Another potentially extremely interesting and likely very close first round game pits AUS champion Dalhousie Tigers, characterized by their stifling half-court "d", against CW runner-up Saskatchewan Huskies and their offensive juggernaut. Both teams feature All-Canadians in Huskies Canada West POY 5'11" Jamelle Barrett, who statistically had one of the better offensive seasons in CW history while the Tigers have fifth-year senior point guard and leader 6'1" Simon Farine. But both teams also have several other potentially game-changing athletes, both in the back court and up front in the post, who should have an impact on who wins tomorrow night - although each team's bigs have contrasting skills and styles.
Barrett's offensive skills are at a solid D1 level as he is tremendous getting to the rim off the dribble, exciting and creative in transition and a ball hawk who can pick you and turn it into easy scores. His clutch shot was the difference in the Huskies Nationals-spot clinching game in the CW semi-finals against Trinity Western last weekend and he has the ability to carry his team for long stretches offensively. But the Tigers may have an answer for Barrett in 6'2" Stephen Lopez, who is earning a growing reputation for shutting down top scoring guards. His defensive skills were on display in the AUS semi-final checking St. FX star guard Christian T-Bear Upshaw after the diminutive guard lit up Saint Mary's for 43 points in the quarter-finals; Lopez held T-Bear to just 10 points total including a scoreless second half until a meaningless three after the game had been decided. But Barrett could be the toughest check Lopez has had all season.
The other guard matchup will likely be Farine and CW all-star 6'0" Rejean Chabot, a pair of wily fifth-year veterans. Farine is Dal's unquestioned leader who makes the majority of the key offensive decisions for the Tigers and the player Dal usually turns to for creating and/or scoring in key situations. Farine also brings needed energy in leading by example diving for loose balls, taking charges and ensuring the Tigers stifling half-court "d" is properly organized. Assuming he guards Chabot, Farine will be challenged by Chabot's ability to get in the lane and use his body, a skill which allowed Chabot to get to the foul line consistently (more than 6 free throws on average per game). Chabot also is lethal in transition and from beyond the arc. How the game is called in the matchup between two guards who can find their way to the rim will be key.
Where Dal may have an advantage is with their depth in the back court and on the wing that includes 6'3" Juleous Grant, 6'1" Peter Leighton and 6'3" Alex Arthur while Saskatchewan rides both Barrett and Chabot for virtually the entire game in big spots. Sharing time on the wings for Saskatchewan are 6'5" Duncan Jones and 6'2" Trevor Nerdahl with 6'3" freshman guard Ben Baker likely to see some limited minutes also. Both teams have great athletes who can play in the back court, making these matchups extremely close.
The battle up-front will offer an interesting contrast as the Tigers strong duo of 6'9" Joe Schow and 6'7" Sandy Viet are much more comfortable bruising it inside in half-court battles at both ends and stuffing the paint defensively in the half court while the Huskies key tandem of 6'8" Michael Lieffers and 6'6" Nolan Brudehl want to get out and run to get on the back end of feeds from Barrett and Chabot on the break. Both Brudehl and especially Lieffers have explosive finishing skills at the end of transition and on the offensive glass - Lieffers has already authored numerous highlight-reel slams with his quick, powerful dunks. The ability of Dal's bigs to get back in transition and not getting beat down the floor will be critical to limiting easy scores for the transition-hungry Huskies. If the game does turn into a slower, quarter-court affair, Saskatchewan has a strong, burly center/5 man type in 6'8" Chris Unsworth, who is happy to mix it up physically underneath.
Saskatchewan will be happy with a game in the 80's or 90's that involves up tempo defense and transition opportunities. Huskies will attack the offensive glass and attack the rim, hoping to keep things at high speeds. Dal's ability to convert defensively and stop the ball in transition to get their half court "d" set up will go a long way in helping the Tigers win - a game in the 60's will suit Dal just fine. Again, Dal's bigs need to get back defensively on misses while Saskatchewan must rebound the ball to start their break and deal with Tigers more physical front line.
Prediction: Dalhousie 76, Saskatchewan 75 in a game that may go into overtime and/or ends on a last second shot.