Saturday, 12 September 2009

First Look at CIS Pre-Season

With most Canadian universities beginning the autumn academic term this past week, CIS men's basketball teams are in the midst of tryouts and/or pre-season practices with some, in the case of Laval, already playing an exhibition game. It is a good time then to take a quick look at the coming set of pre-season tournaments, tours and exhibition games that will take place through a five week period in October, keeping in mind that the CIS National tournament has one wild card entry, bringing added significance to these non-league matchups.

In what has become the unofficial kickoff to the opening of the CIS tournament season, John Dore's Concordia Stingers will once again host their NIKE Invitational in Montreal during the Thanksgiving Day weekend (October 9th and 10th). UNB also has moved up their annual Eric Garland tournament to that weekend. However, there will be CIS basketball prior to that weekend, primarily in Eastern Ontario/Quebec as Laval and Concordia tour through Ottawa and Kingston during the weekend of October 2nd, 3rd and 4th. Les Rouge et Or will meet the Ottawa Gee-Gees on October 2nd at Outaouais CEGEP in Gatineau before moving on to Kingston to face Queen's and RMC. Concordia will prep for defense of their own tournament crown with 3 games in Kingston on that weekend: at Queen's on the Friday night and then at St. Lawrence, where our good friend Barry Smith, ex-Queen's coach from the 80's and 90's, always has competitive teams and then later that same day at RMC.

Greater Toronto area fans should mark Saturday October 3rd on their calendars as the Varsity Blues visit OCAA power Sheridan Bruins in Oakville. Varsity mentor Mike Katz and Sheridan coach Jim Flack have locked horns numerous times over the years going back to those great Humber/Sheridan rivalry games with Katz was at Humber and this matchup should rekindle that friendly but heated rivalry. The Humber/Sheridan rivalry continues to this day as CIS alumnus/former UPEI great Darrell Glenn continues the excellence started by Katz keeping the great Humber program at the top of the Canadian colleges rankings. Also on the weekend of 3 October, out west Trinity Western, Fraser Valley and Simon Fraser kick off their seasons with games against BCCAA sides.

On the Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving, Manitoba will host the Duckworth Challenge in Winnipeg, which is a pre-season cross-town rivalry game between the Bisons and Winnipeg Wesmen. With the Canada West format and schedule changing, these rivals meet only twice during the regular season and this is an excellent way to kickoff the CIS basketball season in Winnipeg. In addition to the Concordia NIKE and UNB Eric Garland tournaments over Thanksgiving, new coach Greg Francis has arranged for a tour of Southern Ontario with his Alberta Golden Bears, including games at U of T on Friday October 9th and at McMaster on Saturday, October 10th. The McMaster game is a homecoming of sorts for Francis, who coached Canada's NEDA program for the past two seasons with a home base at Mac in Hamilton. Lakehead also hosts Brandon for a pair of games in Thunder Bay on Oct. 9th and 10th in another Canada West/OUA West inter-conference matchup.

The following weekend sees the pre-season in full swing highlighted by the longest tenured CIS tournament, the Naismith Classic which Waterloo will host for the 41st edition and where the veteran Warriors will welcome Acadia, Manitoba and U of T Varsity Blues. Carleton's House Laughton tournament always seems to attract solid teams from around the country and this season the Ravens host Canada West's Saskatchewan Huskies, Quebec's Bishop Gaiters and UPEI Panthers from the AUS. McGill's Redmen Classic in Montreal is a four-team, three-day set up which includes McMaster, Ottawa and UQAM.

Also on tap that weekend is the Hawk Classic at Laurier (with Dalhousie, Winnipeg and Brock) and the annual St. FX Invitational in Antigonish (with X, UNB, St. Mary's). Both of these tournaments are two-day, four-team affairs. Brandon Bobcats also host their annual four-team tournament in the Wheat City with Lakehead among the participants. Finally both Laval and Windsor will take the long trek out to the west coast with Les Rouge et Or playing four games in 3 1/2 days beginning with a match at UBC followed by at Simon Fraser, at Fraser Valley and at Thompson Rivers on the Sunday afternoon. The Lancers meet Fraser Valley, UBC and Simon Fraser.

The weekend of October 23, 24 and 25 is the final weekend of extensive CIS tournament play until Christmas and arguably the tournament with the strongest field of the pre-season happens in Quebec City at Laval. With les Rouge et Or likely to compete for the "Q" crown, Calgary Dinos among the best teams in Canada West, defending AUS champions Dalhousie Tigers and two-time CIS Nationals participants Western Mustangs, these games all should have Top 10 implications.

Other major tourneys on the 23rd October weekend include Ottawa's Jack Donohue Memorial Tip-off tournament which, with the Gee-Gees, U of T Varsity Blues, Cape Breton Capers and Bishop's involved in the three-day affair, involves at least 3 teams which could be in the CIS Top 10. Another big name in CIS history, Guy Vetrie, is honoured with a tournament in his name at Victoria in which this year Carleton Ravens, Alberta Golden Bears and Fraser Valley Cascades visit. Saskatchewan also hosts the Graham Construction Shootout in Saskatoon with Regina, McGill and Thompson Rivers participating. Finally, Winnipeg Wesmen host the first of their two annual tournaments (along with the Wesmen Classic, a Christmas tradition), Pembina Chrysler Classic with Laurentian, Concordia and Manitoba.

Southern Ontario fans should be treated to a bevy of inter-sectional CIS basketball during the 23rd weekend as both . St. FX and St. Mary's have tours planned through several OUA West cities. Both teams will meet Mac, Brock and Guelph and St. Mary's has scheduled an extra game against Laurier.

The following weekend takes us into November when teams typically visit NCAA schools for exhibitions. While the schedule of CIS schools in the U.S. this season is not as extensive as in the past, there are several games which we will highlight in a subsequent post. Still, the Hallowe'en weekend will see further exhibitions as York Lions and RMC Paladins tour Atlantic Canada with games against Acadia, Dalhousie and St. Mary's in what in previous years has been the Stu Aberdeen Classic. That same weekend, Cape Breton and UPEI tour Quebec to face McGill, UQAM and Bishop's.

Suffice to say there is a ton of great CIS inter-conference basketball to get set for come October. We should have a detailed CIS pre-season schedule available for readers in the coming weeks.

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