Thursday, January 5, 2012

Wayne Thomas Canada West Weekend Preview

League's Top Teams Tangle

'Big 4' Clash on The Coast

A possible Final 4 preview jump-starts the 2nd half of Canada West's regular season this weekend in Victoria and Vancouver as the Alberta Golden Bears (6-2) and the Saskatchewan Huskies (5-2) cross the Rockies, Monashees, and Cascades (little Geography for you) to challenge the Victoria Vikes (8-0) and the UBC T-Birds (4-2).  There are several other teams in the League with eyes on crashing that March party, but, for now, this is the early summit meeting in Canada West.

The Vikes came through the 1st half unscathed, with 4 road wins, including 2 at Trinity Western on the season's 1st weekend, to get everyone's attention, and 2 in Southern Alberta, where UBC was having no such luck.  The Vikes show signs of carrying their winning ways over to January and onwards ... they didn't just beat Lethbridge on the last night before the break.  They crushed them ... 90-59, and this over a team that had beaten UBC the previous night. They beat Biola U., CA 64-60, who are the #15 ranked team in the very competitive NAIA. Coach Craig Beaucamp gives the standard "We are playing them 1 game at a time ....", kind of outlook, but he is very happy to have some breathing room at the top of the standings.

If we had to pick an MVP at this stage, we would give Ryan McKinnon the nod. Vic's 5th year wing man has matured into a 'prime -time performer' with the courage to take the last shot, and the patience to share the load with teammates, several of whom are playing in Vikes colors for the 1st time this season.  Michael Acheampong (4th year - Humber College, Toronto), Terrell Evans (3rd year - Las Vegas), and John Woldu (3rd year - Windsor) are transfers who have made the Vikes a better team.  Coach Beaucamp also added some fine rookies ... Rainer Theill, Vancouver College (it's actually a private high school) is averaging 22 minutes a game, while Vijay Dhillon (Richmond), and Sean Patrick (London, ON) are biding their time.

A huge key to Victoria's strong 1st half is Zac Andrus, the spark-plug point guard whose numbers might suggest him for CW honours ...  13 ppg, 5.5 rebs., 4.5 assists, shoots 52% , and 57% from 3 . His game has grown as he has become more experienced and confident in Canada West after transferring from Bellingham's, Whatcom Coll., WA., and the Vikes have ridden his wave.

The T-Birds are hoping that was just a little molting out there on the slopes of the Rockies, and Coach Kevin Hanson, who has guided UBC to 4 League titles (including last year), has 161 wins vs 56 losses (74%)  in Canada West League play, and isn't quite ready to cede the 'throne' to any other school without an aggressive answer from his talented squad.  Nathan Yu (21 ppg) and Doug Plumb (16 ppg) are a pair of 5th year guards who may rely on rookie, Nakai Luyken, (Abbotsford) to get them the ball and smooth out the potentially lethal 'T-Bird attack.  They are, after all, the highest scoring team in CW at 94 ppg, plus they lead the team rebounding with a +12 advantage.

The concern is turnovers, where they are averaging 23 /game, which has sent the team to tutorials on ball possession this past holiday season.  Luyken will, according to Coach Hanson, be entrusted with the rock, because he seems to have more appreciation for it's value than some of his more seasoned teammates.  The
5th year 'Birds will not want to let the UBC aura fade in their senior year ... Kamar Burke, Balraj Bains, Graham Bath, Plumb, and Yu have played in big games, and want to again, in the playoffs in March. Luckily they have Luyken and a few more youngsters (Malcolm Williams, 6-3, Pitt Meadows, David Wagner, 6-8,
Kamloops, Mike Lewandowski, 6-7, Pitt Meadows)  to help them accomplish their goals. Williams is a leading contender for Rookie of the Year, if he continues to score at a 14 ppg clip and shoot 55% from the floor.

The Golden Bears are on the top step, and can see where they want to be ... they got 2 big wins at home vs. Saskatchewan, limiting the Huskies' ace, Jamelle Barrett, to 10 and 12 points, while the trio of Jordan Baker, Daniel Ferguson, and Todd Bergen - Henengouwen gave Alberta 22, 17, and 16 ppg respectively. Then again, U of A lost 71-70 to the 'lowly' Winnipeg Wesmen on the road in their next game.

Their defense, tops in Canada West, at 71 ppg allowed, will be the foundation for Coach Greg Francis' game plan to battle the likes of Victoria and UBC. The next step for the Bears is to take their show on the road against top teams, and eke out wins any way they can. They have great role-players in Lyndon Taylor, 4th year, Edmonton), who scores 8 ppg and gets 4 rebs., plus guards, Sahr Saffa and Matthew Cardoza, holdovers from the 'Horwood Era', who can 'D it up' and have the quickness to match other teams top guards.

The Alberta post men are either a.) under-rated, or b.) quietly effective, or c.) 'back-up singers', depending on who you ask. Taylor, Rob Dewar, Andrew Bates, and Adam Weir may not get the limelight, as they toil in the reflection from the bright stars like Baker and Ferguson, but they are contributing rebounding and defense, if not a ton of scoring, to one of the CIS top-ranked teams.

The Huskies are without Nolan Brudehl (lost to a bad knee re-injury), who was, in some ways, the heart and soul ... a defensive stopper up front, a rugged rebounder, and a 10 ppg scorer who could go for 20 in big games.  The ' Dogs have other weapons left in their arsenal, however.  Jamelle Barrett, the fog having lifted from a curious early season, may well return to the days of yore ... 2010-11 ... 25 ppg, 7 assists, 2.5 steals. He can play ....

The Huskies have 4 players in their final year of eligibility ... Michael Lieffers , 6-8, 5th year, has played for Canada for the past 2 summers ... he is an amazingly quick jumper, with a fierce determination to battle inside .. he shoots 61% and grabs 8 rebs. Duncan Jones, 5th year guard, is the 2nd leading scorer at 14 ppg, with a 3 point shot that can bury an opponent in a hurry. Peter Lomuro, 5th year transfer from Winnipeg, lends his physical talents and experience, and may be the key to the U of S fortunes.

Post men, 6-8, Chris Unsworth (5th) and Matt Forbes, a 6-6 rookie prize, along with 6-4, 4th year forward , Patrick Burns, will be called upon to 'go to the mats' with the T-Bird and Vike front lines. And rookie Evan Ostertag will get a chance at unveiling his 65% FG/57% -3 pt. shooting, if a relief pitcher is called for in the 4th quarter.

Is this team capable of beating Canada West's other top contenders, even without Brudehl?  They may well be, if not this weekend, then maybe in March as some of their young talent rounds into fighting form.

What do we expect ?  Our 1st prediction is for big crowds, exciting games, and a real playoff atmosphere.  Beyond that, we suspect that home court will be a major factor ... one of the B.C schools will sweep both games ... we'll call the Vikes.  We think UBC will have a tougher time, and we think either Saskatchewan or Alberta will knock them off ... so, Vikes 2-0, UBC 1-1, Saskatchewan 1-1, and Alberta 0-2.  (It's not like we really know ... just to get discussion started)

After all, who would be dumb enough to predict a UBC home loss ? ... the 'Birds are 32 and 1 at the cavernous War Memorial Gym in League games over the past 3 seasons.  The only loss was to Saskatchewan in the opening series of last season.  Maybe Huskies do bite twice.

Canada West Schedule - January 6-7

Friday, Jan. 6                               Saturday, Jan. 7

Calgary at  Fraser Valley               Calgary at Trinity Western
Lethbridge at Trinity Western        Lethbridge at Fraser Valley
Saskatchewan at Victoria               Saskatchewan at UBC
Alberta at UBC                               Alberta at Victoria
Regina at Brandon                         Regina at Brandon
Winnipeg at Thompson Rivers        Winnipeg at UBC-O
Manitoba at UBC-Okanagan            Manitoba at Thompson Rivers

Our take on the Dinos' road games and the other CW weekend action is coming on
Thursday.

Notes ...

  *  The Regina Cougars have brought in a couple of new players for 2nd semester ... Antonio Tate is a 5'10" point guard, Minneapolis, MN, who played 2 years at Anoka-Ramsey C.C., Cambridge, MN. ... Vule Grujic, a 6-9, post man from the Ottawa Guardsmen Club, and Holy Trinity HS, looks like a good young  prospect.
  *  Dom Coward, the 3rd year transfer post man for Lethbridge,  was on their recent Montana trip but, Coach Dave Adams says, "Dom was not eligible to play as he is in Open Studies and does not  register for classes until tomorrow (Wednesday/4th)".  Coward will be playing this weekend when the 'Horns travel to Trinity and Fraser Valley.  Lethbridge also added Spenser Wenzel, yet another 3rd year transfer from the Lethbridge College Kodiaks ...Wenzel is a 6-9 post man, and Coach Adams expects him to immediately join his playing roster.
  *    How tough has it been for some schools to contend for and win a Canada West title?  Since 1972-73 here are the CW titles won ...Victoria - 14, UBC - 9, Alberta - 9, Calgary - 4, Saskatchewan - 1, Lethbridge - 1, Brandon - 1* (the Bobcats, as members of the Great Plains Conference under Coach Jerry Hemmings,  won 4 CIS titles, and 19 Conference Championships.)  Manitoba and Regina also won GPAC titles prior to their joining Canada West in 1988.

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