Wednesday, 11 March 2009

X-Men Happy to be in Ottawa

Given all the challenges that St. FX Head Coach Steve Konchalski has had to overcome this season, he can be forgiven for feeling extremely happy to be headed to Ottawa this morning to prepare for Friday's first round CIS Nationals matchup with host and #1 ranked Carleton Ravens. When reached on his way to the airport in Halifax earlier today, Coach sounded humbled and grateful that this group was chosen as the wild card. With all he's gone through, "it could have been worse, we could have being staying home", said Konchalski.

There is alot to prepare for with the Ravens, especially after Carleton was able to neutralized X's patented full-court pressure defense when the teams met over the holidays at the Dalhousie's Rod Shovellor Memorial tournament. Carleton dominated in an 82-61 victory during which the Ravens had leads as high as 26 in the third quarter. As will be the case this coming Friday, X played the holiday game against Carleton without 6'2" Tyler Richards who was injured. Richards would have been available and at/near full strength this weekend if not for the decision to hold he and 2 other X-Men out of the Nationals pending the outcome of charges. (I had reported earlier that he may have missed the weekend anyway due to injuries). Not having Richards and 6'1" Ottawa native William Donkoh will especially hurt X's cause as Richards is their best overall scorer and 3 point shooter while Donkoh is an excellent on the ball defender as a freshman.

Still, Konchalski feels optimistic that his X-Men can put forth a stronger effort certainly than what was on display in the AUS championship game. "We need to use our athleticism at both ends of the floor", stated Konchalski, adding that his troops need to do a better job with his pressure "d" that the Ravens dealt with so well in December. Certainly X's success now rides on the shoulders of AUS MVP Christian "T-Bear" Upshaw, who, in the mould of X-Man Jonathan Bell, is the energizer at both ends, pushing up on the ball to create turnovers and getting out in transition. Upshaw will need to lead his troops in the quarter court given Carleton's strong transition and sometimes-stifling 1/2 court "d". 6'4" veteran post Dwayne Johnson gets his on the offensive glass and can also hurt you facing up from 12 feet while 6'8" Alberto Rodriquez, in his first season as a bona fide starter, appears to be getting more comfortable with his decisions in the post and is also happy getting out and running. The underlying key to X's defense and overall team toughness is scrappy 5'9" guard Will Silver, who earlier in his career played a key offensive role off the bench shooting 3's and has turned into a defensive stopper. His dogged determination was the main reason why Dal's AUS tournament MVP Simon Farine shot a very ordinary 5 for 17 from the floor in the final. Silver continues to consistently stuff the stat sheet offensively as well; he had 5 steals, 6 rebounds and 7 assists against Dal. 6'3" Terrance Taylor is the fifth starter and he has assumed a more meaningful role in X's rotation. Consistency is the key with the high-flying Taylor who is capable of spectacular work on the "o" glass and in transition. First off the bench is usually 6'5" freshman Jeremy Dunn, sure to be an all-AUS candidate as his career progresses. In fact Dunn was a starter for much of the early season until an ankle injury took him out of the lineup for a few weeks. Dunn plays with alot of confidence, has a high basketball IQ and will not beintimidated by the big stage if his 5-12 shooting from downtown in the Metro Center at the AUS championships is any indication. 6'5" Chad Warren continues to battle consistency which is common for many CIS sophomores; he has shown the ability to shine with at least 4 top notch efforts this season. Another 6'5" forward Sean Nichol, can stretch defenses with his perimeter shooting and he should see ample minutes in Coach K's rotation. Frankly, the odds are stacked against X given the expected large home crowd, Carleton's focus on redemption after last season's semi-final loss and X's depleted roster. However X has a ton of athletic ability as well as Coach K's motivational skills which have propelled X several times over the years. Stranger things have happened as we saw last year.

No comments: