Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Toronto Varsity Blues Preview

Given the loss of four starters including two guards who were conference all-stars during their careers, most would consider the Blues as a program that is in a rebuilding phase.  Still, Varsity returns at least five rotation players from last season, welcomes three solid newcomers including an NCAA Division 1 transfer and has the wily old veteran mentor Mike Katz at the helm, who for decades has usually squeezed the most out of his teams.  Even with the returning vets and recruits, Katz may be facing his biggest challenge in several years as the Blues try to replace the majority of their scoring and ultimately look to discover who will take big shots and consistently make key decisions offensively after relying on the graduated players for the past three seasons.

Toronto's front line compares favorably with any in their conference with two upper-classmen in 6'6" Drazen Glizic (4th Year forward), who has improved steadily throughout his career and has expanded his offensive game to the point of becoming a very viable go-to alternative, and burly 6'7" Andrew Wasik.  Not only does he have the best handle in the CIS (last name, not dribbling), but Wasik can be a physical force when he stays out of foul trouble and concentrates on defending, rebounding and letting his offense come to him.  Expect Varsity's offense, which was guard-oriented over the past few seasons, to go through the two post players much more this season to account for the comparative lack of depth and experience at the guard/wing spots.  6'5" Sean Nickel, who last played in the CIS at St. FX in '08-'09, should be the first big off the bench and he is versatile enough to slide over to the "3" spot if Katz wants to put a bigger team on the floor.

Expect 6'5" sophomore wing Alex Hill, who begins his first season at Toronto after transfering from Cornell after a stellar high school career at Toronto's Eastern Commerce, to evolve into the next feature player and possible conference all-star type as he gains consistency.  Hill, a big guard, has solid range beyond the arc and gets to the rim from different spots on the floor.  His value will increase as he works to consistently break down defenders off the dribble to create for others.  Still, expect Hill to be the feature guard in U of T's many offensive sets.  6'1" fifth-year Anthony DeGiorgio is a scrappy, tough and intelligent point guard who will begin his first season as a starter.  DeGiorgio backs down from no one and his generally solid decision making skills are a good bet to get the offense started.  His ability to take the reigns beyond that will be an underlying key to Varsity's offensive success this season.

The Blues bring in a solid freshman guard from Hamilton Brebeuf, 6'1" Matt Savel, a player they have very high hopes for as a point guard going forward.  Unfortunately, Savel has not yet practiced while recovering from a broken bone in his foot.  Another scrappy, intelligent point guard, Savel will be eased into his role with an objective for him to eventually take the reigns at the point.  5'11" Justin Holmes is an undersized two who plays with a ton of confidence and is very comfortable taking big shots.  When right, he can knock 3's down from long range and is another tough, scrappy guard who is not afraid to stick his nose in around the glass and in loose ball scrums.

6'3" swingman Ben Garvin has shown flashes of becoming a feature guy in the rotation and entering his third season, consistency will be his key to more favorable floor minutes.  He gets to the rim off the dribble when the matchup is favorable and also can make open 3's.  Garvin's evolution is needed all the more after the Blues suffered a setback to their front court depth with the injury to Junior Toby, a 6'6" third year post player who is likely to miss the next 4-6 weeks or more with anMCL tear.  When healthy, Toby provides 10-15 minutes per game of defensive presense and rebounding.

6'4" Dakota Laurin from Alberta, who showed some flashes early in his freshman season in '09-'10, continues to work hard especially when defending.  Laurin's ability to consistently score the ball is likely to determine his minutes.

The Blues are usually very well prepared defensively and Katz and Co. do a wonderful job of mixing in man, zone and presses to protect players from certain matchups and more importantly control the tempo.  Getting the game played at their pace is key for this group which could be offensively challenged given the high turnover at the important spots.  Expect Toronto to want to keep games in the 60's at least until the group can assess who can step up in a new role offensively.  The Blues should continue as a playoff team with the reasonable goal of contending to host a home playoff game.  Toronto begins their season this weekend against the Guelph Phoenix men's team before travelling to Ottawa for the Jack Donohue Memorial tournament where X, UQAM and the hosts await.

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