After weeks of banging against each other in practice, numerous CIS teams got a chance to test their systems and efforts against opponents other than their intra-squad and here is one observers look at what was learned as a result:
Carleton is in mid-season form and as deep as any Ravens team in history… Playing at a tempo and quality level most teams aspire to achieve in February/March, Carleton showed they are the clear #1 team in the country at present, competing on every possession at a level that this weekend’s opponents simply could not match from the out-set. While Laval Rouge et Or showed they can compete athletically at certain positions and with certain match-ups, Ravens still held Laval to just 41 points in the final 3 quarters, taking away open looks and any transition opportunities. In Sunday’s de facto tournament championship game, St. FX played as hard as they could for virtually the entire game but Ravens, simply put, have 13 players who are likely starters on all except a small handful of CIS teams coast-to-coast. Jumping out to an early 20 point lead, it appeared that any lineup Carleton had on the floor would win the moment. 6’9″ Eddie Ekiyor already has the physical skills to be a high-end player beyond the CIS and is rapidly learning Ravens intricate defensive responsibilities. If the evolution of prior Raven bigs like 6’9″ Kevin McCleery and 6’8″ Kevin Churchill is any indication, Ekiyor will be able to finish inside with both hands and improve his footwork in the low post. He already possesses a reasonable touch from 15′ and it will be interesting to see, assuming Ekiyor commits to the proven process, whether or not Carleton tries to develop his stretch 4/Euro skills or produce a legitimate old time back-to-the-basket post player (or both). Carleton hosts their annual House-Laughton tournament in two weeks with UVic and Western – two programs in re-build mode – and a rematch with Laval. Mustangs Head Coach Brad Campbell returns home to native Ottawa where he played high school for Smart.
Veteran core at St. FX starting to gel… Over the years (decades…) one of the prevailing themes at any inter-collegiate level is there is rarely a substitute for keeping together a core group of talented players, even if that group has growing pains when younger. Fourth and fifth year guys who have been together usually develop into a productive group. For the latest example, look no further than the X-Men’s core of 6’7″ Kevin Bercy, 6’3″ Julius Antoine, 6’1″ Davonte Provo and 6’7″ Cameron Walker, who have experienced the good and not-so-good together and this weekend showed the group has matured into a winning combo, augmented by some athletes off the bench and arguably one of the better shooters in the entire country in 6’2″ Tristen Ross, who has added a quicker release and much more decisive and sounder decision making with the ball in his sophomore year. Ross also put the ball on the deck a few times to beat close outs and his ability to stretch the “d” is a key for an X group that struggled shooting it consistently over the past 2 seasons, the only 2 seasons in Coach Steve Konchalski’s storied career that X missed the playoffs – other than his rookie season in ’73-’74. X should be playoff-ready this season and could compete for a first day bye at the AUS tournament if their young players allow them to build a deeper rotation. 6’5″ Daniel Passley and 6’7″ Nick Russell, a lefty, are highest potential of the supporting cast to do so. X alumni and fans, among the best travelling group in the country, will get a chance to see this latest group in Southern Ontario this weekend when X-Men meet Brock on Thursday night in St. Catharines, then Ryerson in Toronto on Friday and McMaster on Saturday.
Don’t write-off McMaster just yet… With several transfers over the past two seasons, Marauders under Coach Amos Connolly have had their star-studded roster thinned out considerably. Although the depth and quality of the roster does not on paper compare with teams of the past 5 seasons or so, there is a very good core, led by maturing 6’1″ guard David McCulloch, who was outstanding all weekend at UVic and projects as Mac’s main ball-handler and decision-maker for 35+ minutes per game each night. Expect McCulloch to benefit mentally from knowing he will be the man through virtually all situations, positive or otherwise. 6’7″ Connor Gilmore continued his fine shooting this past weekend, going 7 of 10 from 3 vs. UVic in the tournament-clinching game and his strength on the glass is necessary for Mac to compete for another season hosting a home playoff game. 6’4″ Rohan Boney remains a jumping jack inside in his fifth and final season and hopes to finish off a career somewhat-marred by nagging injuries while 6’4″ Lazar Kojovic and 6’8″ Matt Quiring will be expected to log major minutes in a supporting role. No word on 6’2″ Chris Thompson who was injured early on the first night of the tournament against McGill but Thompson’s progress should help offset some of the load at the point for McCulloch. Mac defended and rebounded all weekend and made a ton of shots, usually a receipe for prolonged success. Hosting St. FX and touted Dalhousie this weekend at home could help established the Marauders as early Top 10 material.
UQAM has quietly showed that there is life after Kewyn… Showing excellent guard play and a growing ability to defend, Head Coach Nate Philippe and team are somewhat inconspicuously moving up the radars of opponents in and out of the RSEQ. Friday’s home win over uOttawa was a firm confidence builder and Citadins made sure there was no hangover the following night in pounding Queen’s, scoring the first 17 points of the game en route to the easy win. Citadins take on AUS rival Cape Breton Capers on Wednesday in a game to be played at Champlain St. Lambert College.
Varsity Blues maturing rapidly… Somewhat like the story line at X, John Campbell’s Blues have a core that seems to have erased the albatross of several tough, last minute losses and appear poised to get deeper into the post-season. Three seasons ago, Campbell made the commitment to turn 6’3″ Sage Usher into his point guard of the future. While there have been growing pains, Usher’s development as a big guard has been steady and ready to turn potentially spectacular this season. With 6’3″ D2 transfer Reilly Reid, the Blues get another high quality wing scorer who can play off Usher. Expect a top flight season from 6’5″ Manny Suhota who finally appears ready to flash the skills and athleticism that many expected when he took a D1 scholarship at Cornell, only to transfer home. 6’5″ Devin Johnson continues to do his all-star quality thing as an undersized 3/4 and Toronto is much deeper this season. Against MUN, the Blues were a ridiculous 19 for 35 from downtown and turned it over only 7 times all night. The Blues face a very good Seneca Sting team, which edged York Lions in North York on Saturday, tomorrow night at U of T Scarborough campus.
Don’t sleep on Saint Mary’s in the AUS… While many have deservedly touted last season’s AUS champion Dalhousie Tigers as the odds-on favorite to three-peat out East, the Huskies return much of their core that very nearly knocked off Dal in the AUS semi-final last season. Saint Mary’s can match virtually any team in the country athletically and become even more difficult to play when they commit to the defensive end. This past weekend in Fredericton, SMU pulled away from the host UNB Varsity Reds on the opening night of the tournament, using their transition game to attack the rim and hit open 3’s. 6’2″ Kordeiro James fit right in with the up-tempo Huskies and SMU is another group with a strong returning core of upper-classmen including 5’10” Marquis Clayton, 6’5″ Brian Rouse, 6’3″ Kemar Alleyne, 6’5″ Theon Reefer (DNP this weekend) and 6’8″ Osman Barrie (injured). Huskies have started slowly in each of the past two seasons but got off to a tremendous start this past weekend and look like a very difficult out in the AUS. Huskies next action is in two weeks at the St. FX Invitational in Antigonish where a first round date with Cape Breton awaits with the winner facing the X/Holland College winner in the tournament championship game.
Plenty more to discuss after the weekend however off to my daughter’s practice.