After the four semi-finalists had an off-day to practice, prepare and, at this stage of the season for most, heal their bodies, action picks up again this afternoon at Noon ET as former Nation’s Capital rivals Dave Smart and Dave DeAveiro meet for the first time in 6 seasons with #3 seeded McGill taking on #2 Carleton. Many may not recall that while at uOttawa, DeAveiro was the architect of the re-birth of the Gee-Gees program with 7 consecutive 20 wins seasons and Head Coach of the Gee-Gees for the initial four editions of the annual grudge match between Ottawa and Carleton: Capital Hoops Classic beginning in 2007. DeAveiro arrived in Ottawa quietly with Gee-Gees ranked at the bottom of CIS programs while Smart was building a generational dynasty at Carleton and regularly pounding his cross-town rivals by 40. Within a couple of seasons, Carleton/Ottawa became a bitter rivalry that bordered on the “Hatfields and McCoys” and regularly attracted ~10,000 fans to what is now Canadian Tire Center. After DeAveiro left Ottawa for McGill in 2010-11, the two competitive coaches did battle just once when Redmen participated in the 2010 House-Laughton Classic – DeAveiro’s first season with McGill – and Carleton won by 21. This renewing of the personal rivalry between the two Daves presents an intriguing back-drop to what in reality may be the easiest of the two semi-finals to project. While McGill has strength and depth up front, guard play usually dictates success at this stage of the season and with 6’2″ Kaza Kajami-Keane, my choice for OUA Player-of-the-Year and a selection quietly echoed by more than one U Sports men’s basketball observer here in Halifax, the Ravens have the most versatile point guard in the country and a very difficult match-up for the Redmen. Expect Kajami-Keane and 6’2″ Marcus Anderson among others to spend time checking 6’1″ Jenning Leung who has had to slide over to play the “1” after fashioning his best season ever playing off McGill’s stable of young point guards. McGill struggled at times bringing the ball up against a tough Manitoba back-court, especially when Leung was on the bench. However, Redmen got through a key portion of that game late when, with 6 minutes remaining, Leung went to the bench with his 4th foul and 6’1″ Isaiah Cummins stepped in to provided a much-needed turnover-free three minutes that got McGill to near the end of the game. That stretch may help Cummins confidence after struggling in portions of many games this season at the lead guard spot. Most expect DeAveiro to put his 6’2″ RSEQ MVP & Defensive Player-of-the-Year Dele Ogundokun on 6’4″ Connor Wood who at times has struggled against longer, more athletic checks. Wood came alive in the second half against Calgary after Dinos 6’5″ Mambi Diawara and others held him in check early in Carleton’s first round win over Calgary. Up front, 6’9″ Eddie Ekiyor continues to slowly play a larger role impacting games and 6’7″ Ryan Ejim will try to shake off what was a foul-plague and sluggish first round game. 6’7″ Francois Bourque may be the toughest front court player in this game and arguably best rebounder who will challenge for All-Canadian status next season if he becomes a more consistent finisher around the rim. Both teams have underrated back-up bigs coming off the bench in McGill’s 6’8″ Sebastien Beckett who took an elbow to the mouth on Thursday and had to come out of the game due to bleeding and 7’0″ Cam Smythe who has solid perimeter skills with the “pick-and-pop” and on Thursday became much more assertive as an in-traffic rebounder. Carleton must also account for McGill’s 6’5″ fourth-year forward Michael Peterkin on the offensive glass with his long arms and active energy when he is going well. It says here that McGill keeps the game in the high 70’s but still loses by double digits as Ravens clean up their sloppy (21 turnover) ball handling and create scores off their defense and transition.
In the second game at 3:30 PM Atlantic and 2:30 PM Eastern, the host Dalhousie Tigers, coming off their dramatic last second win over Alberta in the first round, meet #1 seeded Ryerson which was strongly tested in their first round win over #8 Saint Mary’s. For the second consecutive game, Ryerson will have to contend with what is expected to be a large partisan crowd of probably 7,000 or higher – it actually snowed quite heavily in Halifax last night so hopefully weather won’t be a limiting factor in drawing fans today. Tigers turned the game around with their defense in the fourth quarter, forcing 9 Alberta turnovers in the final 10 minutes as AUS Defensive Player-of-the-Year Ritchie Kanza Mata‘s relentless ball pressure began paying dividends against a tiring Golden Bear backcourt. Expect more of the same treatment for Ryerson’s 5’11” Myles Charvis and whoever else Rams coach Roy Rana chooses to have bring the ball up. Rams really want to run and score in transition and struggled to do so vs. Saint Mary’s given indifferent work on the defensive glass by Ryerson. Rams definitely are a better paint-protecting and rebounding team with 6’8″ Adam Voll but Rana may not have a proper match-up in this game for his strong post player (unless Dal brings in 6’10” Sasha Kappos), although 6’8″ Ryall Stroud comes to mind and Stroud did finish Thursday’s game on the floor for Dal. Nonetheless, Ryerson will have to deal with Tigers full court pressure, rebound the ball and make perimeter shots, something that in an arena setting has been an issue for Rye. Rams shot 36% for the season and 34% in the Wilson Cup playoffs from downtown but in their two games this season in hockey arenas went 7 for 37 (19%) at the Meridian Center and 7 for 25 on Thursday against Saint Mary’s. Tigers had their issues also, going zero for 13 from three in the first round and, in their three most recent Scotiabank Place matches including two at last weekend’s AUS tournament, a combined 8 for 51 from downtown (15%). Enter 6’2″ Kash Lawrence who has been a bull inside all season for Dalhousie and produced arguably the best game of his career in a big spot on Thursday. While Ryerson has several outstanding athletes, Rams will have to find a defender who combines the strength, explosiveness and ability to disrupt shots inside to match up with Lawrence. At the same time, how Tigers deal with a pair of All-Canadian talents in 6’3″ Adika Peter-McNeilly and 6’5″ Ammanuel Diressa will dictate whether this game will be played in the 80’s where Rye wants it or the 60’s where Dal wants it. Tempo will be key as will the underrated defensive work of 6’4″ Jarred Reid, who can disrupt athletic wings with his length, experience and anticipation. This promises to be another outstanding game in front of what should be an excited, engaged crowd that is likely to come down to the final one or two possessions.