Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Holiday Tournament Preview: 45th Wesmen Classic

One of the more difficult challenges for players and coaching staffs is the usually-long (3+ week) layoff between the last weekend of the First Half and the re-start of the season just after Christmas Day.  A growing list of teams over the years have scheduled trips to more temperate climes, usually either Florida, Arizona or California, for training camp with games and/or scrimmages against U.S. NCAA D2, D3, NAIA and/or Junior Colleges.  However, there remains a solid stable of Canadian-based CIS Holiday tournaments that help teams re-energize, keep fans interested and, in some cases, can be the springboard teams need to build momentum into January league play.

This season, four CIS-hosted tournaments are on the docket, including the 45th Wesmen Classic, a Holiday tradition, continuing the longest consecutive year run of a University tournament hosted by the Winnipeg Wesmen at the Duckworth Center, still one of the finest facilities in all of Canada.  Only two other tournaments with longevity rivaling the Wesmen Classic exist:  Waterloo's Naismith Classic, which completed the 44th edition earlier this season (not certain if there have been 44 consecutive years of the Naismith) and uOttawa's Jack Donohue Memorial Classic (38 consecutive seasons). 

Historically, the Wesmen Classic has included at least 6 or 7 CIS teams with the tournament draw filled out by a U.S. NAIA school and/or Canadian college team(s).  This season's edition has four CIS programs, including the 3 Manitoba-based Canada West schools (Brandon, Manitoba and the host Winnipeg Wesmen).  CW newcomer UBC-Okanagan rounds out the CIS entries. 

Manitoba (4-4) in Canada West league play including a split at Brandon and a sweep of a pair at home against Winnipeg, may be the top CIS entry.  5'10" Atlanta, Ga. native Stephan Walton, a 3rd year transfer from Valdosta State University (NCAA D2) has led the Bisons, scoring 14.0 ppg while shooting 47% from three point land.  Under Head Coach Kirby Schepp, Manitoba has loaded up from the three-point line, finishing among the leaders in attempts from downtown the past 2 seasons.  This season however the Bisons appear more balanced, taking only 22 3's per game vs. averages in the high 20's to low 30's in the past two seasons.  6'0" Jonas Huertas comes off the bench to lead Manitoba at 14.1 ppg (41% 3's); he had a season-high 31 at Brandon.  Manitoba goes about 8 deep with 6'7" Kevin Oliver, a Brandon transfer, maturing as a CIS big man with 11.4 ppg and 8.0 rpg. 

Minot State (transitioning from NAIA to NCAA D2) enters the tournament losers of their last 8 in a row and is 1-13 overall leading into a first round match up with UBC-Okanagan (1-5).  Beavers feature a pair of former Toronto-area high school stars in 6'0" Yonas Berhe (Toronto Henry Carr, averaging 14.0 ppg this season) and sophomore Chris East.

Former Lethbridge Pronghorn coach Mike Connolly leads Keyano College (ACAA) with a roster dotted with out-of-province players including several from Connolly's native Ontario.  The Huskies face off against host Wesmen in the first round.  Valley City (N.D.) Vikings (NAIA) may well be one of the tournament favorites with a 10-4 record overall thus far including a six point win over the host Wesmen in October in Valley City.  The Vikings draw Manitoba in the first round.

Wesmen Classic kicks off tomorrow (Wed Dec 28) with the following set of first-round games:
Noon Central time:  UNBC (CCAA) vs Brandon (CIS)
2 PM CT:  Minot State (NCAA D2) vs UBC-Okanagan (CIS)
6:30 PM CT:  Keyano College (CCAA) vs Winnipeg (CIS)
8:30 PM CT:  Valley City (NAIA) vs Manitoba (CIS).

Page 19 of the Wesmen Classic Media Guide provides summaries of all teams participating in the tournament.

We are pleased to introduce our Winnipeg-area correspondent, former Wesmen and Lethbridge Pronghorn Head Coach Dave Crook, to the CISHOOPS.CA staff.  Coach Crook remains heavily involved with Canadian basketball at all levels, especially in touch with CIS basketball in the Winnipeg area.  We appreciate his input and welcome him to the team (and a thanks to his good friend Wellsie for making the suggestion).

More on the other three tournaments:  Ryerson National Invitational in downtown Toronto, Rod Shoveller Memorial tournament at Dalhousie in Halifax and UQAM Citadins Holiday tournament in Montreal later.

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