But first… OUA Scheduling Thoughts/News: Much has been said about the imbalance in this season’s OUA schedule with some teams playing as many as 6 games at the start of the season before other teams have played more than one. And seemingly huge gaps between games, sometimes more than one week. The four division format has been a key factor in wreaking havoc with schedule making however multiple sources indicate that this format will change in time for next season. Thus, expect the OUA to return to a two-division, full interlock format with two games against division rivals and single games against non-division foes. Specifically, there will be a nine-team division and an eight-team division, details of which have not yet been officially released. We should have further insights in the coming days as well as the associated playoff format – my informal polling of those with an interest and passion for OUA basketball reveals a collective disdain for any RPI-related rankings. Stay tuned.
While there have been several players who have either burst onto the OUA scene or have made tremendous progress since prior seasons, in my view the top players in the conference remain with the top teams in the conference. Once again this season that list of teams includes – in no particular order – #1 Carleton, #3 Ottawa and #5 Ryerson – all undefeated in league play. And the leaders of each team should in my view be highlighted for potential 1st team honors given that their teams win. Rams have dominated opponents in league play since tripping up twice in the pre-season, led by 6’3″ Adika Peter-McNeilly who is authoring the best overall season in his Ryerson career, averaging 18.0 points and 6.7 rebounds per game while shooting 40.5% from downtown, punctuated by a school-record 10 of 13 threes and 36 points against Western. Fellow star 6’4″ Ammanuel Diressa (17.8 ppg/4.5 rpg/50% 3’s) had a season-high 28 at Algoma during a stretch where the D1 transfer hit 12 of 20 ‘s… Reigning CIS Final 8 MVP 6’3″ Connor Wood continues to show he is a Moser/All-Canadian candidate, sitting second in OUA scoring at 24.2 ppg while shooting 24-48 from three – he has made the 2nd most 3’s in the entire conference – Wood had 39 points at Laurentian including 7 for 11 from downtown… Across town uOttawa Gee-Gees arguably are getting a more balanced offensive attack led by reigning CIS Defensive POY Caleb Agada (17.4 ppg/6.6 rpg) and 6’9″ Jean Pierre-Charles (16.0 ppg/7.6 rpg/58.6% FG). The addition of McMaster transfer 6’2″ Adam Presutti has added much needed depth and veteran decision making to the back-court and Presutti has been on fire from downtown, shooting a U-Sport high 59.1% from downtown (13 for 22). The second half sets up for a tremendous finish with Ottawa and Carleton meeting twice and the Rams visiting Ottawa for a pair of games in late February. Hopefully, the league schedule makers will go back to the format that allows these 3 strong programs to play each other home-and-home during the regular season – this season and last Ryerson met Ottawa and Carleton just once in the regular season… Other notable individual performances include the solid work of 6’7″ Connor Gilmore with McMaster – Gilmore has been Marauders MVP in my opinion averaging 19.0 points and 8.9 rebounds per game including several big efforts down the stretch of big games. Marauders four losses have come to Top 10 teams Brock (twice) and at Ottawa, at Carleton. Gilmore, a consistent three-point shooter (16-40 40% from downtown), is now able to beat most hard close-outs to get to the rim and has been an able battler on the glass for the Marauders who have a very solid “Big 3″ that they will need to rely on all season to push into the deeper rounds of the post-season… Without question, the most exciting and productive newcomer to the league and arguably the country has been Laurentian’s 6’2” Kadre Gray who, especially at home, has already authored highly-memorable, dramatic efforts, most notably the storybook-esque game-ending at home vs. Western. With Laurentian trailing by double digits, Gray had 18 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter, including the Voyageurs final 9 points in the final minute of play – with the game-winning three pointer with just 33 seconds remaining. On the following night also in Sudbury, Gray had 15 of his season-high 34 points in the final 6 minutes of the game in a come-from-behind win against Windsor. While Gray leads the OUA in scoring at 24.4 points per game including 32% from three point land, his exploits have been somewhat overshadowed from a 1st team OUA all-star perspective after un-even performances against the conference’s elite teams. Against Carleton at home, Gray had 19 of his 23 points in the first half after which Laurentian trailed by only 2 but Ravens pulled away and held the slick guard in check for the final 20 minutes. At Ryerson on the road, Gray had 17 of his 24 points after halftime in a game Laurentian trailed by 18 at the half and lost by 27. Against Ottawa at home, Gray finished with a season-low 18 points on 6-17 shooting as the Gee-Gees pulled away in the third quarter for a decisive road win. Still, Gray is by far the most impactful newcomer in the conference and a candidate for high-end honors nationally before his career is said and done. Other featured stars from the first half include: Carleton’s Kaza Keene (17.8 ppg), Toronto’s 6’5″ fifth-year senior forward Devin Johnson (21.4 ppg/55.7% FG), Laurier’s Tevaun Kokko (leads OUA in three pointers made/17.8 ppg but has generally been turnover-prone), Guelph’s 6’5″ Ahmed Haroon (17.8 ppg/6.8 rpg, 52% shooting from the floor), York’s dynamic 6’5″ athlete Jayden Frederick, who is finally realizing his vast potential, scoring at 18.7 points per game clip and adding 7.2 rebounds while leading the conference with 4.0 “o” boards per game, solid 6’3″ Sukhpreet Singh (Queen’s), who averages 16.8 ppg but has battled nagging injuries in the first half and Windsor pesky 5’10” guard Mike Rocca (15.1 ppg/5.4 apg), the heart and soul of the Lancers. We also plan in the coming days to have a piece that focuses strictly on this season’s very strong and deep OUA freshman class.