It is increasingly clearer to many observers that the quantity of high-quality of teams across the country continues to grow as Canadian basketball develops and retains more talented players and the depth and quality of coaching across the country continues to push forward (and not just at the CIS level). Certainly, observers looking for some balance in the CIS should be very much encouraged that there are a growing number of CIS National championship contenders across the country, including (geographically from West to East): UVic, UBC, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Lakehead, Laurier, Ottawa, Concordia, St. FX, Acadia.
That said, it is still very difficult to make a case for anyone other than the juggernaut that is the Carleton Ravens to run the table and capture their 8th CIS Nationals banner over the past decade of dominance. And some may argue that because success breeds success, Head Coach Dave Smart's ability to recruit even more high quality talent, now from across the country instead of simply in Eastern Canada, has increased. Indeed, the key contributors to Carleton's first five National championship rosters (Osvaldo Jeanty, Aaron Doornekamp, Stuart Turnbull, Robbie Smart, Jean-Emmanuel Jean-Marie, Kevin McCleery, Jafeth Maseruka, Josh Poirier) virtually all were born and bred within the Capital Region and the greater Kingston area, the fertile basketball ground sewn by the Smart-led Guardsmen club program, which has become a veritable high-basketball-IQ player producing factory (more to come in a future story on the Smart/Guardsmen Family tree that has dominated Canadian basketball for almost two decades).
But things are getting ridiculous in a hurry as Smart further stretches his recruiting shadows from coast-to-coast after last season's arrival of 6'2" Phil Scrubb from B.C. (who joined his older brother Thomas), adding to the out-of-region coups that essentially began when 6'3" New Brunswick POY Elliott Thompson came five years ago. And Carleton's present redshirt class would likely turn every other CIS program into an instant Nationals contender - all hail from outside Eastern Canada - with 6'5" Clinton Springer-Williams (London, ON), the former CIS Freshman of the Year at Brock, 6'1" Chris Joseph from Dawson College (Montreal,QC) and 6'0" point guard Adam Chmielewski from Champlain-St. Lambert (Montreal, QC) who is transferring back to Canada after one season at St. Francis College (NCAA D1). Not that the top players in Eastern Canada are staying away from Smart and the Ravens: 6'6" Tyson Hinz broke family tradition by staying home and in his sophomore year won the Moser Award as the top player in the CIS - both of Hinz's parents played at McGill with father Will finishing as one of the Redmen's greatest players of all-time and a Rhodes scholar. 6'5" Cole Hobin, the greatest CIS defender of his time, 5'11" sparkplug Willy Manigat, gritty 6'5" forward Kyle Smendziuk and 6'6" freshman Justin Shaver, another in the growing list of those who have turned down several NCAA D1 scholarship offers to play for Smart, are also Eastern Ontario products. The point is, the Ravens roster is quickly evolving from one dominated by local players with Guardsmen ties, to one dotted with the nation's most recruited athletes, regardless of hometown, who have decided that staying in Canada to play for Smart is a much better alternative than accepting scholarship offers to NCAA Division 1 programs.
The Ravens showed that the program is clearly of Division 1 calibre earlier this season by going 4-3 vs. NCAA Division 1 teams with their full roster (Carleton also played 4 other games vs. NCAA D1 competition without Moser Award winner Hinz and defensive stopper Hobin while both were with Canada's team at the World University Games in China, going 1-3 including a win over Illinois State). With their full squad, Carleton swept Rick Majerus-led St. Louis Billikens (currently 11-1 and #29 in the AP poll), on consecutive nights at the Raven's Nest (including a 24 point win followed by a 5 point win), knocked off Cal-Santa Barbara by 10 (5-5 currently and led by likely NBA first round draft pick Orlando Johnson) and hammered Niagara Purple Eagles (4-8 currently) by 30 in what was a 30 point game at halftime. Ravens only loss at home to an NCAA D1 school with their full team was by 10 to Albany Great Danes (7-4 currently) on a night when Hinz and Hobin had arrived only hours earlier from their China trip. On the road in early November, Ravens were defeated by LaSalle Explorers (currently 8-4 overall including 5-0 at home) by 18 and by Penn Quakers (6-6 overall) of the Ivy League by 2 on a pair of free throws with no time remaining on the clock in a game played at the legendary Palestra in Philadelphia.
While it is very clear the Ravens will be a very difficult out for any other team in the nation, Carleton does have some "deficiencies" or, more accurately, areas that Smart continually pounds on likely in an effort to keep his troops focused and motivated. Note that focus and motivation were issues late in the year last season when Lakehead comfortably defeated the Ravens for the Wilson Cup championship in Hamilton, leaving no doubt who was a better side on that evening. The night prior, Peter Campbell's Laurier Golden Hawks pushed the Ravens to the brink also. A common recent area of discussion is Carleton's front line and more generally Ravens ability to team-rebound on the defensive end, a critical element of the program that in the end is founded in defending and rebounding. For virtually all of the last decade, double digit offensive rebounding totals against the Ravens were about as common as a Yinka Dare assist, however this season's edition has allowed teams to hang around by giving up second chance points. Carleton did clean that up very well in their first half season ending victory against previously-undefeated Laurier.
With a second-half schedule that includes six games against currently-winless teams York, Queen's and RMC and a thus-far disappointing top end OUA East group of teams including Toronto, Ottawa and injury-riddled Ryerson, few believe Carleton cannot complete another undefeated regular season. With three core, fifth-year veterans (Hobin, Thompson, Manigat), the reigning Moser Award winner (Hinz) and an early candidate for this season's award (Scrubb), a rapidly-developing wing (Thomas Scrubb) plus a more than adequate front line (Smendziuk, ever-improving 6'9" fourth-year post Kevin Churchill, Shaver), the quality, depth and high-end star power is there to be regarded as the clear favorites to win it all again. Maintaining that focus and motivation is the job of the veterans, Smart and his staff. Expect to see Carleton front and center again in Halifax in March.