While the number of games played already varies by large amounts and the sample set isn't very large as of yet, I'm still comfortable laying a shingle out there with the first Top 10 of the year. Criteria is weighted toward teams that have played more games (and won them) and considers only games against CIS competition. "Potential" category elements including last year's finish, returning players, new impact players are considered but are less heavily weighted than game results vs. CIS competition this year.
Initial thoughts are that there are probably a set of teams that can reasonably be regarded as "favorites/co-favorites" for a National championship and then there is quite the drop off, especially with the mid-to-bottom part of the 42 team CIS. There have already been some wide margin scores and the very top CIS are very, very good, currently making it likely that only less than a handful of teams really have a solid opportunity to win everything - but I hope I am wrong.
With a full slate of games/tournaments/exhibitions in the next few weeks, expect this Top 10 to be fluid, especially not having the constraints that coaches have with moving teams around from week-to-week. Here's my take as of tonight:
#1 UBC Thunderbirds (3-0) Came into Ontario and defeated two likely playoff teams from OUA West in their gyms (at Laurier, at Guelph). Strong, experienced, deep and very talented, T-Birds have another budding star transfer in 6'3" Doug Plumb who has been their offensive hero thus far. Don't forget about the tremendous finish to last season that 6'6" Kamar Burke had and, oh yeah, Moser Trophy winner Josh Whyte also returns. The key may be the play at the point of fifth-year point guard Alex Murphy. Start their Canada West season with a rematch of last season's CIS championship game at home with a pair against my #3 Saskatchewan Huskies this Friday and Saturday at home in War Memorial Gym, a site where the Huskies upset the T-Birds in the CW semi-final last season.
#2 Carleton Ravens (4-0) Having to account for the loss to graduation of 6'8" Kevin McCleery, now playing professionally in Holland, thus far does not seem as daunting a task as some (even on this site) maybe made it seem. The system continues to prevail here as in all 4 games thus far, the Ravens dominated from the beginning with opponents having difficulty matching their intensity. Both Windsor and Victoria were able to creep back into their games but Carleton wears you down physically and mentally and have numerous offensive weapons, as this past weekend showed when 6'3" Elliott Thompson (vs. McGill), 5'11" Willy Manigat (vs. Windsor) and 6'6" Tyson Hinz (career-high 30 points vs. Victoria; tournament MVP honours) took turns leading the offense. 6'5" Cole Hobin continues to lock-up whoever he guards (this weekend McGill's Simon Bibeau averaged 25 ppg vs. opponents not named Carleton and got only 8 vs. the Ravens). The Ravens have also got it done thus far without their only fifth-year senior, 5'10" Mike Kenny, who remains injured and may be back this coming weekend when Carleton participates in the Laval tournament which also includes AUS foes UNB Varsity Reds and Saint Mary's Huskies.
#3 Saskatchewan Huskies (5-0) With a pair of experienced talented guards in 6'1" Jamelle Barrett and 6'2" Rejean Chabot, Huskie fans need not worry so much about replacing last season's prolific duo that took them to their first national title. But there is plenty of athleticism and talent up front and many returning guys who have a taste of how to win. Weaving in the new guys with the added challenge of a new head coach in Barry Rawlyk could present some early challenges but Saskatchewan can play any tempo, rebound and defend and have experience guys in the backcourt. #1 vs. #3 this weekend - twice - in Vancouver is an early season treat for CW fans.
#4 St. FX X-Men (3-0) With everyone of any real significance back from last season's AUS finalist plus the return of 6'3" fifth-year forward Dwayne Johnson and a couple of top recruits including another big guy, coach Steve Konchalski has maybe his biggest team ever but can also play small ball, offering several ways to play. Experience is the big factor here with five fifth-year and one fourth-year players. The guard tandem of 5'10" reigning AUS POY Christian "T-Bear" Upshaw and 5'9" Will Silver have been together for what seems like the entire last decade and understandibly play very well off each other while emerging third-year 6'4" Jeremy Dunn is X's next star in the making. X can also go 7'2" & 6'10" on the front line when needed with Rinny Ngot and newcomer Rodrigo Madera; throw in 6'9" fifth-year post Alberto Rodriquez and it could be one of the largest front lines in CIS history. X gets U of T Varsity Blues, UQAM Citadins and the host uOttawa Gee-Gees this weekend at the Jack Donohue Memorial tournament.
#5 Laval Rouge et Or (4-0) Another very experienced team, especially in the backcourt and wings, which has a healthy star player in 6'3" J.F. Beaulieu-Mahieux. Guard play will be key with 5'9" Xavier Barbeau and 5'9" J.P. Renaud. Up front, 6'6" Etienne Labrecque is as good as any four man across the country while 6'4" Jerome Turcotte has been much more consistent in the pre-season thus far and could be the guy who's play gets Laval over the top. 6'5" freshman Hughes Ryan shoots the ball as a big perimeter guy and expect 6'5" Alex Prophete, back from injury and likely ready to go this weekend when Laval hosts their own tournament, to be an impact guy from the beginning. Laval will meet two top teams this weekend at home in Carleton and Saint Mary's.
#6 Dalhousie Tigers (2-0) Frankly, in my mind, the first five were pretty close to no brainers based on what's happend thus far and from here it was much more difficult, until one realizes that the Tigers handled a very good Lakehead team and then thrashed Bishop's, a team better than their recent scores have shown. With that perspective, the Tigers in my mind are definitely the best of the next five given their experienced guards including Moser candidate 6'1" Simon Farine, a triple/double waiting to happen, and strong, fifth-year laden front line 6'9" Joe Schow and 6'7" Sandy Viet (apparently healthy again) plus the arrival of their zone-busting, defense stretching shooter 6'1" Peter Leighton. 6'3" junior college transfer Juleous Grant is the real deal with his smooth ability to control tempo and get to good spots on the floor almost effortlessly. Expect Dal to defend very well again especially with the re-addition of 6'2" Stephen Lopez who sat out last season injured. This is a dangerous team with much more firepower and depth than last season. Dal travels to Sudbury this week to Head Coach John Campbell's alma mater Laurentian where his father Peter's Laurier Golden Hawks, Concordia and the host Vees will compete.
#7 Concordia Stingers (3-0) This may be regarded as a stretch pick at this level, especially for a team that finished fifth in the five-team QSSF last season but with a pair of tournament wins including victories at Laurier and over McMaster, the Stingers deserved consideration on their record alone. And now that 6'3" Decee Krah, who came into his own as a scorer and three-point shooter in his third season last year, has D1 transfer 6'2" Kyle Desmarais to play off of, the Stingers have a much deeper and talented back court. Desmarais is a difference maker and Concordia is also more mature and experienced with their returning group as 6'3" Evens Laroche, turning into a very good scorer and 6'5" James Clark are now in their fourth year. For Stingers to have any aspirations of a Nationals berth, coach John Dore needs production up front from the once-highly-touted Clark and others like 6'7" Zack Brisebois. Concordia still has much to prove but this is a significantly improved team from last season's lowest finisher in the Dore era.
#8 Saint Mary's Huskies (2-0) The home victory by 10 against Lakehead was the clincher for a spot here for this week. 6'1" Joey Haywood is a returning AUS first team all-star and by all accounts 6'5" Torey Fassett, a Howard CC transfer, is a legitimate all-conference candidate as well. The loss of 6'5" Ike Uchegbu up front is big however 6'7" Korey Cobb, another Howard transfer, is big, strong and physical as is rounding into form - he didn't play this past weekend. This weekend's tests at Laval and vs. Carleton at the Rouge et Or Classic will dictate whether or not this early ranking is warranted but count on the Huskies to play fast and attack rims.
#9 Trinity Western Spartans (1-0) This is "high-potential pick revisited" as last season we had the Spartans in our first top 10 based primarily on the deep stable of front court and wing talent they brought in including 6'6" Tyrell Mara, '08-'09 Moser Award winner Jacob Doerksen and 6'5" DII transfer Calvin Westbrook. Unfortunately, the Spartans never could find that guard who could start the offense or even get the ball consistently below the foul line so it turned into a very disappointing season and our pre-season Top 10 pick went the way of Sports Illustrated's choices of Clint Hurdle for AL Rookie-of-the-Year and Derek Bell as the next great Blue Jay (or LaBradford Smith the greatest Louisville Cardinal of all time) (anyone else ?). But it won't be "once bit, twice shy" with predicting big things for this season's Spartans given the arrival of 5'11" point guard Tristan Smith, 6'5" Eli Mara and especially 6'8" Kyle Coston, the second TWU transfer from NCAA D1 Portland State, which will give the Spartans 4 players who were high Division II or mid-Division I starters. Smith is the key at the point with 5'11" Dan Horner likely more comfortable with a back-up role.
#10 Western Mustangs (1-0) More potential hissing from the peanut gallery for this one no doubt however in making another "high potential" category pick, the thought was that the 'Stangs have one of the more underrated point guards in the country in fourth-year vet Ryan Barbeau , returning All-Canadian Andrew Wedemire (who has been hurt), 6'6" emerging forward Garrett Olexiuk and 6'8" Adam Jespersen, a D1 transfer from Hawaii who has been impressive in the early season. 6'5" Peter Scholtes is regarded as one of the top freshman in the country and 6'1" Marcus Barnett can defend. Mustangs need to find a consistent outside threat to complement Barbeau and give their inside guys some room to operate but this is a good team. Western has a chance to prove this ranking is reasonable this weekend at the McGill Redbird Classic which includes Queen's and UPEI.
Teams that aren't there right now but should/will/could be later in the season (in no particular order):
Calgary (2-1), Windsor (1-2), Lakehead (4-4), Cape Breton (1-5) & UQAM (0-0) (late addition)