to the areas on the floor where we felt we would be able to make something positive happen" but lamented the fact that "their length really gave us problems finding passing lanes when we got there". He basically agreed that with the hot shooting of Leighton, it was difficult to pinch down on Saintil inside, providing the athletic center with more room to operate off the high/low. Smart was also very sincere in his comments about "feeling really bad for our kids, many of who are taking this tough". All in all, Smart was surprisingly upbeat considering the loss, gave full credit to Coach Les Berry and his players and accentuated the positive that he and the group will learn from the loss... About 30 coaches participated in a series of annual meetings addressing several topics. First of all, I want to personally thank every coach in the country who made my life easier by being accessible after games via the telephone or email. In some cases, coaches were proactive in calling me, some even after bad losses. Those who have supported this site know who they are and rest assured I am grateful for the support and the gesture made after this weekend's meetings. I trust that together we're helping to grow what is a tremendous product and we look forward to continuing to increase the profile of CIS basketball. One of the major topics discussed was revising the format for the Nationals with several new ideas put forth. The format I find most appealing is one that retains the Final 8 but with a 16 team format. I believe it is important to maintain the Final 8 format as I'm not convinced that the economics of a Final 4 with only 3 meaningful games instead of 7 will work. Under this proposed scenario, the four conference winners advance directly to the Final 8 while the remaining 12 teams (selection process to be decided), participate in 3 mini-regionals across the country. The winners of those three regionals would advance to the Nationals and then an eighth team would be selected via a wild card process. Scheduling the mini-regionals relative to the Final 8 would be somewhat challenging as the 4 winners may have to sit out longer than they might like. As well, all conferences would likely have to go to a weekend tournament format like the AUS and Canada West have currently. But the scenario works because it legitimizes the conference championship and also allows for more programs and players to participate in the experience of a sudden-death, tournament-like setting against teams from outside their conference. The business case for the mini-regionals has been discussed however many of the details likely still need to be worked out. It is important to note that these scenarios are in the idea stage and much work remains to actually change the format but the discussions were clearly active and progressive in my opinion... Attendance at the event was a much-discussed and often-debated topic. Having now seen 12 games over 5 different days, including the pair of Capital Hoops Classic games that each legitimately drew over 9,000 fans, I've got a reasonable feel for how announced numbers stack up against how many are actually in the stands. Saturday night, without question, was the most exciting CIS game I have ever attended, definitely passing the first Capital Hoops Classic by the time the first overtime began and then well exceeding it with all the tremendous twists and turns that had fans emotionally exhausted by the end. It definitely appeared that at least the announced number of 9,316 fans were there on Saturday, giving the game the look and feel of a big-time game. Much of the informal chat after Saturday's game centered on what Sunday's crowd might be, what with the host Ravens not in the championship game. It was very gratifying to look around and see what I would view as between 7,500 and 8,000 fans at Sunday's final (announced crowd of 8,251), including many Carleton fans supporting the tournament despite their team's loss the night before. As well, the majority of suites were full and both teams displayed their colours in sections of the arena, making noise and again giving the event a big time feel. One area of improvement for next season could be to try to fill or possibly somehow cover the seats behind the baskets. Several photos show many empty seats which did not do the crowd or the atmosphere proper justice...

Final attendance figures:

Game One: 7,385
Game Two: 7,385
Game Three: 8,434
Game Four: 8,610

Game One: 7,180
Game Two: 7,180
Game Three: 9,196
Game Four: 9,316

Game One: 8,251
Game Two: 8,251

Also, according to Neate Sager on the CIS Blog, the SCORE's average audience for the tournament was 77,000, a record. (see more below)

MORE: Sources indicate that preliminary audience numbers for Saturday night's game on the Score were 110,000, which is incredible for a CIS event. We hope to have more view on the incremental numbers as the game progressed, which are likely to be considerably higher. The 110,000 figure could be the highest television audience ever for a CIS event.

THANKS: A tremendous thank you goes out to the entire organizing committee led by Jennifer Brenning, Director of Athletics at Carleton, Cyril Leeder, Cheif Operating Officer of Scotiabank Place and David Kent, who did tireless work ensuring the media was well taken care of. Carleton and Scotiabank Place did an incredible job in their first go-around and, knowing the people involved, will consider all the comments and suggestions and apply their learnings to improving the event next year and beyond. There were many others who made the weekend memorable including the legions of press who ensured the event was blanketed with coverage: Wayne Kondro and his tireless work promoting the game, Dale Stevens, Neate Sager, Chris Kallan, Howard Bloom, Michel Belanger and many other new faces; the entire staff at SSN Canada for making all games available on the Internet including Bengt Neathery, Matt Kavanaugh, Mark Masters and Kevin Burton; Tim Micallef, Sherman Hamilton and Arash Madani of the SCORE, all classy and humble individuals who helped make the broadcasts tremendous (congratulations on the ratings !) and many, many others who I've probably overlooked and not forgotten. This event should continue to grow.


Anonymous said...

In this mornings Halifax Chronicle-Herald there is an article By Chris Cochrane stating that AUS officials are upset at Carleton and The Bank for inflating attendance numbers. They seemed to think it was done just to say that the numbers in past Halifax tournaments were beat by Ottawa. It was mentioned that some thought this was a slight to Halifax.
In youir oinion, is this a justified view, or is Halifax just still reeling over the disappointment of losing the Bball nationals after having it for so long?

Mark Wacyk said...

I haven't read Chris's column as of yet however I can say with certainty that the most senior officials at Carleton Athletic Department having nothing but the utmost respect for what the City of Halifax, the AUS and all of Atlantic Canada have done for CIS basketball. I haven't asked anyone about why the numbers were presented as they were but my guess is that the view was that the higher the numbers presented, the more appealing they would look to those who didn't attend the event and/or were contemplating a sponsorship agreement. In no way do I believe the people associated with the event in Ottawa would in any way disparage Halifax either directly or indirectly just as in no way would I ever think the people directly associated with the outstanding AUS events and prior Nationals would disparage the job Ottawa did or is trying to do.

Anonymous said...

The AUS Pres, Phil Currie, thinks that Ottawa is trying to belittle Halifax's attendance figures in order to gain an advantage in the bidding for 2011 and beyond. From the Cochrane article-----------

"CIS communications manager Michel Belanger said Monday that there were 81,147 game tickets issued in Ottawa if you broke down all the two-game tickets into individual tickets.

But that isn’t the way the CIS traditionally did its Final 8 math during the long stay in Halifax.

"In reality, you have to cut this in half," said Belanger. "Just over 40,000 (in total attendance) would be an accurate number."

"We could have done the same thing, go back through our records and I could give you an attendance of 70,000 or 80,000 easy," said Currie. "What it looks like is they are saying ‘We did double what Halifax could do.’ Get the numbers right. It doesn’t do anybody any justice to report inaccuracies in attendance."

Isn’t this arguing apples and oranges? Not according to Currie.

His view is that an attendance total belittling Halifax’s accomplishments has now been sent across the country, leaving the wrong impression in any comparison between the Final 8 in Halifax and the Final 8 in Ottawa. That’s an impression he doesn’t want left out there with another round of bidding, potentially between Halifax and Ottawa again, just around the corner."

Mark Wacyk said...

I stand by my comments that the senior people involved with this event at Carleton University would not do something like this to disparage Phil Currie or the AUS; on the contrary, these people have the utmost respect for Phil, the AUS and the fans in Atlantic Canada.

Anonymous said...

The AUS officials certainly are quick to whine, aren't they? Is hypersensitivity one of the symptoms of having hosted the event for so long? (Another being an over-inflated sense of entitlement.)

Anonymous said...

it was a pity that the Acadia-Carleton game, one of the best games in the history of this tournament was only a semi final game instead of the championship game.
If the draw had been chosen without silly stipulatons, Acadia and Carleton would not have been in the same bracket.
UBC and Acadia should have been seeded 2-3 respectively.
Instead SMU, which had not been in the top 10 since early January was given the 3 seed.
As it turned out, the two best teams were on the same draw.
I saw all the games live at SBP, and while I respect and salute the Brock Badgers for winning it all, I can't help but wonder what the outcome would have been had they met Acadia in the first round.
It was pretty evident the Acadia had no where near the same energy level as the night before and really how could they?
They left everything on the floor in their upset over Carleton and they had little left in reserve.
Still, as exhausted and mentally fatigued as they were, Acadia went to the wire with Brock losing by 3 points at the very end.
A sad and rather anti-climatic end to a very competitive tournament for the Axemen.

NT Huskies said...

In terms of determining a national champion, the powers that be seem stuck on the idea that the final 8/10/16, etc. has to be played at one single location.

There are 44 teams in the CIS, so it would be possible to expand the tournament to 32 teams. Each of the four conferences would contribute eight teams and much like the NIT, the higher seed would have home court. Teams would be seeded based on regular season performance and the brackets would replace the existing conference playoffs (e.g. the winner of the Canada West bracket would be declared the Canada West champion, etc.) Games would be played on a Tues/Sat or Wed/Sun, which would be enough time for sites to prepare and tickets to be sold. The visiting team would lose a day of class, but this is already the case in the regular season when teams have to travel for games scheduled on a Friday. The final four would be played at a central pre-determined location as is currently the case. The teams representing the final four may not be the top ranked teams in the nation (as these teams may have already met in their conference brackets), but, seeing as none of four major North American professional sport leagues re-seed teams, I don't think this is a major issue.

I believe that the success of the Final Four is because the sudden-death format appeals to the general sports fan who might not otherwise be interested. By adopting a similar format, I think the CIS would benefit from adopting a similar format.

Anonymous said...

it certainly does not sound like whining to me. Currie wanted to make sure the attendance number comparisons are accurate. As confirmed by the CIS - they are not accurate. thats not a whine but a fact. if you want to define whining - watch Coach Smart work the refs during any game you watch. He makes Dave Nutbrown look like a choir boy.

Paul F
go X Go

Anonymous said...

good coverage of the cis finals

Anonymous said...

The whining isn't the disagreement over the way the numbers are presented. The whining is his belief that this was somehow a shot at Halifax and it lead to paranoias over how Carleton will use this down the road.

Perhaps he needs a little break from Halifax? It seems that navel gazing is a common affliction if you spend too much time there.