Saturday, 24 December 2011

Tigers rebuild after AUS title

John Campbell's Tigers lost all five starters from last season's AUS championship team including four to graduation: All-Canadian Simon Farine, 6'9" Joe Schow, 6'7" Sandy Viet and 6'0" Peter Leighton plus 6'2" Juleous Grant, who was an academic casulty. Last season's Dal club was the strongest certainly in John Campbell's tenure in Halifax and likely the best team in the history of Dal basketball as both Farine (Isreal) and Schow (England) are continuing their careers with professional gigs in Europe. 

Dal, which finished first half at 1-4 in AUS league play after a challenging schedule that included two games vs. #2 St. FX (including 3 point loss at Antigonish in final game of first half) and Cape Breton twice (split in Sydney), still has a quality roster full of athletes and the current core group is learning to become top-of-the-rotation type guys, evolving from supporting roles played the past two seasons.  Size, depth up front, perimeter shooting and rebounding all are issues that keep Campbell up at night.  But, with athletic talent that can defend, a different tempo can be set.

Up front 6'6" Robert Nortman (17.2 ppg) has been the most pleasant surprise as starting five man, albeit a bit undersized - a common theme with this season's Tigers. After several years flashing tremendous athleticism but inconsistent play, the fourth-year veteran out of Toronto Eastern Commerce, has started to draw double downs after 24 point effort vs. Acadia and 30 points vs. X. Nortmann will be even tougher to guard as he develops his passing ability out of the growing double teams he is beginning to face.

Dal has also dealt with a fair share of injuries including 6'3" Acadia transfer Casey Fox (12 ppg), who missed several games early in pre-season with a lower back injury and is rounding into form after playing in all conference games. Fox is the go-to guy on the perimeter.  Joining Nortman up front is 6'5" William Yengue (10.4 ppg) starting 4 man with skills more becoming of a 3 man skills but has been asked to play bigger given Tigers size challenges.  Yengue is a veteran who brings a consistent effort and skill set to the table including a strong ability to defend several positions.

Three other Toronto-area products move up the rotation into the starting lineup, beginning with 6'4" Alexander Arthur (10.0 ppg/Scarborough West Hill), who can play the 4 but is working into a role on the wing for the most part.  Arthur has strength and athleticism, which could be used more to his advantage on the glass and when the going gets more physical.  6'0" sophomore Jumol Mullings (9.8 ppg/Scarborough), who is a bit older, returning to play after a couple of years sitting out, is an explosive, athletic scoring combo guard who the Tigers have entrusted to make many of the important decisions on the floor.  Unfortunately, Mullings sustained a dislocated shoulder vs. Cape Breton in conference play and missed the latter portion of the first half.  Mullings may return after Christmas for Shoveller tournament when Dal hosts RMC in the first round on December 28th.  Now a veteran who will be looked upon for leadership, 6'2" defensive stopper Stephen Lopez (9.2 ppg/Pickering) usually is assigned opponent's toughest guard/wing check. 

Dal's top freshman newcomer is 6'0" Ritchie Kanza (7.6 ppg) fresh from high school (Scarborough Mother Teresa) who Campbell calls a "smart kid and tough".  Kanza, a hard worker with a strong basketball IQ, is likely Dal's 30 minute per game point guard of future and will get more time as he develops his outside shot, a common theme with many city kids who play to get to the rim, only to find that word travels fast where one has game deficiencies. 

Besides Fox, the Tigers lack a true pure jump shooting wing so Campbell was hoping to have 63" sharpshooter Chris Hunt back for the second half after shoulder surgery sidelined him for the entire first half.  However, the Sault Ste. Marie, ON native will likely miss remainder of the season and be redshirted.

This season's Tigers are not as deep as in the past, especially up front where they are undersized and on the perimeter where one might expect Dal to see significant amount of zone defense.  Still, Dal defends and with a smallish lineup can create havoc with gambling, double teaming and ball pressuring "d" designed to speed up games and create easy scores.

The entire Shoveller tournament can be seen on SSN Canada.

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