Dalhousie Tigers (27-7 overall, 16-4 in AUS, 2-0 in post-season, 9-3 in non-conference games including 5-2 vs. non-AUS opponents)… Making their third consecutive Final 8 appearance, Tigers come off last season’s encouraging tournament campaign during which Dal upset uOttawa before losing in the semi-finals to eventual national champions Carleton. Somewhat quietly, Dalhousie has won 10 in a row – the longest present winning streak in the nation – and has only two losses in the new year. In an otherwise, wide-open AUS season, Tigers were by far the most dominant defensive team in the conference, giving up just 71 points per game – a full 10 points per game lower than the next closest team (Saint Mary’s).
Dal, which with this particular group has consistently won with the staple of defending and rebounding, also led the AUS in rebounding margin and was second in turnovers created, aided by the work of 5’11” fifth-year AUS Defensive Player-of-the-Year Ritchie Kanza Mata, who sets the tone with his tenacious on-the-ball defense that usually allows defenders to not have to help as often. Offensively, Tigers remain efficient, this season shooting at a 46.6% clip from the floor overall – also #1 in the AUS.
Head Coach Rick Plato has a deep and talented bench however relies on seven mainstays for the bulk of the minutes, sprinkling in some catch-and-shoot perimeter shooters – note that Tigers lost a definite rotation player late in the first half of the season when prized 6’6″ freshman Alex Carson went down with a groin injury and has not played in calendar 2017; he was averaging 9.5 points per game in 23 mpg. Along with Kanza Mata, however, the foundation of this team is with 6’2″ fifth-year forward Kashrell Lawrence and 6’6″ Sven Stammberger both of who had big seasons, usually picking each other up when the other was struggling. Lawrence is a burly, cagey post area presence who uses his usually-superior strength to muscle his way to the rim while Stammberger is the most consistent three-point threat who has evolved his game from walk-on-esque talent to one of Canada’s more dynamic scorers.
In 6’3″ Jarred Reid and 6’0″ Jordan Aquino-Serjue, Tigers have a pair athletic wings who can slash to the rim and knock down shots with the veteran Reid getting the bulk of the starts and Aquino-Serjue, the defending CIS Rookie-of-the-Year contributing big minutes as the first wing off the bench. In Dalhousie’s two AUS tournament games, their top 6 players played the majority of the minutes with RKM, Lawrence, Stammberger and Reid all averaging around 35 mpg.
6’2″ sophomore Matt McVeigh, a streaky, rhythm-based three-point specialist, has had several big games off the bench while veteran 6’6″ Kevin Duong and 6’5″ Warren Liang bring experience to the bench.
6’9″ Queen’s transfer Ryall Stroud adds an element of inside scoring and some rebounding while reserve 6’9″ big Sasha Kappos took a big step forward offensively this season, showing off his solid hands and finishing ability inside – Kappos likely led the team in dunks, using his length and quick leaping ability. Kappos will take the next step when the second-year forward is crisper with defensive rotations and guarding the ball screen.
Pre-tournament recap: Tigers captured the AUS regular season pennant with an impressive second-half finish and then swept Acadia and Saint Mary’s to win their third consecutive AUS tournament, extending their present winning streak to 10 games, the longest current streak in the country. Dalhousie was one of the few teams in the country that traveled to play top teams, beating #1 seed Ryerson in Toronto and OUA #3 Brock at the RBC Classic in St. Catharines. Tigers were upset in the semi-finals of their own Shoveller tournament at Christmas, missing an opportunity for a rematch with the Ottawa Gee-Gees who Dal upset in the first round at last season’s Nationals.
Usual Starters: 5’11” Ritchie Kanza Mata (5th Year), 6’2″ Jarred Reid (5th Year), 6’6″ Sven Stammberger (5th Year), 6’2″ Kashrell Lawrence (5th Year), 6’9″ Ryall Stroud (5th Year).
First guard off the bench: 6’0″ Jordan Aquino-Serjue (2nd Year)
First big off the bench: 6’9″ Sasha Kappos (2nd Year)
Others: 6’5″ Warren Liang (3rd Year), 6’2″ Matt McVeigh (2nd Year), 6’6″ Kevin Duong (3rd Year).
The core of the Tigers (4 starters) hail from Toronto and area with Kanza Mata (Scarborough), Lawrence (Brampton), Stroud (Toronto/St. Mike’s) and Reid (Aurora). Stammberger is a Halifax native while Aquino-Serjue is from Montreal. McVeigh is also a local product while Kappos is a native of Florida who arrived at Dalhousie on the urging of his father who played with Coach Plato back in the day.