With the CIS pre-season kicking off in earnest this weekend – there are at least 3 tournaments plus several exhibition games on tap throughout the country – it is time to take our first look at the Top 10, as follows:
#1 Carleton… Defending champions have added at least two Division 1 talents in 5’11” Emmanuel Owootoah (Fresno State transfer) and 6’9″ Eddie Ekiyor (Xavier) while returning last season’s Final 8 MVP Connor Wood, an All-Canadian candidate plus slick guard 6’1″ Kaza Keene. Ravens have plenty of young talent that would likely start on most other teams and tore through a series of Division 1 teams in August, looking primed for their 13th CIS title in 15 seasons. Carleton meets Laval, Acadia and St. FX at the Stu Aberdeen Memorial tournament in Wolfville this weekend.
#2 Calgary… Coming off their first-ever appearance in the CIS championship game, Dinos have arguably the top player in Canada West and Moser candidate Thomas Cooper and a deep, talented supporting cast that saw no significant losses from last season. The Canada West favorites with the longest quality roster in the conference. Here is a more comprehensive preview from Wayne Thomas’s CanadaWestHoops site. First CIS action for the Dinos is a week from Thursday at home as the Calgary Cup kicks off with Windsor Lancers as the opposition. Regina and Mount Royal round out the Dinos first weekend of pre-season play.
#3 Dalhousie… Tigers used their deep rotation and a consistent commitment to defending and rebounding to capture their second consecutive AUS title and advanced to the school’s first-ever CIS Final 4 before losing to eventual national champions Carleton. With all key players back and the addition of arguably the top high school recruit in the country in 6’5″ Alex Carson and 6’7″ Queen’s transfer Ryall Stroud, Dalhousie has even more options to add to their two-time championship roster that has five seasoned fifth-year players. Tigers are co-hosts with Acadia of this season’s Nationals which return to the great city of Halifax once agin.
#4 Ryerson… A group oozing with athletic, above-the-rim talent, the Rams should continue to play their exciting transition-oriented style that relies on quickness and an ability to pick the proper match-up to set up the draw-and-kick 3 point game. 6’4″ Manny Diressa proved down the stretch that he can deliver All-Canadian-like performances in big spots with his versatile offensive game while 6’5″ Adika Peter-McNeilly promises to make his fifth and final season his finest. While the loss to graduation of 6’5″ Aaron Best and 6’8″ J.V. Mukama (academics) will hurt, Coach Roy Rana has attracted another top flight recruiting class with 6’5″ Keevon Small and 6’2″ Chase Vassell among others. The defending Wilson Cup champions are loaded once again. Rams have a pair of games against OCAA competition this weekend vs. Mohawk on Friday and then Seneca Sting at home on Sunday afternoon.
#5 Ottawa… The addition of a pair of high-end transfers: 6’9″ Jean-Pierre Charles and 6’2″ Adam Presutti help offset the loss to graduation of Moser Award winner Mike L’Africain and 6’8″ Nathan McCarthy. 6’3″ Caleb Agada remains an elite defender and could make his own run at a Moser Award while 6’1″ Brandon Robinson looks to emerge as the Gee-Gees next high-quality wing. While not as deep as in past seasons, uOttawa has a top level set of talent however how Presutti and sophomore pg Calvin Epistola replace the decision making of L’Africain will likely be the key determinant in how far the Gee-Gees go in the post season. Ottawa travels to Montreal this weekend to meet UQAM and Concordia in road exhibition matches.
#6 McGill… One of the more experienced teams in the country from the perspective of consistency at the top end of the rotation, the Redmen, winners of 3 of the past 4 RSEQ championships, look to atone for their first-round loss to Calgary in a game they led going into the final two possessions. Again, consistency at the point guard spot continues to be the key for a group that has proven to be one of the most consistently strong defensive teams in the country. McGill faces McMaster in the first round of the Guy Vetrie Memorial tournament at UVic beginning Thursday night in Victoria.
#7 UBC… Perennial Canada West championship contenders lose only 6’9″ David Wagner from last season. Recall Thunderbirds engaged in one of the more memorable CIS Final 8 games in recent history – an overtime loss to #1 Ryerson Rams in front of a partisan crowd. 6’9″ Conor Morgan is scheduled to return and looks to play his way into CW POY discussions while depth, talent and athleticism in the back court remain with Coach Kevin Hanson again adding a stellar recruiting class. T-Birds host a Seattle-based senior team next weekend before hosting a pair of non-conference games against Lethbridge the following week – under the new CW scheduling format, Horns and T-Birds will not meet during the regular season.
#8 Brock… A mainstay in last season’s Top 10 for the majority of last season, the Badgers, in the face of a short rotation, could not maintain their momentum through the playoffs. However the arrival of several new faces has transformed the rotation to ten deep with quality. 6’5″ Dani Elgadi looks to build on his All-Canadian season while five new faces all will push five key returnees for time. The play of 5’11” sophomore Tyler Brown, a revelation last season as a rookie point guard, could be the determining factor in a National’s appearance. Badgers travel to Welland a week from tonight for the Penninsula Hoops Classic vs. Niagara College, host St. FX next Thursday before travelling to Montreal for the Concordia Classic next weekend, completing a string of five games in five days.
#9 Manitoba… Coming off the most successful season in Head Coach Kirby Schepp‘s reign with the Bisons, optimism is justifiably high especially with the addition of Canadian U-19 national program member James Wagner, a 6’7″ freshman wing forward from Winnipeg. As well, energetic 6’7″ forward Joey Nitychoruk is scheduled to join the Bisons after transferring from Lakehead, helping to ease the loss of 6’8″ rebounding machine Wyatt Anders. Athletic guard play, however, is the feature component of this potentially-exciting group led by 6’4″ Keith Omoerah, the do-everything wing with all-conference potential. Bisons host their own tournament next weekend with Lakehead and other local universities coming to their gym.
#10 Laval… Several teams potentially could fit into this slot however the view around the nation is that Rouge et Or have assembled an outstanding array of new talent including 6’9″ Sam Houston State transfer Mark Andre-Fortin. The return of both 6’1″ Karl Demers-Belanger for his fifth season at the point and 6’1″ Yoann Folquet, who returns after a year off, helps make Laval’s back court one of the finest in the country. 6’6″ Alexandre Leclerc, runner up for RSEQ POY last season is poised to take that mantle in ’16-’17 while at least 6 other athletes on the wing and up front helped make at least one noted coach believe that Rouge et Or could easily win the RSEQ this season. Laval will get their chance to confirm these forecasts on Friday night in Wolfville as Rouge et Or meet #1 ranked and defending CIS champions Carleton Ravens at the Stu Aberdeen Classic at Acadia.
Honorable Mention: UNB (exciting array of athletic recruits), Queen’s (everyone except Stroud back from solid group that took uOttawa to the final possession in the playoffs last season), Concordia (tremendous recruiting class culminating in D1 transfer), Thompson Rivers (coming off best season ever in their CIS history), Saint Mary’s (came close to knocking off Dal last season and has improved roster), UPEI (newcomers but have lost all-conference forward Brad States)