One of the more widely held notions discussed by many CIS observers over the past few seasons was the steady deterioration in the AUS conference as a collective national power. Unfortunately, the data from CIS Final 8 tournaments supported that notion: over the past 10 seasons, the AUS has a collective 5-15 record at the Nationals including just 2-11 in the past 8 years. However, last season’s tremendous performance by Dalhousie Tigers – coming from behind to defeat uOttawa Gee-Gees in the quarter-finals and pushing eventual national champions Carleton in the semi-finals – has brought a new, deserving optimism to the league, hopefully for AUS fans putting to rest the notion of a down AUS.
What is well known is how well the Tigers represented in Vancouver this past March. What should also be remembered is that to capture the AUS championship, Dal had to win a pair of one-point games in both the semi-finals and title game, both of which came down to the final possession. In the case of the semi-finals, Jonah Taussig‘s Saint Mary’s Huskies were one missed free throw away with no time remaining on the clock from sending their game into overtime. The point being: AUS has several very good teams beyond Dalhousie, proving late last season that Atlantic Canada basketball is back on the national stage.
The aforementioned Huskies remain an AUS championship contender and Taussig returns the bulk of his lineup, adding more athleticism to his core that should enable SMU to play their desired up-tempo game and again be considered with the top teams in the country. Front and center is 6’4″ Brian Rouse who Taussig believes should get more recognition as “one of the top players not only in the AUS but the entire country”. Rouse was team MVP last season, usually defending the opponent’s best scorer, led the team in scoring and was their best in-traffic rebounder. 5’9″ Marquis Clayton comes off spring ankle surgery to remove bone spurs and rehabbed for much of the summer but is back and healthy after an injury-plague 2015-16. 6’2″ Kemar Alleyne, entering his third season, came into his own last season while Clayton was down, running the point and taking that next step toward an honors-candidate AUS player.
6’5″ Theon Reefer looks to bounce back from what was a bit of a down season after being an all-AUS selection in 2014-15. Inside 6’8″ Osman Barrie is an able back-to-the-basket scorer – he currently is plagued by some knee issues and after an MRI will not play this coming weekend at the Eric Garland tournament. This will give 6’8″ Achiul Lual the opportunity for more minutes and the Ottawa native has come to camp in much better shape to try to take advantage.
As always, Taussig was able to bring in some higher-end talent from the GTA, beginning with 6’3″ Korderio James, a physically strong wing player from storied Vaughan S.S. just north of Toronto. James reminds Taussig of a young Kemar Alleyne and expect him to step right in to the rotation for solid minutes at the wing.
Taussig is also very excited about a pair of solid big men in 6’6″ Tristan Hyde, a native of Nova Scotia who is a workhorse defender and rebounder who will nicely complement the finesse of Barrie and Co. with physicality on the glass and defending. In 6’8″ Brett Parrott, Taussig brings in an underrated big from Kitchener’s Sir John A. MacDonald who sat out last season after graduating high school in 2014-15. Originally committed to Nipissing, Parrott instead attended Laurier where he chose not to play. Parrott arrives at Saint Mary’s with a stretch 4 skill set: range out to the 3 and ability to put it on the floor and his time will be dictated by how quickly the rust of not playing for a season comes off and how he fills out physically.
Two more guards fill out Taussig’s latest class as 5’10” Jack Tilley from Saint John, NB arrives as a tough, hard nosed floor general. Tilley played a year of high school in the state of Maine and Taussig is very high on Tilley, commenting that he expects the diminutive competitor to “be a real good player for our program down the road”. 6’1″ Tristan Arthurs walked on with the Huskies and is now in the roster mix – he is originally from B.C. via a California Junior college and Impact Academy prep in Las Vegas.
The Huskies will play in three tournaments – all in Eastern Canada – beginning with this weekend at UNB where they get the host Varsity Reds on Friday and then Bishop’s and Maine Fort-Kent (NAIA). SMU will also participate in the St. FX Invitational (first round vs. Holland College) and then the Center2000 tournament at Sydney hosted by Cape Breton.
Huskies were a missed free throw away from taking a CIS Final 4 team to overtime and with some better fortune could themselves been in a position to win last season’s AUS tournament. Expect the Huskies to mirror the large improvements across the entire conference this season.