After missing the playoffs in his first two seasons as Head Coach at Brock, Charles Kissi has engineered a dramatic transformation this season, with the Badgers firmly engrained in the CIS Top 10 after winning their first ten games of their CIS season including a signature win at McMaster on the opening night of the OUA regular season plus home wins against Ryerson, Concordia, Victoria and Windsor among others. The first half was highlighted by a sweep against visiting Lakehead Thunderwolves culminating in a program-envigorating win in front of almost 3,000 fans at the Meridian Center in St. Catharines.
Kissi, the former McMaster Marauder who played under legendary Joe Raso, has built his team in a mould similar to one of his coaching mentors. Emphasizing defense, rebounding and spacing/sharing/solid shot selection offensively, Brock is a noticeably more mature group this season, led in part by the two latest OUA Rookies-of-the-year in 6’4″ Dani Elgadi and 6’5″ Johnell Simpson.
Kissi’s first five or six in his rotation are solid and have proven their abilities to play at a Top 10 level in the first half. The ability to develop reliable pieces lower in his rotation and to stay healthy are important elements of growth that are likely required for Brock to be able to reasonably challenge the likes of Carleton and Ottawa (See “OUA First Half Thoughs (Part One)“).
Maybe the most under-rated “impact” transfer of the season to this point is 6’3″ Laurentian transfer Ryan Bennett, who, on the wing, brings a maturity and experience level to Badgers first five that has clearly helped the younger players understand what sharing the ball and taking good shots mean. Bennett, who started his university career at the University of Toronto but did not make the squad, gained ample confidence after transferring to Laurentian to play for Vees Head Coach Shawn Swords, a disciple of the Peter Campbell approach to offense which encourages up-tempo play and generally allows pure shooters in the mould of Bennett (and Swords himself when he was a player under Campbell) ample leeway to fire away without fear of repercussion. No doubt that Bennett’s career as a pure shooter blossomed under Swords and with his move for his fifth and final season to Brock, Coach Kissi gets a reliable vet who averages 14.0 ppg including almost 46% from 3.
Kissi has ridden his first five or six (Elgadi, Simpson, Bennett, 6’7″ Matt Marshall, point guard Tyler Brown and 6’2″ Zac Angelini) for major minutes. Initially targeted to log the majority of the minutes at the point, Lakehead transfer Nolan McKenzie has worked through an injury-plagued first half. Assuming McKenzie can get healthy, Kissi will search for one or two more reserves – veteran Nate Gardner may be the best candidate – to augment his rotation that down the stretch could be tested.
While statistics certainly don’t tell the entire story, in the case of the Badgers, there are definitely some encouraging data from the first half that talks to the large improvement in defense and rebounding, two of the cornerstones of victory. To wit, Brock has given up the 3rd fewest points per game of any OUA team at ~70 pts. allowed per game, holds teams to about 38% from the floor (fourth lowest in the league) and are 3rd in rebounding margin at +6.2 ppg. The Badgers only blemish on their perfect record vs. CIS teams was a loss at Queen’s when Brock was whistled for 9 of the 10 fouls called in the fourth quarter. Brock hosts Windsor in their first game after the Holidays.
For much of this early to mid season, we have touted Western Mustang’s growing success – even to the point of whispering that Mustangs could be an OUA Wilson Cup Final four contender. 6’3″ Greg Morrow came out of the gates flying offensively and Mustang followers quickly put last season’s upset home playoff loss to Laurier far into their collective rear-view mirrors. But after a string of early-season wins, the Mustangs tripped up at Laurier in the playoff rematch, were hammered at home by #5 Ryerson and limped out of the Nation’s Capital after a pair of blowout losses that exposed some key elements that are lacking with this group.
Clearly, Western relies almost solely on Morrow at the offensive end for any success. Morrow loves to operate in the 12-15 feet area and has drawn consistent double teams – for example, Laurier sent multiple defenders at him in the second half of their win – and, to date, the Mustang supporting cast has simply not made teams pay for the doubles, shooting an OUA-worst 23.8% from beyond the arc including only 8% (3 for 36) from 6’2″ sophomore Jedson Tavernier. Western is also in the bottom-quartile of several defensive categories including field goal percentage defense (43%), 3 point field goal percentage allowed (40%) and rebounding margin -4.4. While Western has had a challenging early regular season schedule, playing 4 teams that are or have been in the Top 10 (Ottawa, Carleton, Ryerson and Windsor), the trip to Ottawa showed that there is plenty of work to be done to be thought of as an OUA Final Four contender.
Another group that has overcome some tumult in the first half is McMaster, which entered the OUA regular season with only one loss – at home to McGill. An opening-night home loss to Brock followed by a second OUA loss at home to Ryerson had Marauders reeling, especially in light of the loss of 6’2″ Adam Presutti and the injuries to 6’7″ Connor Gilmore and 6’3″ Rohan Boney. But Mac bounced back during a dangerous road trip to Queen’s and York with impressive wins and then smacked Guelph last weekend to get back into the Top 10 discussion.
A potentially explosive group, the under-sized Marauders play an up-tempo game and sit 4th in the OUA with 84.3 points per game with scoring evenly spread. While Mac shoots 44% from the floor (4th in OUA), a 31% clip from downtown needs to be elevated for Mac to have serious championship contender status. Gilmore returned and played a key role in the Guelph win and 6’4″ Leon Alexander and 6’3″ Adam Redpath are the looked-to leaders. With Presutti not returning, Alexander likely to be playing his last season and both Redpath and 6’6″ Troy Joseph in their final seasons of eligibility, the future may be now for McMaster.
More to come…