Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Regina Cougars Preview

Perennial Canada West playoff participants under long-time Head Coach James Hillis, the Cougars almost took the next step to the CW Final Four last season but could not finish off Simon Fraser, losing the Best-of-3 series in Burnaby after taking Game One.  This season's crew must replace four rotation players including a pair of experience, veteran starters.  Complementing his returning core group led by CW All-Star Kris Heshka and CW all-time three-point shooter Jeff Lukomski, Hillis brings in five newcomers, all of who are proving to be rotation-ready immediately. 

6'7" fifth-year forward Heshka, who has battled an early season ankle injury that limited him to only about 10 minutes per game this past weekend at Lakehead, is a warrior in and around the paint and is one of the top rebounders at both ends in the conference.  Henska will likely take on more of a decision-making role offensively with the loss due to graduation of 6'5" Jamal Williams, through who the offense usually ran in past seasons. 

6'0" Lukomski, who missed this past weekend's games at Lakehead with a collarbone injury sustained while playing for the football Cougars, is one of the truest examples of a streak shooter.  When right, Lukomski is as lights out as any long-range bomber in the CIS and the Cougars lean heavily on the fifth-year guard to keep the paint open and the floor spread.

Likely to step into the starting lineup immediately is redshirt freshman 6'3" Jared Janotta, who also missed this past weekend also recovering from a football-related collarbone injury.  Janotta is a tough, versatile wing.  With the graduation of point guard Paul Schubach, one of the more decorated players in Cougars history both on and off the floor (Academic All-Canadian), Hillis recruited some depth for the lead guard spot and 6'1" Darius Mole, who came to Regina directly out of Arizona high school, should assume the starting role.  At 19 years old, Mole continues to gain the physical maturity to deal with CW defenses and already is quick and athletic, giving Hillis more options defensively.  Also looking to share time at the point is 5'11" true freshman Brendan Hebert, who plays composed and makes good, safe decisions at this stage of his career - he was especially impressive dealing with the constant ball pressure applied by the tenacious Lakehead defense last weekend and has a bright future.

Two more experienced newcomers to this season's group are 6'7" Paul Gareau (4th Year) who returns after a couple of seasons absence and adds depth up front, and 6'2" Jesus Mora, a fourth year transfer from the University of Puerto Rico, an NCAA D2 independent program.  Mora is very likely to see significant time on the wing and is especially adept at taking it off the bounce to set up his "throwback" mid-range game.  Mora's work on the wing is needed to offset the loss of 6'2" Jordy McFarlen, who decided to take a teaching job instead of playing his final season of eligibiltiy, and 6'2" Jimmy Scroggins, who also did not return.  6'1" third-year shooting guard Sterling Nostedt should control the amount of time he gets by how well he is shooting the ball.

Depth up front comes with 6'5" Matt Campbell, another true freshman, who is big and strong and not afraid to bang.  Campbell also displayed a nice sense for the rim against Lakehead, going 8 for 12 in the first game in Thunder Bay this past Friday.  A pair of veteran 6'7" forwards, Lynn Gee (4th Year) and 6'5" Marek Downarowicz both should see time with Downarowicz finding his way into the starting lineup on occasion when matchups serve.

The scrappy Cougars always seem to be very well prepared and play hard on every possession which in itself keeps them in most games.  With a great shooting season from Lukomski, a strong finale from Heshka and productive seasons from the new point guard tandem and a wing, expect the Cougars to continue to find a place in the Top 8 of Canada West and contend for a playoff spot.

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