Carleton Ravens (27-1 overall, 19-0 in OUA, 2-1 in post-season, 6-0 in non-conference games including 5-0 vs. non-OUA opponents)… The U-Sports Final 8 finally had an element of intrigue and excitement injected, courtesy of the Ravens unexpected loss to #1 Ryerson in the championship game of the Wilson Cup right in the Raven’s Nest. Rams proved that their 5 point loss two weeks earlier was no fluke and, after a thoroughly dominant season by the Ravens – many were calling this the deepest and most talented team ever in the Dave Smart coaching era – the draw is a bit more open as Ravens have come back to the pack in some observer’s estimation. Still, with two All-Canadian talent level guards, a deep bench, high potential defensive stoppers and an exciting, albeit young, first-year rim protector, opponents will have to play near-perfect basketball to handle Carleton.
OUA Player-of-the-Year 6’4″ Connor Wood remains a dead-eye shooter with a quick release and this season has added the ability to get to within 8 feet and either find teammates or score in a variety of ways. Defensively, Wood, who was a lock-down defender earlier in his career, has taken a bit of a step back but he rebounds it very well for a guard and wants the ball at the end of games. Fellow back court mate 6’1″ Kaza Kajami-Keane continues to refine his decision-making and lately has been knocking down long perimeter shots – Keane reads the ball screen as well as any guard in the country and has really improved his finishing in traffic. 6’4″ Marcus Anderson has become Carleton’s latest perimeter defensive stopper although he did not have a great weekend guarding at the Wilson Cup as Brock’s Johneil Simpson and Rams pair of dynamic wings Adika Peter-McNeilly and Ammanuel Diressa went off. Anderson did have a career offensive game in a big spot Friday night, knocking down five 3’s and finishing with 19 points and 12 rebounds as the Ravens clinched a spot in Halifax.
Up front, the steady progress of 6’10” freshman Eddie Ekiyor has been encouraging. At his best, he is active in transition – unsuspecting defensive rebounders should carry their “coyote umbrellas” (Roadrunner/Loonie Tunes reference) when Ekiyor comes from nowhere for a put-back crowning. Ekiyor also is an able defensive rebounder and rim protector but still can get lost in defensive rotations and defending the ball screen – all typical issues with virtually all freshman at any post-secondary level. 6’7″ Ryan Ejim has pulled out his game to 15 feet with consistency and his effort level usually dictates how much time he gets.
5’11” Emmanuel Owootoah provides an element of energy and quickness, allowing Carleton to do some different things defensively when he is on the floor and Ravens like to run a bit more with Owootoah and 6’4″ three-point specialist Joe Rocca on the floor. 6’6″ Mitch Wood provides toughness and will “d” up any wing or big with his muscle and guile. Wood is much more comfortable finishing inside and shooting it out to about 15-18 feet but remains somewhat foul prone.
7’0″ Cam Smythe will continue to be given opportunities for time with his solid ball skills and ability to knock down 3’s however his compete level needs to be wound up in order to be effective over longer periods. 6’1″ Stanley Mayambo and 6’5″ T.J. Lall represent Carleton’s future wings and elite defenders and there is little if any drop off, other than in experience if/when Coach Dave Smart goes this deep in his bench.
Pre-tournament recap: Ravens had their 27 game winning streak snapped this past Saturday at home as Ryerson won at Carleton for the first time in the Roy Rana era. Carleton struggled to really put Brock away in the manner that Raven followers are accustomed, with much of that Badgers resiliancy. Still, after dominating opponents starting with pre-season tournament wins at Acadia’s Stu Aberdeen Classic and their own House-Laughton tournament, followed by several dominant wins punctuated by a 40+ point win at Ottawa and a 20 point win in the Capital Hoops Classic in front of over 10,000 fans, Ravens appear somewhat vulnerable, something master motivator Smart no doubt is levering in preparation for Thursday.
Usual Starters: 6’1″ Kaza Kajami-Keane (5th Year), 6’4″ Connor Wood (5th Year), 6’3″ Marcus Anderson (2nd Year), 6’7″ Ryan Ejim (5th Year), 6’10” Eddie Ekiyor (Freshman).
First Guard off the bench: 5’10” Emmanuel Owootoah (3rd Year)
First Wings off bench: 6’4″ Joe Rocca (5th Year), 6’2″ Stanley Mayambo (2nd Year), 6’5″ T.J. Lall (2nd Year)
First Bigs off bench: 6’5″ Mitch Wood (3rd Year), 7’0″ Cam Smythe (4th Year).
Coach Smart continues to recruit the finest players across the country with only one local Ottawa player who sees meaningful time (Ekiyor). Southern Ontario is a growing area of focus with Keane, Anderson, Ejim, Owootoah all from the GTA while the Wood brothers hail from nearby Guelph, ON and Lall from Kitchener. Rocca, the McMaster transfer, plied his trade in Sarnia while Smythe (B.C.) and Mayambo (New Brunswick) are out of province recruits.