The first half of the AUS season continued to add to the league’s growing reputation as an exciting, balanced and offensively-oriented brand that is very appealing from a fan’s perspective – but can likely drive many coaches bonkers with defense and shot selection not always optimum. I was able to watch probably 10 games live and on-line over the course of the first-half and while the league has no evident, definitive National championship contender, fans in Atlantic Canada will usually be treated to a very entertaining, usually fire-wagon game.
Evidence of the offensive juggernaut that collectively defines the AUS is that, over the 28 first-half games played, 6 different teams eclipsed the century mark, culminating in Acadia’s 110-107 win over UPEI in regulation on the final day of the first half. 14 other times teams scored at least 90 points. Compared this to other conferences: RSEQ had only 1 team score over 90 points in the 9 games played, while OUA teams scored over 90 points 14 times also, it took 58 games – more than twice as many as played in the AUS first half – to do that. Only 1 team (Carleton) eclipsed the century mark and only in one game.
The winners here are the fans witnessing tremendous individual offensive performances, none more consistently better than Panthers 6’3″ Tyler Scott who had 5 games of 30+ points including 38 in the aforementioned loss at Acadia. Eight other times players scored 30+ highlighted by 6’6″ Sven Stammberger‘s 40 point outburst vs. UNB. Other notable performances were Memorial’s 6’6″ Caleb Gould‘s 38 vs. UNB, Saint Mary’s 6’8″ Osman Barrie – who had 36 points/10 rebounds in a loss at UNB and Cape Breton’s 6’8″ Meshack Lufile‘s 35 point, 11 rebound outburst against St. FX, in what was an otherwise disappointing first half for the talented reigning all-AUS post player.
As noted above, the Varsity Reds gave up their fair share of big individual performances but as expected received their usual sterling efforts from 6’1″ Javon Masters who had 33 at MUN and 31 against Saint Mary’s. Masters did struggle from the 3 in the first half however, going only 6 for 25 (24%) from downtown. The slick guard did break the AUS career record for free throws attempted during the first half.
UPEI looked to be pulling away from the pack, winning their first five games as Scott, teamed with 6’6″ Bradley States, emerged as arguably the top inside-out duo in the league. But surprising Acadia, which missed the playoffs last season and suffered large losses to graduation and transfer including star 6’0″ pg Sean Stoqua (transferred home to Carleton). But 6’5″ Kyle Arsenault single-handedly shot the Axemen into 5 wins, especially against the Panthers – he went a ridiculous 12 for 15 from 3 !! over the course of the two wins. But Arsenault was also instrumental in other wins – eclipsing 20 points 5 times in 7 games while shooting a CIS leading 25 for 47 (53%) from beyond the arc. 6’2″ sophomore guard Ben Miller did not put up all-conference type numbers, but he has assumed much of the key decision-making for the Axemen especially down the stretch of tight games – he averages over 6 assists per game – and his court vision, creativity and confidence when in the lane is almost unparalleled in the league.
While this is clearly an offense-driven league, defending AUS tournament champions Dalhousie Tigers, when right, have displayed the best overall team defense and rebounding – many believe these are the underlying keys to winning in February and March. 6’2″ undersized forward Kashrell Lawrence provides the offense – he has scored in double digits in all 7 Tiger games while the return from injury of Ritchie Kanza-Mata has helped. Dal remains my pick for AUS tournament champions given their depth, experience and attention at the defensive end. Another experienced team, Memorial has been somewhat of a disappointment given their strong start. Guard play continues to be the deciding factor with this club that limped into the Holidays losers of 5 of their last 6 games. 6’9″ Vasilije Curcic did not play on the final weekend at Cape Breton, leaving the inside play to Gould who generally struggled amid lots of attention vs. the Capers.
Cape Breton‘s rotation is among the league’s deepest and this past weekend the Capers broke a 3 game losing streak after a weekend in PEI where the Panthers dominated both games. Capers need to get more out of Lufile but generally struggle with shot selection, transition “d” and rebounding. However, there are plenty of athletic pieces on this team including the little-used A.J. Geugjes who sat for much of the first-half before exploding for a 13 point, 13 rebound performance vs. Memorial this past weekend.
UNB was also ravaged by graduation but will be in most games on the strength of the dynamic Masters and a scrappy group that works hard on the defensive end – the several 30+ point game allowed to various opponents notwithstanding. 6’6″ Mark Matheson has turned himself into a very good inside/out post for the V-Reds, highlighted by his 34 point, 7 rebound performance in a win against Cape Breton.
Two of the more highly-athletic teams in the conference have started slowly but both are high-potential. Saint Mary‘s features the electric Marquise Clayton as a creator and scorer and welcomes back wing Theon Reefer after one season’s absence. While Huskies are only 2-4, they did dominate previously undefeated Dalhousie, so the potential is there to make noise in the second half and at the AUS tournament. St. FX X-Men hope to keep 6’8″ Kevin Bercy, arguably the hardest-working and most complete post player in the conference, healthy after missing much of last season’s second half. X hopes to return to the tournament with emerging 6’2″ Julius Antoine who had 32 vs. UPEI on opening night, lighting it up with 8 3’s on that evening.
Here are my choices for the Top 10 players in the AUS in the first half of the season:
Tyler Scott, UPEI; Javon Masters, UNB; Kyle Arsenault, Acadia; Caleb Gould, Memorial; Kash Lawrence, Dalhousie; Brad States, UPEI; Erik Nissen, Acadia; Kevin Bercy, St. FX, Vasilije Curcic, Memorial; Osman Barrie, Saint Mary’s.