Saturday, 24 December 2011

New Leaders emerge as X-Men remain at/near the top

St. FX X-Men (#2 CIS coach's poll)

Although St. FX remains undefeated and holds down #2 overall CIS ranking, Coach Steve Konchalski's newcomer-laden roster has not been quite as dominant as their unblemished record indicates, with their last three games all coming down to one late possession, all of which the X-Men (5-0 in AUS play) were able to pull out, primarily due to the work of a veteran transfer who assumed point guard duties, an emerging super sophomore and a versatile forward who is claiming this year's team for his own.  With the long-anticipated CIS debut of 6'8" wing Bol Kong, one of the more heralded players in Canadian basketball over the past few years, likely to finally happen at the Shoveller this coming week, X continues their fine tradition of annually being a consistent Top 5 CIS team.  Could this new mix of players once again put Coach Konchalski in position for his 4th National championship and first in 11 seasons ?

With the graduation of six of the top eight rotation players from last season's AUS semi-finalist, the X-Men are now Jeremy Dunn's team and the versatile 6'5" forward (22.2 ppg/6.8 rpg) remains a difficult matchup with his nice arsenal of inside and out moves. Dunn put an emphatic statement that AUS POY is within reach for him after a 35 point effort including 5-10 3's late November vs. arch-rival Saint Mary's at the The Tower in Halifax.  Expect teams to scheme to find a way to control Dunn, who has simply got progressively better and better each season in Antigonish.  6'5" sophomore Terry Thomas (22.0/8.8) has made a dramatic leap from his freshman season, most noteably with his perimeter jumper (37% from 3 has been biggest improvement in his game) while continuing his tremendous work on the offensive glass and in transition. Thomas led the way with 26 points as X defeated last season's AUS champions Acadia in Wolfville. X lost their entire top-of-the-rotation set of guards from last season (All-Stars T-Bear Upshaw and Will Silver plus three-point specialist Charlie Spurr) so the savvy, veteran leadership of 6'2" McMaster transfer Tyrell Vernon has been a welcomed addition, setting the table for Dunn and Thomas - Vernon averages only 6.0 ppg but has two 10 assist games to his credit already.  Most importantly, Konchalski points to Vernon's leadership as the key component as the Hamilton, ON product "never loses composure out there" according to the long-time X-Men mentor.

After a career which began amid some controversy fueled by off-the-court incidents, 6'1" Will Donkoh (11.0 ppg as starting 2-man) from Ottawa, ON has shown great maturity, stepping into the starting lineup after missing last season. Donkoh, an excellent ball defender who attacks the rim, continues in the long line of quick X guards which allows Konchalski to continue to press when games require more energy. Maybe the biggest positive surprise in Antigonish this season has been the tremendous contribution of 6'5" Shane Coupland (10.8 ppg/6.2 rpg), a native of Australia who many thought would struggle to make this season's roster after a series of injuries kept him down last season. But the physical, smooth-shooting wing has been very good as highlighted by his 5-6 3's effort vs. Acadia in the OT win.

Up front, 6'8" sophomore Rodrigo Madera, the Dominican Republic native, has added to his scoring touch, although his missed the final game of the first half vs. Dal but should be back healthy after Christmas. Another guard dynamo adding to X's ability to press is 5'10" Marquis Clayton (5.4 ppg) FR from Halifax, who is starting to become more consistent with three double digit scoring games and getting better. Injuries have slowed the progress of 6'3" Jordan Clarke (3.7 ppg), who X felt was ready to move into the 30 mpg, feature wing role. Early on, Clarke asserted himself with a 20 point effort early vs. UPEI but the Oakville, ON native later missed two league games with a sprained MCL which is not serious so expect the sleek wing back after Christmas, looking to become more consistent. Windsor transfer 5'10" Ellis French (3.0 ppg) is also looking to gain more consistency but when right can stretch defenses with his perimeter j - French won the U of T game with a buzzer beater at McGill tournament.

X looks to get healthier in the second half including the much-anticipated debut of 6'7 1/2" Kong, the highly-publicized athletic wing who played one season at Gonzaga (NCAA D1) and then at NAIT in the Alberta college league. Kong is coming off foot surgery which took longer to heal than originally anticipated but high flying, potential game-changer has been participating in full contact practices again since late November and should be ready for the Shoveller tournament at Dal after Christmas. 7'2" Riiny Ngot (Sudan) has not played at all this season as he attempts to work through a nagging concussion sustained in the summer. Konchalski and staff expect to reassess the long shotblocker in January with a view of likely redshirting him to save a season of eligibility.

X vs. Ottawa is the first round feature game at the Shoveller after Christmas on Thursday, December 29th at 3 PM Atlantic time (2 PM Eastern Time).  The game will be shown live! from Dalplex on SSN Canada

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