Amid the loss of two starters including 6’8″ forward Matt Forbes, a pre-season First-Team All Canada West candidate, perennial Canada West contenders Saskatchewan Huskies suffered through what for them was a tough start to the first half of the season, losing 5 of their first 6 CW games including a 1-3 record at home. Two wins over cellar-dwelling Trinity Western on the road cushioned the blow of the tough start somewhat but expect the Huskies, even in the wake of last night’s five point loss at Calgary, to turn things around from what is presently a 9th place standings (out of the playoffs) in the Pioneer Division, even with the knowledge that Forbes will not return this season.
This optimism is founded in the return to action after multiple injuries of 6’6″ Shane Osayande, originally from Toronto high school power Henry Carr Crusaders who transferred to Saskatchewan after beginning his post-secondary career with Lakeland Rustlers (CCAA) most recently in 2012-13. Osaynade had 20 points and 14 rebounds last night as Saskatchewan, up 1 with 1:20 to play last night in Calgary, watched as Dinos star 6’5″ wing Thomas Cooper gave the home side the lead for good and Calgary clinched the game on the free throw line. Expect Saskatchewan to again push the highly-rated Dinos tonight given the knowledge that, at 3-6 in the conference, Huskie wins are becoming critical even here in early January.
Despite a loss of significant talent, Coach Craig Beaucamp continues to find ways to squeeze the maximum out of his Victoria Vikes. Evidence of Beaucamp’s skills came again last night as his Vikes, despite blowing a late lead, defeated a deeper and more athletic Manitoba Bisons side in OT in the first of two this weekend in Victoria. Although hurt by 15 Manitoba offensive rebounds, Vikes looked after the ball – only 9 turnovers all night to keep the Bisons electric transition game in check – and made their free throws (20 for 23). Bisons hurt themselves by going only 10 for 20 at the line and got little from Wesmen Classic tournament MVP 6’5″ Keith Omoerah, who finished with just 6 points in 36 minutes but did hit the game-tying shot that sent the game into overtime. Defense has been a staple of Beaucamp-coached sides and the normally explosive Manitoba offense, averaging over 85 ppg (second in the Pioneer Division), fell well below that total last night. The team’s meet again this evening in Victoria.
At this point in the season, it appears that the top 4 teams in the Pioneer Division are, in no particular order, UBC, Calgary, Victoria and Manitoba, with Lethbridge trying to rebound tonight in Vancouver to remain involved in that discussion. Given that there is no cross-over between Pioneer and Explorer, it is difficult to gauge how both Thompson Rivers and Fraser Valley fit within that group. However if the minutes played by starters on both of those Explorer division teams are any indication, the four Pioneer teams are likely meaningfully deeper, a factor that could come into play in a playoff system where a Best-2-of-3 series, played over a 36 hour period will determine which teams go to the Final 4. It is a bit early to be pondering potential first round matchups for the Explorers, however is Sask were to sneak in to the playoffs – a very reasonable possibility – Huskies would not be any easy first round out for either team, even if Explorer team had home court advantage.