Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Consistency is key to Badgers hopes

With arguably the best and deepest array of raw talent in possibly the entire CIS, the Brock Badgers are oozing with potential that optimistic second-year coach Brad Rootes is busily moulding into a group that is able to take advantage of what usually is more athleticism and talent than their opponents. If the first half is any indication, much of what has to occur to push Brock (6-2 in OUA league play) toward their third-ever National championship is consistency and improved mental toughness.

Nothing typified the paradox that usually characterizes many talented young, high-potential teams than the final weekend of the Badgers first half during which on Friday night, Brock was blasted by 24 at home against 3-5 Ryerson and then followed up the very next night with a very impressive, dominant 40 point victory over the veteran-laden U of T Varsity Blues.  Inconsistency at home appears to be a trend as Brock also knocked off a very good Ottawa Gee-Gees squad before getting thrashed by 42 points vs. #1 Carleton the very next night at home in what was a 30 point game almost from the beginning. Getting his troops focused on each and every game - each and every possession - is probably coach Rootes top objective toward contending for the West title and a spot in Halifax.

Rootes entrusts most of the primary decision making with 6'1" Andrew Kraus, in his fifth and final year (second with the Badgers). A coach's son (father George coached Seneca College in the 80's and both of his point guard son's in high school in Markham, ON), Kraus (8.6 ppg), who is not afraid to take the big shot at the end of games, is strong and usually crafty more than he is athletic and brings an emotional edge to his play. Playing off Kraus in the back court is former CIS Rookie-of-the-Year 6'1" Didi Mukendi (9.4 ppg), who returns after sitting out last season due to stomach tumor removed. The athletic combo actually lost close to 50 lbs. and was bed ridden for long stretches so his return is somewhat miraculous. Mukendi brings tremendous on-the-ball pressure defensively and is learning to find new ways to score as teams begin to sit on his right hand.

One of Brock's top newcomers, NCAA Division 1 transfer 6'3" Tshing Kasamba (10.5 ppg - Chicago State) had a storied high school career in St. Catharines but has missed time the past few seasons after suffering through a knee injury and transferring back. Rootes feels Kasamba "finally has found his confidence, especially physically with his knee, late in the first half" and has flashed his nice athleticism punctuated by a facial on a couple of defenders in the U of T game. The slashing three man will be a main stay in Brock's rotation. Joining Kasamba on the wing is another newcomer who returned from NCAA Division 1, 6'7" Western Kentucky transfer Jameson Tipping (15.7 ppg in 6 league games), who has a very good face up game and much range beyond the arc - Tipping shot 5 for 6 from 3 in the third quarter alone in the U of T game. Athletic with a 7' wing span, Tipping provides Rootes with several good alternatives for defensive matchups, especially when he fully recovers from a dislocated ankle suffered vs. Murray State in August, an ankle which necessitated him sitting out the Queen's and RMC weekend to rest and rehab. Brock also gets contributions from wing forward Anto Raic, who shoots the 3 and 5th year guard Jay Fleming, a very good defender as a guard.

Up front 6'6" Mark Gibson (13.8 ppg) gives Brock their most consistent low post presence with a versatile big man game allowing the crafty Toronto native to face up and/or back in depending upon matchups. Complementing Gibson is 6'5" fifth-year 4 man Andrew Ferguson (6.6 ppg) who stretches defenses with his ability to shoot 3's from the 4 spot. More importantly, Ferguson is the locker-room leader, a critical role on a maturing team with so much talent. Another NCAA Division 1 transfer who probably has the most potential to make a First Team OUA West type of impact for Brock is 6'10" Theo Davis (5.6 ppg in 5 games), who has been injury-prone, sustaining a knee injury forcing him to miss most of Laurentian game and all of York game and then rolling his ankle in final moments of Brock's last practice before Queen's/RMC weekend. Davis complements Gibson around the paint with his very underrated passing and playmaking skills from either low or high post however, despite protecting the rim very well has been subject to some foul trouble which he hopes to avoid as league play continues. Rounding out a very talented set of posts is 6'8" Brian Nahimana (5.2 ppg), a starter earlier in his career who is settling in as a low block 5 man and solid offensive rebounder.

The up and down first half helped Rootes learn more about his group which is laden with newcomers and guys who have not played together all that much. When right, Brock can create turnovers in bunches and can be dominant. But efforts like Ryerson and Carleton have shown that doing it right over every possession is still a goal to be pursued. The Badgers are in Florida preparing for the Tampa Classic where Brock will meet a pair of NCAA Division II teams: University of Tampa and Eckert College.

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