Plenty of contrasts in the second game of the first round between Trinity Western Spartans and Lakehead Thunderwolves which goes Friday afternoon. Although at least 5 of the 8 teams in the Final 8 (including UBC, Carleton, Dalhousie and Concordia) can point directly to their team defense as a main reason for qualifying for Halifax, OUA champion Lakehead may be the most intimidating defensive team in the draw, given how well their defense becomes as games wear on and the waves of energy in and out of the lineup has it's ultimate effect. At no time was that defensive effectiveness on better display than in the Wilson Cup Final when the T-Wolves held the high scoring Ravens to just 62 points - the game was all but over late when Carleton had under 60 points. Generally speaking, Lakehead, led by a deep set of guards and wings that lead their pressuring "d". Contrastingly, there is no front line in the tournament that can match the size, depth and quality that the Spartans bring to bear with 6'6" Jacob Doerksen, 6'7" Kyle Coston, 6'6" Tyrell Mara and 6'5" Tonner Jackson.
Key to Lakehead's perimeter "d" is 5'9" OUA West Defensive Player-of-the-Year Greg Carter who has arguably the quickest feet in the country and is a nightmare to bring the ball up against. But 6'2" Venzal Russell, another starter on the wing, loves to push up on defenders to create turnovers and get out in transition. Off the bench, 6'1" Benjamin Johnson, who is having a homecoming of sorts (he is a native of Pictou, NS) and 6'2" Joseph Jones both can provide a defensive presence on the perimeter, although both were more noteable over the weekend with their three-point shooting - the two combined to shoot 10 for 17 off the bench whith Johnson knocking down 4 vs. Ottawa and Jones hitting 4 vs. Carleton.
Carter will likely get the start checking TWU's 6'0" guard Tristan Smith, who was brought in by the Spartans exactly to deal with these types of defenders and Smith has had a nice season setting the table for Trinity's stable of excellent forwards and wings, led by Doerksen, who will be the toughest defensive matchup the T-Wolves had to deal with probably all season long. 6'1" Daniel Horner, a fifth-year guard, shared time with Smith in the CW Bronze medal game and instrumental in the win with 13 points and 7 rebounds in only 21 minutes. Doerksen, who in any other year would be in line for his second Moser Award, has a fine array of inside moves around the rim and can step out beyond the three point line as well. Without any prior knowledge, I would expect 6'6" Ryan Thomson to start on Doerksen however Lakehead Coach Scott Morrison is likely to use several different defenders to try to limit the touches and good looks of the former Moser Award winner.
The fiery Coston, a former sometime-starter with Portland State (NCAA D1) before transfering to TWU, adds strength and power to the Spartans front line and his forecasted matchup with slick 6'6" Yoosrie Salhia and his array of go-both-ways post moves with his back to the basket and underrated passing skills when doubled should be a wonderful contrast. At the 2 spot, Trinity Western features 6'3" Calvin Westbrook, another transfer from NCAA DII, their most consistent and confident 3 point shooter who played 79 of 80 minutes last weekend at the CW Final Four. Westbrook, who will look to take most of the big perimeter shots for Trinity, should expect to be guard by the athletic Russell. Another Spartan workhorse is Mara, a scrappy, underrated do-everything wing/forward who should be on the floor for virtually the entire game for TWU - he may be the best matchup for Lakehead's Wilson Cup MVP Jamie Searle who could have difficulties shooting over Mara, although Westbrook could also guard Searle. Mara might have the most complete game of any player on either team.
Lakehead brings in a couple of strong, scrappy bigs in Andrew Hackner and Brendan King who are great positional defenders inside and back down from no one. 6'6" Tonner Jackson is the first big off the bench for Trinity, usually spelling Coston up front. 6'7" veteran Lance Verhoeff can also play the five but can also knock down shots on the perimeter if left alone.
Trinity will be happy if the majority of their shots come inside the paint or from the three point line. Lakehead did a wonderful job with their double downs on Carleton's 6'6" Tyson Hinz, turning the OUA East MVP into a bothered passer and then rotating very well to limit open looks on the perimeter. Expect more of the same for Doerksen. The Thunderwolves simply need to stay within 5 points entering the final 10 to 15 minutes of the game and then if history serves, their defense and three-point shooting could take over. If the contrasting team strengths hold and better guard and wing play wins out over big men play, then expect Lakehead to win - the opposite will occur if TWU bigs dominate. I tend to favor stronger guard play, especially late in the year when it matters most and thus expect the Thunderwolves to come out on top.
Prediction: Lakehead 73, Trinity Western 70