CIS/U-Sport Final 8 returns to historical home of Halifax this March for the first of two consecutive years. Dalhousie Tigers are this season’s hosts and will garner the automatic bid with Acadia hosting next season with similar consideration as hosts. Sources indicate that if Dalhousie happens to win the AUS tournament, the finalist will assume the conference’s automatic bid.
For tonight, here are my picks for AUS final conference standings, pre-season all-AUS and all-freshman teams as well as a quick look at the top “pure” three point shooters in the conference. Action begins this Thursday as Saint Mary’s travels to Acadia in Wolfville; the team’s will meet again Saturday in Halifax at SMU. Several other pair of games through the weekend including St. FX at UPEI for a pair; Cape Breton at Dalhousie for two and UNB at Memorial (Saturday/Sunday).
#1 Dalhousie (7-2 vs. CIS in pre-season)… Depth at virtually all positions, a commitment to defending and, most importantly, experience – four fifth-year seniors in the rotation – make the Tigers strong favorites to win the AUS regular season pennant and obtain a first-round bye in the AUS tournament. Tigers feature a former AUS Defensive Player-of-the-Year Ritchie Kanza-Mata, AUS tournament MVP Kashrell Lawrence and one of the top freshmen in Canada in 6’6″ Alex Carson. Tigers ordinarily go 9-10 deep and hope to get a boost with the return after Christmas of energy guard 6’2″ Cedric Sanogo. Dal & Acadia host the U-Sport Final 8 in March.
#2 Saint Mary’s (6-1)… Another veteran-laden group that can play fast, press and push tempo with their array of athletic guards and wings. Huskies had a tremendous pre-season, capturing Eric Garland Memorial tournament at UNB and St. FX Invitational despite not having 6’8″ Osman Barrie in the lineup. Top newcomer 6’2″ Kordeiro James is next in line for conference honors as a higher-end wing.
#3 St. FX (4-5)… Putting X at #3 in the conference after missing the AUS tournament the past two seasons could be optimistic however X-Men return a core of starters – all in their 4th and 5th seasons – most of who have played together since they were freshmen. Experience is usually under-rated and, led by 6’7″ 1st team all-star candidate Kevin Bercy, come off an injury-plagued season, X-Men’s first five are as formidable as any in the conference. 6’2″ sophomore Tristan Ross has been a revelation off the bench, helping X address their perimeter shooting woes, a major area of concern the past two seasons. Maybe most important of all according to long-time Head Coach Steve Konchalski is a fresher locker-room culture that has allowed X to compete in virtually all games this season.
#4 UNB (1-3)… Varsity Reds return defending 6’0″ AUS POY and 1st team All-Canadian Javon Masters plus 6’2″ perimeter stretching shooting wing Jesse Kendall both key starters but who both struggled with injuries in the pre-season – Masters getting into only 2 games (averaged 30 ppg) while Kendall just started practicing again while dealing with a torn quad muscle. Reds are working through the transition of at least 7 potential new rotation players and while the newcomers bring significant elements of athleticism and size, the challenge for Head Coach Brent Baker will be finding the best way to dole out time to this new, deeper talent-laden lineup. This could be a very, very good team in February and March – Masters is motivated to try to win his first-ever AUS tournament game this season – but there may be some growing pains along the way.
#5 Acadia (1-5)… Axemen have another in a string of higher-end AUS big men in 6’9″ lefty Erik Nissen plus 5th year 6’5″ stretch 4/wing Kyle Arsenault as the core of their senior class. 6’3″ Ben Miller, touted by some including me as a future AUS 1st team all-star and POY candidate, has not yet broken to that level although showing flashes – Miller is certainly willing to take the big shot – he hit another last week against Dal extending the game into OT. 6’0″ Nick DePalma is arguably the best pure distance shooter in the conference when left alone and 6’1″ Holland College transfer Trevon Grant, defending ACAC Player-of-the-Year and 1st team CCAA All-Canadian brings experience to the backcourt. 6’7″ Jerome Mugabi has a chance to be a top freshmen but has been foul-prone in the pre-season as he adjusts to the size, speed and physicality of the conference. A definite tournament team but does Acadia have enough to win 3 games in 3 days… possibly.
#6 UPEI (0-3)… Scoring the ball is rarely an issue with the Panthers as several weapons including 6’2″ 2nd team All-Canadian Tyler Scott but will miss 6’6″ Brad States, who transferred to Holland College. 6’7″ Dut Dut will now be the feature forward likely drawing the opponent’s best post defender. Panthers have a strong stable of fourth and fifth year players however will do without sixth-man extraordinaire Lorenzo Parker who continues to rehab after his ugly knee injury sustained during last season’s AUS tournament and sparkplug Jake Kendrick, both out until at least Christmas. Panthers however are young at the lead guard spot with 6’2″ Shavon Gayle and 5’10” Amin Suleman and this team will take time to get acclimated. One of the most explosive teams in the conference and very difficult to beat in Charlottetown, Panthers will take that next step when they can start to win on the road. To wit, UPEI is an AUS best 43-6 at home over the past 5 seasons but only 2-5 in the AUS tournament during that same time period.
#7 Cape Breton (0-7)... Although the early season record may indicate otherwise, Capers appear to be making solid progress each game, adjusting to new Coach David Petroziello who has made a renewed commitment to defending and rebounding; playing time is likely to be increasingly tied to the ability of his troops to do those two things first. 6’6″ Kenny Jean-Louis continues to push a triple-double most nights although from a pure scoring perspective had a sluggish pre-season. 6’0″ Jack MacAulay continues to gain confidence beyond simply his ability to be a knock-down three-point shooter. 6’3″ Seth Amoah is a slasher and new pg 6’2″ Nico Brauner appears to be the future foundation at the point although the German import his battled injury in the pre-season.
#8 Memorial (1-5)… 6’9″ Vasilije Curcic is one of the better players in the conference and the key to any success the rebuilding Sea-hawks have. 5’11” 4th year point guard Davion Parnsalu had at least two 30+ point games including an OT win at SMU but consistency has been an issue as he enters his fourth season. 6’2″ Daniel Gordon begins his second season after transferring from the OCAA/CCAA however beyond that this is a very young, inexperienced team. 6’4″ Corner Brook, NFLD native Nathan Barker has a chance to be one of the better freshmen in the conference and a piece to build a future around.
Pre-season All-AUS Team
FIRST TEAM: Javon Masters, UNB; Tyler Scott, UPEI; Kevin Bercy, St. FX; Ritchie Kanza-Mata, Dalhousie; Brian Rouse, Saint Mary’s
SECOND TEAM: Kash Lawrence, Dalhousie; Erik Nissen, Acadia; Vasilije Curcic, Memorial; Kenny Jean-Louis, Cape Breton; Marquis Clayton, Saint Mary’s
HONORABLE MENTION: Sven Stammberger, Dalhousie, Ben Miller, Kyle Arsenault, Acadia; Theon Reefer, Saint Mary’s; Jesse Kendall, UNB; Akil Charles, St. FX.
6’6″ Alex Carson, Dalhousie (Lower Sackville, NS)… one of the top freshmen in the country who could challenge for all-AUS honors as a first-year player
6’2″ Kordeiro James, Saint Mary’s (Vaughan, Vaughan H.S.)… instant rotation player who adds perimeter shooting to Huskies
6’1″ Justin Andrew, St. FX (Hamilton, ON/Hill Academy)… smooth shooting guard with range well beyond the arc
6’5″ Tyrell Leotaud, UNB (Ajax, ON)… Averaging about 20 mpg in the pre-season with range beyond 3 point line
6’4″ Nathan Barker, Memorial (Corner Brook, NFLD)… Solid, all-round three/four man that MUN can build around
Top 3 Point Shooters: Nick DePalma, Acadia; Jack MacAulay, Cape Breton; Tristen Ross, St. FX; Lorenzo Parker, UPEI.