Thursday, January 5, 2012

UBC Weekend Preview: Final Four Previews ?

The Thunderbirds kick off 2012 at home this weekend against the East Division's elite. The division-leading Alberta Golden Bears pay a visit on Friday, and the CIS No. 4 Saskatchewan Huskies will put their four-game win streak on the line on Saturday.  Tip-off on Friday is at 8:00 p.m.  Saturday's game will begin at 7:00 p.m.

No. 7 UBC Thunderbirds
2011 conference record: 4-2 (2nd, West)
2011 CIS ranking: 7
Last week: at Tom Byron Classic in Santa Barbara, CA - lost 79-88 to UC Merced, beat Trinity International 97-60
Streak: 2 regular season losses

After a 4-0 start to the season at home, the T-Birds lost their last two games on the road before the break. Nathan Yu's 36 points weren't enough to overcome a -10 turnover differential against Lethbridge, and another -10 the following night in Calgary allowed the Dinos to pick up just their second win of the year.

In all four home games, the 'Birds won the turnover battle, and will need to get the most out of their possessions at War Memorial again this weekend against their prairie foes, who represent two of the top three defences in the Canada West by points allowed.

UBC's turnover numbers are up this year to an average of over 22 per game in conference action, compared to 15 last year. Some of this is likely due to the shakeup at the guard spots, with Yu changing positions to play the point and rookies Malcolm Williams and Nakai Luyken getting significant floor time, but overall the transition has been a success. Yu is among the league leaders in scoring and assists, and Williams is making an early case for conference Rookie of the Year consideration, averaging almost 14 points on .549 shooting and .419 from three point range.

Their best chance at extra possessions this weekend though will likely be on the boards. The T-Birds easily lead the league in rebounding margin, thanks largely to Kamar Burke, who averages a double double with 10.5 boards and 10.2 points per game. Balraj Bains adds 6.2 boards, and Tommy Nixon and Doug Plumb are both averaging more than four rebounds while doubling as the team's most efficient scorers.

No. 4 Saskatchewan Huskies
2011 conference record: 5-2 (2nd, East)
2011 CIS ranking: 4
Last week: off
Streak: 4 regular season wins

The Huskies are 4-0 since being swept on the road by Alberta early in the season. They boast the league's most efficient offence by a wide margin, with a team field goal percentage of .527. UBC is next at .505.

Six of the Huskies' top seven scorers are shooting above .500 on the season - and seven of the top eight if you include Evan Ostertag's .658 shooting on 23 attempts this year. Michael Lieffers is also shooting over .600 while averaging 11.4 points, and reigning conference Player of the Year Jamelle Barrett leads the team with 17.2 points per game on .500 shooting.

The defence has been equally important to the team's success though. They are third in the league in points allowed and first in opponent field goal percentage.

No. 6 Alberta Golden Bears
2011 conference record: 6-2 (1st, East)
2011 CIS ranking: 6
Last week: off
Streak: 3 regular season wins

The Bears are off to a great start to the year, grabbing two wins over their toughest division rivals already, and losing just two games by a combined three points. Although the offence hasn't been explosive, they allow the fewest points in the league and MVP candidate Jordan Baker is doing enough on both ends of the floor to give the Bears a chance to win any game.

Baker is second in league scoring with 21.5 points per game on .516 shooting, and tops the rebounding leaderboard at 10.8 per game. He also averages four assists and three steals. The weakness for the Bears may be a lack of depth though, as Baker is one of just two Bears averaging double digit scoring. Daniel Ferguson is the other, averaging just under 20 per game, though not as efficiently as Baker.

Baker will face tough defence in Vancouver this weekend and won't be able to rely on his rebounding prowess to get extra possessions as much with the likes of Burke and Bains to compete with on the glass, so some secondary scoring options could be key to any success the Bears hope to have.

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