Saturday, 25 December 2010

Waterloo comes back, Victoria adjusts & Manitoba gears up for a tough 2nd half

After squeezing into the OUA West playoffs last season with a 9-13 record, not much was expected of the Waterloo Warriors in the 2009-10 playoffs and certainly not this season after losing three starters (Ben Frisby, David Burnett and Matt Hayes) plus a top reserve (Jesse Tipping).  The Warriors, historically known as a methodical, half-court set oriented group that make up for limited athleticism with tempo-controlling "o" and physical "d", made a surprising run in the playoffs last season (victory at McMaster; double digit halftime lead at Lakehead before bowing by 5) in what was seen by some as somewhat of an abberation - a senior-laden team getting hot at the right time.  Certainly expectations were for this season to be somewhat of a rebuilding year with making the playoffs as reasonable goal.  Fast forward to the end of the first half and the Warriors are forging a new look and style, pushing the tempo at every opportunity with undersized, athletic bigs like 6'6" Alan Goodhoofd, who can hammer it on you plus 6'7" Brendan Smith, an emerging, athletic shot blocking force who is getting a chance to play after the graduation losses on the front line plus a maturing group of young guards (6'2" Wayne Bridge, who missed the entire pre-season due to injury, and 6'1" Andrew Melbourne) who can play effectively at high speeds.  Throw in some veteran, fifth-year former role players who are now in leading roles (6'0" Luke Kieswetter, 6'5" Tim Rossy) and one of the purest scorers in the country (6'3" Cam McIntyre) and the new-look Warriors, a better-than-expected 4-4 after the first half, could surprise in the OUA West this season.  McIntyre, who has battled injuries in the first half, broke the Warriors record for three-pointers with 11 (eleven) in a recent win against Ryerson.  The arrival of Toronto natives Bridge and Melbourne signal a shift in recruiting direction of sorts for the Warriors, a program previously not focusing on city kids (albeit Michael Davis was a suburban GTA-bred forward earlier this decade with Waterloo).  Warriors Assistant coach Curtis Dauber believes that a growing number of GTA players are beginning to strongly consider the quality of their education and the high level of CIS basketball after historically looking at basketball in the U.S. as their only option - virtually all these kids are shocked at how good CIS is.  Lead guards play a key role in coach Tom Kieswetter's systems and thus far the work of his nephew Luke, now in his fifth season, has been a determinant in Waterloo's success; as Dauber puts it "the games we win, Luke plays well. We go as he goes.  At the start of the year Luke found it really tough because for the previous 4 years he's been splitting time with Dave Burnett at the pg, and now he's basically got the spot all to himself which has been a big adjustment.  He's really adjusted well, especially the last month of the first half."  Up front, Goodhoofd and Rossy, who is really a guard playing the four spot, ordinarily give up a few inches and at least 20 or 30 lbs to opponents, but they are very active defensively.  As Dauber notes:  "We've just put a bigger emphasis on playing to (Alan and Tim's) strengths, so putting them into positions where they can take advantage of their matchups."  Goodhoofd's athleticism is becoming eye-catching as he has had numerous dunks right over guys when attacking the basket off the dribble.  Waterloo is also easing back 6'2" freshman Zach Angelini from Hamilton back into the lineup after an injury and he should be eased back into the rotation at the four spot given his long reach estimated at 6'7".  The Warriors finish to the first half was very encouraging and they will kick off the second half at the Ryerson National Invitational tournament in downtown Toronto with a first-round matchup with UNB Varsity Reds.  Warriors are on the same side of the draw as the host Rams in a tournament which also includes Toronto Varsity Blues, York Lions and NAIA power Walsh College from Ohio... As has been the case virtually throughout coach Craig Beaucamp's entire career, Victoria Vikes remain among the top defensive teams statiscally in the entire nation and the Vikes ability to stop teams has served them well again this season, especially on the road where Victoria, 8-4 in the conference and firmly in a playoff spot, already has quality road victories at Saskatchewan and at Alberta in overtime.  Still, Beaucamp believes there is plenty of room for improvement at the defensive end, noting that "even though we led the conference in points against our field goal percentage defense has been mediocre." However, Vic has made a noteable improvement on the glass as they are third in the conference in rebounding behind only TWU and Saskatchewan after ranking 11th last season.  Vikes continue to adjust to the change in offensive approach instituted this season - Vic debuted their high-post "Princeton" offense to great success over the Labour Day weekend against Minnesota when they led the Gophers at halftime - and the numbers show that Vic's offense continues to improve.  At 78.9 ppg,Victoria is scoring almost 9 more points per game than last year and shooting 38 percent from the 3 pt line and 46 per cent from the field.  Getting through the first half at 8-4 despite one of the toughest first-half schedules in Canada West no doubt has the Vikes excited over a possible top four finish and a hosting date for the first-round of the CW playoffs.  Vikes best overall scorer is 6'4" Ryan MacKinnon (15.3 ppg), who had 32 including 6-7 3's in the OT win at Alberta on the final night of the first half.  Still, many observers believe the underlying key to Victoria's success rides with 6'2" Jeff Cullen who had his first half interrupted after sustaining a concussion, limiting his time including missing two games entirely and was only reinserted back into the starting rotation in the two games at Alberta.  Cullen played a season-high 34 minutes in the Saturday night win over the Bears and his veteran decision-making is critical to Vikes.  Cullen averaged only 23 mpg in the first half, allowing Beaucamp to give 6'0" freshman Reese Pribilsky, like Cullen a local product of Victoria's Oak Bay Secondary, significant minutes.  Pribilsky leads the Vikes with 33 assists against only 11 turnovers putting him third in the conference in assist to turnover ratio at 3.0, behind only UBC's Alex Murphy at 3.7 and Manitoba's Josh Ogden at 3.0. Beaucamp is also very happy with the progress of 6'10" Ontario import Chris McLaughlin who knows how to play in the post and moves very well for a big man.  Victoria has had strong consistent play from their pair of experienced bigs 6'8" Mike Berg and 6'7" Pierce Anderson but McLaughlin is rapidly emerging into a strong candidate for increased time in the rotation up front.  Another freshman, 6'6" Ted Neilson from Nanaimo, is in the rotation on the wing, playing good minutes and has hit several big shots in timely spots.  With a more favorable second-half schedule that has the Vikes hosting both Trinity Western and UBC at home and road dates at Winnipeg, at Brandon and at Thompson Rivers plus home games against Lethbridge, another 8-4 run at a minimum seems plausible as does a shot a hosting a first-round Best-of-3 playoff series.  Vic travels to southern California early this coming week for three games against NAIA opponents before resuming Canada West play during the weekend of 7-8 January when Vikes host Trinity Western... More Canada West:  one of the better quick turnaround stories in the CIS has been architected by Manitoba Bisons second-year Head Coach Kirby Schepp.  The Bisons are 7-3 in Canada West play including 4-1 on the road which includes a victory at Victoria.  Much has already been made of the contribution from newcomer point guard Josh Ogden however Manitoba is beginning to get contributions from a pair of local Winnipeg-product freshmen 6'4" Keith Omoerah and 6'8" Tanner Draward, giving Schepp some flexibility off the bench including not having to rely almost exclusively on the three-point shot, something the Bisons did more of than any other team in Canada last season.  Manitoba continues to seek more consistency (home losses to Thompson Rivers and Brandon have hurt) and Bisons have a wicked second-half schedule, starting with home dates with UBC and Saskatchewan followed by a trip to Edmonton to face Alberta and then later at home against Trinity Western.  Bisons also travel to Calgary and Regina and hope that 11 or 12 wins will get them into the playoffs.  Manitoba will play in the 44th Wesmen Classic with a first round date against the tough Jamestown Jimmies (NAIA) who have already defeated Winnipeg by 30... The injury news continues to mount for Rod Gilpin and the winless Bishop's Gaiters as an hour into an early December practice in Lennoxville, 6'1" starting point guard Oraine Green tore the cartilage between the pectoral muscle and his sternum and could be out for a few weeks. The Gaiters meet Memorial on the first day of the Classique des Citadins tournament at UQAM beginning early next week in Montreal.

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