Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fraser Valley Cascades Preview

After a tremendous second-half finish last season during which Fraser Valley gave national champions Saskatchewan all they could handle in three games, including a regular season win followed by two playoff games in Saskatoon during which the Cascades held double digit leads early only to see the Huskies come back to win, optimism for success this season through the summer was very high.  Unfortunately, the injury bug hit Coach Barnaby Craddock and team as first starting 6'7" center Jasper Moedt (prononounced "Moot") hurt his knee and then in a late-summer victory over NCAA D1 Idaho State 6'5" veteran forward Kyle Grewal, a 30 minute per game guy up front, hurt his knee.  Both will not play this season so the Cascades must regroup on the fly but still have one of the more formidable back courts in the country and should be a playoff contender in Canada West.

Much of the strength of this season's club lies at guard and on the wing, so Craddock will play to his strengths with various incarnations of "small ball", led by 6'3" third-year wing Sam Freeman (14.4 ppg), a former CW Rookie-of-the-Year who averaged 30 minutes per night last season.  One of the top freshman in the country last season who fell under the radar was 6'4" Joel Freisen (12.0 ppg) who impressed several observers with his slick offensive package during Cascades tour of Ontario two weekends ago.  Freisen missed his entire first-year with an injury but is back and can score in numerous ways, complementing Freeman's outside shooting.  Setting the table for the scorers is 5'10" Zeon Gray (32 mpg) who can finish well in his own right, leading UFV in scoring last season at 15.9 ppg.  Craddock loves the contribution off the bench of 5'10" Sheldon Bjorgaard, a third-year back up point who "deserves a lot of minutes" and should play significant minutes with Gray on the floor when UFV goes with a 4 guard, 1 post lineup.  Bjorgaard had 25 points in the Cascades recent victory over Columbia Bible College.

There are several candidates for major minutes up front 6'6" Josh Kufske (12 mpg last season), a third-year post who is regarded as a strong defender and fifth-year 6'8" James Elliott who averaged 4.4 points and 3.5 rebounds in 15 minutes per game last season after transfering from Lakeland College.  Expect both to log the majority of the minutes up front supported by at least 3 newcomers:  6'4" Connor Oldham a third year transfer from Whatcom C.C., 6'5" Ryan Fahandeg,  a transfer from UBC-Okanagen, who is more of a three man but is likely to play more minutes as a "4" and 6'5" freshman Nathan Kendall (Abbotsford Yale) who is an undersized post who will battle.

Another UBC-O transfer will add depth to the backcourt in stocky 6'0" Dean Kmyta, a smart, heady combo guard who can shoot it, as McMaster found out a couple of weeks ago when the second-year guard went 4-4 from downtown against the Marauders.

It would not have been a stretch to put the Cascades in the Top 4 of Canada West had their two starting bigs not been out for the season.  Still, expect Craddock to take advantage of his roster's strengths and get the most out of the resulting smallish lineup with the parts in place to do so in Gray, Freeman and emerging star Freisen.  A playoff appearance is very reasonable especially if UFV can get through a very tough first half schedule that includes pairs of games at UBC, at Saskatchewan and at home against UVic which should compete for a home playoff game in CW.  The Cascades are idle from league play this weekend (they will play Portland Bible College, a U.S. junior college) and then get set to host Manitoba Bisons in Abbotsford, another team that has a history of playing small ball, next weekend.

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