Thursday, 17 September 2009

Can UVic fly under the radar in Canada West ?

For a program that has been a perennial Top 10 team during the Craig Beaucamp era, including making it as far as the National championship game in 2005-06, not being mentioned among the early favorites for the Canada West crown is an uncommon occurance. With the loss of a pair of 35+ per minute game forwards in Canada West all-stars 6'6" Tyler Hass and 6'7" Mitch Gudgeon plus 6'1" Brandon Dunlop not returing, few view the Vikes as a sure-fire nationals contender. However, under Beaucamp, the Vikes have led or have been near the top in Canada West defensive stats because, fundamentally, they defend and they rebound. Beaucamp was able to refortify his front line, where there is plenty of opportunity for playing time, and bring in another couple of impact guards to the roster so expect Vic to continue to make it hellish for opponents to score, keep games in the 60's and once again be there at the end - flying under the radar may not be possible for this group as the season progresses.

6'4" third-year three-man Ryan MacKinnon becomes Vic's feature guy offensively and MacKinnon's size and strength has increased, especially with his strong work in the weight room in the off-season during which he gained 15 lbs. MacKinnon is Vikes best overall scorer with range beyond the three point line and look for him to take the mantle as a leader within this group. Another veteran, 6'0" Cyril Indome, entering his fifth and final year, is described by Beaucamp as a "heart and soul guy who leads on and off the court" and has been an energizer off the bench during his Vikes career. Indome will continue to display his versatility as a tireless worker playing anywhere from the one to the three offensively and usually checking the opponent's best ball handler or scorer with his tight on-the-ball "d".

With the losses of Hass and Gudgeon up front, expect Beaucamp to initially give several guys a shot at time with the view that one or two of the candidates will grab the opportunity and star as Gudgeon did midway through his career. Leading the returning forwards is 6'6" fourth-year athlete Wendell Thomas, who simply took off in the second half of last season, averaging a double/double down the stretch after struggling a bit in the first half with the adjustment from CCAA ball (transfer from UBC-Okanagan). Thomas looks to be even more improved with strong work over the summer as the Vikes go through their early paces here in September. Victoria welcomes back 6'8" third-year forward Mike Berg, who sat out last season while toiling for Canada's National rugby team, for which he was a carded athlete. Berg, a burly 230 lbs. 4/5 traditional low-post type who played for B.C. Provincial team while in high school, is a strong rebounder and defender and an underrated scorer in the low blocks.

Two newcomers should also push for time in the rotation up front as 6'8" Nick Adair, who entered the CIS at UBC as a redshirt two seasons ago before moving on to Camosun College last season where he garnered BCCAA Rookie-of-the-Year honours, brings aggressiveness and above average athleticism to the Vikes front line. Adair is much more physically mature than when he initially entered university and plays to contact, attacking the glass at both ends and uses his 7 foot wing span to alter shots on the defensive end. A nice complement to Adair and Burke is 6'8" Adam Connolly, who developed his above average perimeter skills playing the point in high school. Although he'll move to the wing/4 spot at this level, Connolly is FIBA-type big man with a solid skill set and court vision. Thought to initially be probably a year away, Connolly has impressed early as a flexible 3/4. 6'6" Trevor Scheurmann, a former member of the Manitoba Provincial team, was initially looked upon as a rotation guy up front but he has had his challenges recovering from a torn ACL and will be a medical redshirt this season.

The Vikes further fortified their backcourt with the addition of 5'10" Zac Andrus, a third-year transfer from Whatcom C.C. in Vashon, WA. Beaucamp first saw Andrus when Vikes met Whatcom last season (Andrus had 25 points against the Vikes) and the American lefty impressed with his strong, burly play from the lead guard spot. Andrus, who finished with 25 points against the Vikes, shows great court vision, handles and very strong passing skills, making him a prime candidate to start at the point. Likely to also push for the starting role is returning fourth-year 6'1" Jeff Cullen, who has played more 2 guard in his Victoria career but will transition back to his more natural position at the point. While he can score (25 points in Vic's playoff victory at Trinity Western), Cullen has the IQ and skill set to play the point and has strong basketball influences as his stepfather is former UVic star Ted Anderson. 6'0" Jeff Spoor, also going into his fourth season, should be in the mix supporting at the point guard spot.

Two more newcomers are expected to bring more punch to Vic's offense starting with 6'3" Dan Evans, a transfer from Capilano College where he led BCCAA in scoring in his rookie season. A slasher who has a nose for the rim, Evans will bring instant scoring likely off the bench initially to a group that, after MacKinnon, will need to find consistent secondary scoring. 6'4" Omid Davani, a transfer from Kwantlen College where he averaged about 13 ppg last season is another solid seasoned veteran with a solid body who is strong and big enough to get on the glass as a big guard.

Last season's Vikes lost a tough three-game Pacific Division semi-final series at Trinity Western highlighted by a Game One loss at the buzzer in which Spartans Louis Hurd heaved a desperation three off a broken play to claim the shocking win. This season, with many rightfully touting UBC and Trinity Western as the teams to beat in the Pacific Division and only 8 teams making Canada West playoffs, observers expect the Vikes to battle several teams likely including Simon Fraser and Fraser Valley for third and fourth in the division. But, with the great winning tradition of one of Canada's most storied programs, don't be surprised if the Vikes continue to stay near the top of the Pacific.

Victoria hosts the Guy Vetrie Memorial invitational in October with Carleton and Alberta among the participants.

No comments: