Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Joe Scanlon's Thoughts on Carleton Ravens

Thanks to Joe for providing us with this look at Carleton.

Now that I have seen the Carleton men play nine times – starting with Towson finishing with the Brock game this past weekend (I missed the St. John’s game in Ottawa) -- I am starting to go to each game wondering which team will show up.

Against Fraser Valley, for example, the Ravens struggled for most of the game. Against Guelph, they seemed unable to hang onto a lead. They were saved at the bell.

But against Alberta they were awesome and against Brock they showed signs of consistency in what eventually became a one-sided win.

It’s tempting to say the Ravens were lucky to squeak by Guelph. But then one remembers Carleton defeating UPEI in overtime in the first round in Halifax and dumping Western at the buzzer last March at Scotiabank Place. Good teams find a way to win. I have seen a Dave Smart team solidly beaten only twice, once at home against Western (and that’s a long time ago) and once in the OUA East playoff against York. That games was close but York deserved the win.

What has already emerged this season is that the departure of three veterans – Aaron Doornekamp, Stuart Turnbull and Rob Saunders – has not changed the fact that the Ravens can play team defence and that each week they are getting better at it. They can also push down the ball down the floor very quickly and they can – no matter how tall their opponents – dominate rebounding at both ends.

Dave Smart’s pecking order now seems pretty clear.

Cole Hobin is taking over from Saunders as the key player on defence. As long as Hobin checks the player he is assigned to and does not make mistakes on offence, he will get a lot of floor time. It does not matter if he shoots; but, as he showed against Brock, he can hit three’s if left open. If he is assigned to a shooter who is weak on defence watch out.

Next comes Elliot Thompson, who is solid on defence and solid on offence and knows when to shoot and when to work the ball around. He is clearly the replacement for Turnbull though he has yet to show as strong as inside game as Turnbull who could drive the basket with devastating effective. Game and game he is high man in scoring.

The other two regulars are the Mike Kenny and the only fifth year player, Kevin McCleery.

Kenny, now in his fourth year with the team, had some injury problems a few weeks ago but he is still the team’s captain on offence and he can still hit three’s especially on a kick-out from McCleery.

McCleery is an ever present threat inside. He can score. He can feed the ball inside to another player; and he can kick it out, especially when double-teamed, to someone like Kenny. He had also learned to pass it from the key to the corner, a pass that Thompson can use to hit for a three. McCleery is also a dominant rebounder and not easily pushed around.

After that, the line-up becomes interesting.

Smendziuk usually starts and he can be very solid on defence especially under the boards. He is slowly learning to work with McCleery. When that develops, the pair will really be tough to stop. To put it simply every game as Smendziuk gets better McCleery becomes harder to stop. So far, however, Smendziuk, though a starter, has often got less time in a game than someone coming off the bench. However in typical Carleton fashion he made only two points against Guelph, the two foul shots that gave Carleton a one-point win.

Two other players make up the sixth and seventh slots.

Willy Manigat over from Ottawa U is fast, can run the offence and can shoot. He is also very fast, sometimes too fast. However he tends to have some problems with team defence and gets caught and is forced to foul. However his presence allows Smart to rest Kenny and guarantee an experienced point guard late in a game if Kenny (or, more likely, Manigat) gets into foul trouble.

Tyson Hinz is a work in progress. Like all rookies he has good games and bad games. But he can score inside and outside. He is not afraid to shoot. He is a determined and good rebounder and he is deceptively fast. He is already getting extended playing time and – if he was not a rookie – would easily be challenging for a starting spot. At times he is awesome. He has one problems that faces all really talented rookies. He is so deceptive the referees have yet to adjust to the quality of his play. The calls against him will go down as his talent becomes better recognized.

Manigat and Hinz have made things a little tougher for second year Anthony Ashe. Though he averaged only a few minutes in his first season he showed signs of being a superb shooter. He hasn’t lost his touch but he is becoming increasingly aware that if he is to get much playing time he needs to toughen up on defence. He showed increasing maturity during his time against Brock.

That’s eight already and Smart also likes to give at least some playing time to Greg Faulkner, like Hinz a rookie with enormous potential.

Faulkner’s problem is not a lack of talent but the fact there are usually eight players ahead of him in line.

That’s an even bigger problem for Aaron Chapman who joined the Ravens two years ago, the same time as Hobin and Thompson. Chapman gets on for brief appearances, sometimes fairly early in a game, but he has not developed as hoped. He is still however a very talented player and will no doubt get playing time in any game when the issue is settled reasonably early or when McCleery and/or Smendziuk or both get into foul trouble.

That line-up would be enough for most coaches but Smart has another second year player, Kevin Churchill, whom he is trying to develop. Inevitably, with so many players ahead of him, Churchill dresses but makes rare appearances.

I believe that the defending CIS champs should be ranked # 1 until someone defeats them. The Ravens have already squeaked by several opponents this season and they appear to lack the depth and experience that was present with Saunders, Turnbull and Aaron Doornekamp.

However they won six straight pre-conference games and – yes it was close at Guelph – and won their two opening league games.

It’s hard sometimes to judge a team when it’s not clear how tough the opposition is. Carleton’s game at home Friday to the current # 6 Windsor should provide some insight. There will be further evidence when the Ravens play the current # 4 McMaster in Hamilton in a couple of weeks.

Joe Scanlon

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