In an effort to give you the best in Canadian basketball content, The Can Ball Report gives you a mid season report of the Canadian university basketball scene courtesy of one of our colleagues at cidhoops.ca, Mark Wacyk.
There is a whole lot of basketball being played these days, particularly on the collegiate level. With the many players playing in the various levels of the NCAA and Junior College down south, we tend to forget about the great local talent playing in our backyard. Thankfully, one of our colleagues at cishooop.ca, Mark Wacyk, does a great job of covering all the action. Mark, despite being less than up to snuff over the holiday season, was able to provide us at The Can Ball Report with a great midseason look at the CIS and the teams and players that have made a splash so far. For more news on the CIS, please check out www.cishoops.ca. Thanks again Mark for your hard work.
Unlike much of the past decade during which the Carleton Ravens have dominated the CIS, winning 6 of the past 7 National championships, there appears to be no clear cut favorite for the CIS crown this season, as parity reigns, setting up a second half that should be exciting for fans across the entire country.
Although there are a handful of teams good enough to vie for the mid-season #1 ranking, UBC Thunderbirds, led by 6'2" Josh Whyte, their slick lefty guard, remain undefeated with at least one signature victory, blowing out the highly-touted Trinity Western Spartans at home in October. The Birds still have not been tested on the road and have a young front line but have a strong set of veteran guards and wings led by Whyte, 6'6" Kyle Watson and 6'5" Brent Malish. 6'0" Nathan Yu's ability to provide offense in key situations off the bench highlights the depth of the Birds, the current favorites for the Canada West championship.
In contrast to the T-Birds, the Calgary Dinos have probably the best and most experienced front line in the nation, led by 6'7" Ross Bekkering, another Player-of-the-Year candidate. 6'5" Robbie Sihota presents match up problems with his ability to shoot the three and score inside while Dinos would like more consistency from probably their most talented player 6'9" Tyler Fidler. Freshman sensation 6'0" Jerrod Ogungbemi-Jackson has exceeded pre-season expectations at the point and his play could make the difference in which team ultimately wins Canada West. The T-Birds and Dinos, consensus top two teams in Canada West, meet in Calgary on Saturday, January 23rd.
Other definite contenders in Canada West include Saskatchewan Huskies, who completed a very difficult portion of their schedule in the first half and are led by 6'0" Showron Glover, a U.S. import guard who leads Canada West in scoring at 23.8 ppg; Trinity Western Spartans who have several NCAA transfers including reigning Moser Award winner (CIS Player-of-the-Year) 6'8" Jacob Doerksen and former Portland State standout 6'6" Tyrell Mara. The Spartans are searching for consistency at the all-important point guard spot, probably the most important position on the floor as the calendar turns toward March; and Simon Fraser Clan, a veteran-laden group with fifth-year guards who can shoot it (lead Canada West in three-pointer made per game). The Clan, currently ranked in the CIS Top 10, runs a variation of the Princeton offense and is getting improved play from their front court.
With six National championships in seven seasons, Carleton Ravens have established an annual tradition as the consensus #1 team in the CIS. But despite the loss to graduation of two All-Canadians and the reigning Defensive Player-of-the-Year, the Ravens have only a single loss to a CIS team this season. Still, there are question marks around experienced guard play which has shown up especially on the road where Carleton has struggled compared to previous seasons. In 6'8" Kevin McCleery the Ravens have the best pure post player in the nation, with his combination of one-on-one moves and ability to create double teams and find open shooters. 5'11" Mike Kenny, the heir-apparent decision maker, struggled through an injury-plagued first half however 6'0" Ottawa transfer Willy Manigat was able to shoulder some of the load at the point. The Ravens also feature one of the more underrated freshmen in the country 6'6" Tyson Hinz, a scrappy combination forward who shoots it beyond the three and usually finds a way inside.
Other teams with an opportunity to vie for a National championship include Windsor Lancers, with a deep, talented roster led by 6'3" Issac Kuon, McMaster Marauders and their Moser Award candidate 6'6" Keenan Jeppessen, Ottawa Gee-Gees with All-Canadian 6'4" Josh Gibson-Bascombe, Toronto Varsity Blues led by their fifth-year triumvirate of 6'8" Nick Snow, 6'2" Rob Paris and 6'2" Nick Magalas and the upstart Lakehead Thunderwolves with 5'10" point guard Greg Carter usually the catalyst.
In Quebec, Laval Rouge et Or have emerged as the top team led by POY candidate 6'3" J.F. Beaulieu-Mahieux and NCAA Division 1 transfer 6'5" Etienne Labrecque. Laval's most important player may be 5'9" point guard Xavier Baribeau, who has range beyond the three and is willing to take the big shots in games.
University of Quebec at Montreal (UQAM) is probably Laval's chief rival for the QSSF crown with a deep, athletic roster dotted with 6'3" to 6'5" athletes who love to push up on the ball and press defensively, run out in transition, get to the rim and feed off the energy of attacking the offensive glass.
In Atlantic Canada, toward the end of the first half both St. FX X-Men and Cape Breton Capers emerged as co-favorites with decisive victories over rivals Acadia and Dalhousie. The X-Men feature their POY candidate 5'10" Christian "T-Bear" Upshaw, who leads the AUS in scoring and three-point shooting. St. FX continues to play their traditional pressing defense, looking to push the tempo at every turn and thus far have been successful, remaining undefeated in AUS play. 5'9" Will Silver is a throwback point guard: a consummate winner who finds people, gets to the rim, takes charges, grabs loose balls and basically scraps to win.
The Cape Breton Capers may have the deepest team in the CIS and are led by a pair of U.S. imports, both former NCAA Division 1 players in 6'3" Paris Carter and 6'1" Jimmy Dorsey. Cape Breton can go at least 10 deep without significant drop off including 6'2" third-year guard Tremaine Fraser and 6'4" Philip Nkrumah, a sculpted, talented post player. The Capers have the added benefit of hosting the prestigious AUS Final 6 tournament in Sydney this season at Center 200 where crowds of 6,000 or more are expected.
Reigning AUS champions Dalhousie Tigers feature 6'2" Simon Farine, a steady point guard who is also an AUS POY candidate.
This season marks the third and final CIS Final 8 National tournament at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa with the first two tourneys producing dramatic semi-finals including Acadia's shocking two overtime upset over Carleton in 2008 (a game most observers agree to be the greatest game in CIS men's basketball history) and Stuart Turnbull's last second buzzer-beater to propel the Ravens over Western in the semi-finals last season. With the parity across the country this season, there are numerous teams in position to contend for the national championship, so fans can expect another tremendous Final 8 tournament in March.