It is clear that – top-to-bottom – RSEQ is the most improved conference in the country as all 5 teams are deeper, more athletic and generally more experienced collectively that at any time in recent memory. While in past seasons, the gap between the top and bottom teams was evident – ergo, it was much easier to forecast which teams would finish where – this season it may not be a stretch to believe that the regular season champions may finish only 10-6 or even 9-7, the balance in the league is that pronounced.
Given their depth and strong play this past weekend at the Donohue Memorial, my pick for first-place is Concordia where Head Coach Rastko Popovic has assembled a deep group with 12+ players capable of major rotation minutes. At the other end of the table, while Head Coach Nate Philippe has done a tremendous job since he took over the Citadins, recruiting top players and, more importantly, making difficult roster decisions on those not fitting his culture, UQAM has the ultimate challenge of needing to replace their RSEQ Player-of-the-Year, Kewyn Blain. The stringent test for Philippe and program is not only adapting to a new leader at arguably the most important spot on the floor but also the timing of the situation, on the eve of a new season. While I think the Citadins will win at least 6 games, in this balanced season, where the battle for the final playoff spot will likely come down to the very end of the season, not having their POY will ultimately prove more challenging than even the strong coaching of Philippe can overcome.
The season kicks off with 4 games next weekend beginning on 10 November (Thursday) as Bishop’s travels to Concordia to start the regular season.
CANHoops.ca RSEQ Regular Season Predictions:
#1 Concordia… The intensity and high tempo at which the Stingers want to play is sustainable given the numerous high-quality athletes on their roster and, especially in the tight confines of the BeeHive, makes them the favorites. Stingers also have the depth most capable of playing through the inevitable injuries that occur through a long season and are that much more difficult to scout given the plethora of rotations they can throw at opponents. Concordia is in steady hands given the steady, consistent leadership of 6’0″ Ricardo Monge at the point and it flows from there. Status of 6’4″ RSEQ All-Star Ken Beaulieu remains murky, given he was benched for most of the second half of Stingers final pre-season home game against McMaster and then did not make the trip to Ottawa. Stingers still played uOttawa very tough and rolled to two other wins. 6’5″ Schneiders Suffrards is an all-conference candidate and 6’1″ lefty Nicky Noble, 6’1″ Henderson Charles and 6’5″ Olivier Simon are among the newcomers who help address perimeter shooting which was an area of concern in prior years. 6’5″ T.J. Umar has a chance to push for a more prominent role up front also.
#2 McGill… While the Redmen may have found their point guard of the future in 6’1″ freshman Kendrick Jolin, the extent to which they were dominated by uOttawa Gee-Gees on Sunday, exposed holes including the regression this season of 6’2″ Dele Ogundokun, who looks heavier and slower than last season when he was a 1st team RSEQ All-Star. 6’1″ Jenning Leung remains a streaky shooter and consistency on offense with 6’9″ Noah Daoust and 6’7″ Francois Bourque presents issues. Redmen still do not have that break-you-down guard who can create and when teams play each other 4 times a season plus playoffs, sets are usually well scouted and teams need players to make plays. McGill probably still has the toughest defense overall in the conference.
#3 Laval… Injuries have led to a rough start for the Rouge et Or however there is plenty of depth and quality at all positions, especially up front – as rapidly improving 6’9″ Marc-Andre Fortin matures offensively, he may become one of the most difficult matchups in the conference. 6’1″ Vladimir Thomas is a streaky but deadeye shooter off the bench when right – he was injured for much of the pre-season – and Laval has a mature point guard in 5’9″ Karl Demers-Belanger and an RSEQ Player-of-the-Year candidate in 6’5″ Alexandre Leclerc.
#4 Bishop’s… Still the youngest team in the conference, Gaiters have dealt with some injuries in the early season – 6’5″ Abdul Kamane hurt his ankle this weekend and missed most of the Donohue – but, as at least one long-time observer has pointed out – Bishop’s needs a point guard. Help is apparently on the way with 6’2″ transfer Kevin Davis, a Baltimore native. Bishop’s also has plenty of depth including an emerging, potentially-rim protecting big man in 7’0″ Jonah Fogg. With Kamane and 6’5″ Nick Harvey more experienced and 6’5″ David Belanger now a wily, experienced veteran inside, Gaiters have several pieces. 6’1″ freshman Joany Castor-Thadal looks like a keeper as a defense-stretching perimeter shooter and defender.
#5 UQAM… Positions 2 through 5, Citadins have as much depth and talent as any team in the conference with size, perimeter shooting, slashers and rebounders. 6’2″ lefty Greishe Clerjuste is an all-conference candidate as a wing, 6’0″ Charles Miller and 6’3″ Alex King-Lacroix provide perimeter scoring while 7’0″ Yassin Debache offers rim protection and a growing offensive game. 6’0″ Misi Boye is one of the better freshmen in the conference while 6’4″ Christina Kadima and 6’7″ Chris Doumpa provide experienced transfers. 6’5″ Ibrahim Sylla is an intriguing prospect getting better each game. Very well-coached team with plenty of wing and forward talent. Can the group collectively overcome the sudden loss of All-Canadian Kewyn Blain, especially given the timing ?
All-RSEQ Pre-season team
1st Team: Alexandre Leclerc, Laval; Schneiders Suffrard, Concordia; Jenning Leung, McGill; Greishe Clerjuste, UQAM; Ken Beaulieu, Concordia.
2nd Team: Jona Bermillo, Bishop’s; Karl Demers-Belanger, Laval; Francois Bourque, McGill; David Belanger, Bishop’s; Nicky Noble, Concordia.
All Freshman Team: Nicky Noble, Concordia; Kendrick Jolin, McGill; 6’5″ Olivier Simon, Concordia; 6’1″ Joany Castor-Thadal, Bishop’s; 6’0″ Misi Boye, UQAM.