Monday, November 8, 2010

Thoughts from the Weekend

AUS  The team to beat in Atlantic Canada remains St. FX with tremendous guard play led by 5'10" Christian "T-Bear" Upshaw and 5'9" Will Silver among others plus emerging all-conference candidate 6'5" Jeremy Dunn.  However Sunday's game against Saint Mary's helped to highlight how important 6'9" Alberto Rodriquez is to the X-Men's chances of capturing the AUS crown.  Although 7'2" Rinny Ngot has intriguing size and an evolving skill set and 6'10" freshman Rodrigo Madera should grow into a go-to center in the AUS over time, neither match Rodriquez's athleticism and quickness for a big plus skills inside, especially on the defensive end.  Without the fifth-year center in the lineup, more athletic teams like the Huskies can take liberties on the "o" glass and in transition.  As well, although Rodriquez has only average skills and finishing ability with his back to the basket, when X dumps the ball into the post offensively, usually good things happen owing to the fifth-year center's passing ability and deceiving second and third jumps for put-backs.  Rodriquez also runs the floor extremely well complementing X's race horse back court - he had a highlight-reel dunk off a lob from Silver in transition that brought the house down at the Donohue tournament in Ottawa recently.  X has a very deep and talented squad but Rodriquez presence on the floor can make X dominant.  Watch for his ability to stay focused and remain out of foul trouble as keys to X's success as the season wears on... After a strong start to his Tigers career, prized Dalhousie recruit 6'2" Juleous Grant has been inconsistent as a complementary player to 6'1" Simon Farine, who incidentally continues to play at a Moser candidate level.  Still, one has to expect Grant's skills to take over as he continues to become comfortable in the system.  More importantly, the Tigers need more forceful performances from their veteran front line of 6'9" Joe Schow and 6'8" Sandy Viet in order to move firmly into the discussion of AUS favorites... 6'6" Justin Boutilier continues to move up the pecking order as it pertains to the top players in the AUS.  He was outstanding against Saint Mary's in Thursday's AUS opener, showing a wide range of offensive skills and took over when 6'6" Owen Klassen's time was limited due to foul trouble.

Quebec  How good are the Concordia Stingers, especially after last season's meltdown when John Dore missed the playoffs for the first time in his CIS coaching career ?  Jumping out to a 5-0 pre-season record has several observers convinced that last season was an abberation.  Certainly 6'2" Decee Krah has emerged in his fourth season as a reliable scorer especially when it matters.  6'2" Kyle Desmarais adds a very sound decision maker to the mix and 6'4" Evens Laroche continues the Stingers strong tradition of athletic, scoring four men.  6'6" James Clark appears to be the wild card who needs to emerge into a consistent rebounding, defending and scoring forward up front and the rapid development of 6'7" freshman Zach Brisebois would also help.  The Stingers are ranked in the Top 3 to 5 in the CIS currently after a pair come-from-behind wins against Laurier and their strong front line plus another against McMaster.  With QSSF play beginning this weekend, the Stingers will get a test immediately at Laval on Friday night.  Remember also that Concorida plans to bring in tough, athletic 6'4" Demetrius Boards, an American from Marist H.S. in New Jersey who averaged 17.1 ppg at Sussex Junior College last season, after the first semester... McGill's exciting 6'3" freshman Simon Bibeau has been the Redmen's offensive leader from the very first game against Maine Black Bears in August.  Bibeau already has several games of 30+ points and is the cornerstone of coach Dave DeAveiro's McGill program going forward... Although Bishop's remains winless on the season, the Gaiters recent trip to the U.S. was encouraging and sometimes addition by subraction is an equation that can work.  In the case of the Gaiters, they have "reduced the size of their roster" as 6'5" Ryan Steele, originally from Toronto Oakwood, and 6'6" Chris East, another GTA native, no longer appear on the Gaiters roster.  Bishop's opens their QSSF season this Thursday at home against UQAM and unfortunately will be without guard Sean Monplaisir who is still out with a knee injury.

OUA  It was a chippy battle Saturday night at the Raven's Nest as the aggressive-minded Brock Badgers were determined from the opening tip to give no quarter to the host Ravens and played every possession like it would determine the National championship.  The game had numerous scrums and pileups with bodies flying all over the place regardless of the amount of contact, reminding some of Italy's Seria A soccer at its finest.  The Badgers also shot the ball with incredible stroke in the first three quarters, with 11 3's in the first half alone.  But Brock could not maintain the pace and began losing their discipline late amid a torrent of foul calls, most of which were deserved.  Brock has several pieces in place but their key is 6'1" fifth-year point guard Andrew Kraus, who plays with an edge but for the most part well within himself, taking big shots and also distributing very intelligently.  6'1" Joel Whitty played with the forcefulness of someone who will not back down from anyone, showing that multiple concussions are not about to temper his competitiveness.  6'7" Anto Raic is a smooth shooting big man who helps open up the paint for 6'6" Mark Gibson inside.  Brock's other veteran 6'2" Mike Cruickshank blasted out of the gate with 3 consecutive 3's early in the game but shot selection later became questionable with this athletic wing who has a skill set more suited to slashing to the rim.  Given the injuries the Badgers are dealing with currently including 6'2" Didi Mukendi and 6'5" Andrew Ferguson, getting out of Ottawa with a split was very good... The paradox that is the York Lions was on display this weekend as Friday night the Lions looked like their early season '09-'10 version of one of the worst defensive teams in the conference, giving up over 100 points and allowing 6'3" Isaac Kuon to go off for 43 points.  Fast forward to one night later and the Lions were noticealby better defending the ball and saw 6'10" Dejan Kravic dominate the game at both ends in the absence of fellow 6'10" center Stefan Haynes.  York has as explosive an offensive lineup as any in Ontario and 5'11" David Tyndale made what will likely be the first of many big, program-building shots in his career with his last second 18 footer to defeat Western.  Kravic remains the key however in a league devoid of true athletic centers with size, finishing touch, ability to run the floor and an intimidating force defensively - all skills in Kravic's repetoire.  6'4" Ostap Chioly was also instrumental in Saturday's win, making his only 2 shots when it mattered, back-to-back cold threes in the dying moments with an 0-2 start at home staring his team in the face.  He also created a turnover with a deflection on one of the late possessions on "d" that helped York to the victory.  Fans in Thunder Bay should get a treat this Friday when the Lions visit to play the equally-explosive Lakehead Thunderwolves... Very little was expected this season of the Varsity Blues which usually plays into the hands of veteran Head Coach Mike Katz and staff.  Toronto simply continues to prepare extremely well for each opponent and think through defensive strategies, keeping teams off balance with an array of zones, pressure and straight man.  Offensively, while there is no consistent scorer - although 6'5" Alex Hill could become that guy when all is said and done- the system produces good shots and the Blues really can stroke it, especially in their gym.  That said, 6'0" fifth-year point guard Anthony DeGiorgio remains the key to this season and his performance in the overtime shows that he is up to the task to lead this group albeit with possibly some road bumps along the way.  His two long 3's established the momentum for the Blues in overtime but then it appeared DeGiorgio let the emotion of the moment get to him with a pair of missed free throws and two terrible throw aways that opened the door for a possible McMaster comeback.  DeGiorgio's court savvy and improving offensive confidence ensures the Blues usually have a veteran decision-making presence on the floor.  The Marauders remain a work-in-progress for first year Head Coach Amos Connolly, although Mac had to be encouraged with the comeback from almost 20 down on Saturday.  This is a very young team with only three upperclassmen in 6'8" Scott Brittain, 6'6" Cam Michaud and 6'5" Scott Laws as top of the rotation players.  Brittain's issues with multiple concussions continue to make it difficult to play consistently from night to night - he played only 18 minutes on Friday against Ryerson and then did not play at all against the Blues.  Mac's 6'3" Victor Raso has been dealing with a severe ankle injury yet on Saturday still led the way for the Marauders with 25 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists.  6'8" freshman Taylor Black has a chance to be a dominant player in the CIS - he had a 17 point/11 rebound double double including several key baskets down the stretch and in the overtime... No word yet on the walking wounded at Ryerson where a violent collision on the very first play of Friday night's Rams game against Mac knocked out several teeth from the mouth of 6'7" freshman Bjorn Michaelsen and 6'3" fifth-year wing Ryan McNeilly sustained a severe gash in his head from the impact of smacking into Michaelsen.  Later 6'8" sophomore forward Matt Lapointe turned his ankle.  None of the three returned to Friday's game and then did not play on Saturday against Lakehead when the T-Wolves came roaring back from a double digit third quarter deficit on the road with a tremendous display of outside shooting.  Defensively, the Wovles dropped into a zone defense that slowed down the Rams off the dribble, something Rams 6'0" freshman Jahmal Jones has been making a living from getting in the lane with authority the past few games as he gets more comfortable at the CIS level...Windsor Lancers had a pair of road wins as they kicked off their quest for back-to-back OUA West titles.  6'3" Isaac Kuon had 43 points against York on Friday night and voters may look back at this performance when OUA West POY honours are considered; he also added 7 rebounds and went 16-20 from field including 5-7 from the 3 point line and 6-8 from free throw line.  On Saturday in Sudbury, the Lancers jumped out to a quick 15 point lead but the Voyageurs hung tough despite not having their top two scorers in the lineup in Manny Pasqaule and Isaiah Pasquale.  Windsor, which shot only 5 free throws the entire game - all in the fourth quarter - had three players 6'7" Lien Phillip, 6'6" Michael Godfrey and 6'8" Evan Matthews all foul out, leaving 6'7" Andre Smyth to do the bulk of the work up front as he played 39 minutes. Windsor again won with tremendous perimeter shooting, going 15-31 from beyond the arc with Kuon leading the way with another 22 points on 9-17 shooting including 4-10 3's.  Interviews with Andre Smyth and Barry Amlin.
Canada West  Consider the Alberta Golden Bears and second-year coach Greg Francis on the CIS national radar after a tremendous weekend in which arguably the Bears could have swept what many consider to be the deepest and most talented team in Canada, UBC Thunderbirds.  Instead, Alberta came back after Friday night's disappointment with a solid win on Saturday and a split.  Last season's Bears were young and lacked a true veteran experienced decision maker to go with their array of fine, young wings and forwards.  This season, the outstanding freshman class from last season including 6'8" Jordan Baker, 6'5" Todd Bergen-Henengouwen, 6'2" Kenny Otieno and 6'10" Rob Dewar is one year older and mature and Francis welcomed back 6'1" guard C.G. Morrison, who was the final holdover from Alberta's last CIS Final 8 appearance under legendary coach Don Horwood.  But the final piece of this puzzle could be 6'4" Daniel Ferguson, a transfer from Berry College an NCAA DII school in Georgia originally from Toronto.  Ferguson was outstanding over the weekend following up his 29 point effort in Friday's loss with a 24 point effort on Saturday as Alberta overcame the emotional let-down of allowing Friday's game get away from them with a determined, focused effort on Saturday.  The weekend performance should give voters plenty of reasons to consider the Bears in this week's Top 10... Much was commented about Manitoba Bisons quick start and the doubters were out in full force after UVic crushed the Bisons on Friday although Manitoba was in the game until late in the third quarter.  On Saturday, the Bisons made a strong statement that they are at a minimum a solid Canada West playoff contender with a gutting overtime win.  While the Bisons retain very good perimeter shooting with 6'0" Eric Garcia, 6'7" Sean Maxwell (really a "2" in a 4 man's body) and 6'7" Kevin Oliver (another perimeter-oriented four man) among others and have undersized 6'6" Richard Reimer, more of a three/four playing out of position in the post, the key to the Bisons has been 6'0" point guard Josh Ogden with his ability to drive into the lane and attract help, setting the table for the Bisons shooters.  Ogden has taken care of the ball and with an assist to turnover ratio of about 6 to 1 already, could be the main reason why the Bisons are where they are currently... One late game Sunday night had Fraser Valley pull off a 100-90 upset over the hometown Saskatchewan Huskies, another illustration of how difficult it is to defeat a team twice in the same weekend.  One observer termed it an "amazing" game with both point guards going at each for 40 minutes as Huskies 6'0" Jamelle Barrett knocked in his first seven 3 attempts, had 8 in the first half alone and 9 for game to finish with a game-high 36 points.  Barrett's outburst lead the Huskies to 22 point second quarter lead and, seemingly, a sweep of the weekend series.  But Fraser Valley Head Coach Barnaby Craddock switched to a zone - despite Saskatchewan's tremendous shooting to that point in the game - and the whole game changed.  The Cascades, led by point guard Zeon Gray who had a team-high 28 points, were very efficient offensively turning it over only 9 times the entire evening with Grey garnering five assists as against zero turnovers.  Fraser Valley also got a big lift from 6'6" Aussie James Elliott, who hit three back-breaking treys off the bench, showing his range when left open.  The game was a tremendous matchup between two of the better point guards in Canada West in Barrett and Gray.  Still, with just a 2-2 record at home in Canada West play and a propensity to give up points in bunches, the Huskies are now a border-line Top 10 team, with only wins at UBC and Alberta helping their cause.

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