Doubling down on our “way-too-early” Top 10 released earlier this week, we continue our off-season coverage with an early conference-by-conference look at the current, immediately-post-Final 8 state of all (virtually) programs across the country.
We begin with the 8 team AUS including highlighting players lost to graduation, recruits announced thus far and our take on needs on a team-by-team basis.
Dalhousie Tigers… Three-time defending champions graduate the core of what made Tigers arguably the AUS top program over a prolonged, three year period in at least the past decade. But Coach Rick Plato does have talent returning with 6’2″ rising junior Jordan Aquino-Serjue likely to take on much of the perimeter decision making responsibilities from 5’11” Ritchie Kanza Mata while 6’6″ Sven Stammberger will be counted on for more perimeter scoring and basket slashing. Remember that 6’2″ Cedric Sanogo should return from injury to help fill the void on the wing from the loss of 6’4″ Jarred Reid. Where a logical replacement is not evident is up front given the versatility of 6’2″ Kashrell Lawrence, especially in the full court pressure that helped turn around so many games this season for Dalhousie. Lawrence’s strength and quickness in the press were overshadowed by his great work on the glass and inside and Kash’s overall contributions will be most challenging to replicate. 6’5″ Alex Carson, who missed all of the second half of his freshman season with a groin injury is set to take on a more prominent role beyond knocking down shots while 6’10” Sasha Kappos, his confidence growing as an inside scorer, continues to grow into his body and mature as a defender and rebounder. 6’1″ Matt McVeigh provides perimeter shooting and Plato has already added five recruits, two he believes will compete for time from the start: 6’2″ Jordan Brathwaite (Milton, ON/Bishop Reding) and 6’4″ Keevan Venoit, arguably the top senior in Atlantic Canada and son of former All-Canadian Kevin Venoit (Acadia), who will be groomed as the point guard of the future. 6’8″ Tyler Williams, son of a former CCAA star Derrick, is a U.S. import from Weber H.S. in Dallas, TX billed as a strong rebounder and defender. Coach Plato will have to weave in some new talent but Tigers are likely to remain an upper-echelon AUS team.
Saint Mary’s… With heavy losses due to graduation and the way Huskies love to play up tempo, in transition and on the offensive glass, coach Jonah Taussig has started his wing forward rebuild with what should be an impact plug-and-play rotation member in 6’5″ Nikita Kasongo (Champlain College), a player similar in stature and style to 6’5″ Brian Rouse and 6’5″ Theon Reefer (both graduated). Finding a replacement at the point for 5’9″ Marquis Clayton and his big-game/big-shot making abilities remains Taussig’s biggest off season challenge. 6’3″ 4th year wing/guard Kemar Alleyne should take on more of a leadership role, coming off a bit of an injury-plagued season. 6’0″ Jack Tilley is a candidate at the point however he played little this past season as a freshman while 6’2″ Will Fiander is probably still a complementary player at this stage of his career. Huskies are set up front with an experienced blend of strength and finesse in 6’6″ Ach Lual, 6’8″ Osman Barrie (missed entire season injured) and 6’6″ Brent Martindale, who has developed into a reliable 12-15 mpg AUS big off the bench. After a strong start in the pre-season, 6’2″ Kordiero James production fell off somewhat, exposing what many freshmen experience during the grind of a long season at the next level – but James has the potential to have a solid, if not All-Star career eventually. Huskies likely need at least one lead guard “of the future” and one impact athletic wing between now and the start of next season for any consideration for pre-season AUS title favorites.
St. FX… With virtually their entire rotation back – only 6’0″ Akil Charles has graduated – it is more than fair at this point to include X-Men in the early discussion as a possible AUS favorite. Reigning AUS POY 6’7″ Kevin Bercy returns for his 5th season, one of six rotation members in their senior seasons – indeed X’s roster shapes up as the most experienced in the conference. 6’6″ Cameron Walker mans the low post while fellow starters 6’3″ lefty Julius Antoine and 6’0″ point guard Davonte Provo round out a core that has played together for four or five years. As we repeat at the risk of ad nausem, most championship teams have veteran guards and 4th and 5th year guys usually make a positive difference in big games. 6’2″ Tristan Ross added the ability to attack a close out this season so expect him to evolve his game further while 6’1″ Justin Andrew adds perimeter shooting. 6’6″ Azaro Roker remains an intriguing prospect with his explosive, above-the-rim athletic ability – he was the author of several highlight reel put-back and transition slams this past season. X does need to find the point guard of the future as well as at least one more wing creator and more perimeter shooting. 6’1″ Jayden Smith, son of X legend Wade Smith, is X’s first announced recruit from Halifax Citadel.
Acadia… With the host bid at next season’s 2018 Nationals, Axemen try to build toward next March led by 6’3″ point guard Ben Miller, arguably the most cerebral player in the conference now entering his 4th season. Acadia also returns 6’9″ lefty all-AUS 1st team center Erik Nissen, a fierce competitor who has POY potential. Workhorse 6’8″ forward Rhys Larry, who missed the entire season due to injury, if healthy provides a wonderful complement to Nissen inside (** NOTE: Larry has left Acadia and is likely to surface at another program in time for this season). 6’0″ Nick DePalma is a defense-stretching three-point artist who opens things up inside. Acadia must replace talented 6’5″ Kyle Arsenault and 6’0″ A.J. Simmons and to that end need to see their newcomers from this season mature including 6’3″ Mitchell Tempro, 6’2″ Trevon Grant and 6’4″ Jerome Mugambi. 6’0″ Matt Ingram hopes to get more time as a perimeter shooter while 6’4″ Eli Kraushar, another star performer from Nova Scotia’s national championship provincial team, is Axemen’s first recruit for next season and is likely ready for rotation minutes.
UNB… Coming off a second place finish and with their top seven scorers eligible to return including 6’0″ Javon Masters, one of the all-time leading scorers in AUS history, Varsity Reds should be excited about this coming season. Only 6’3″ Kaleefa Henry and 6’8″ Stephon Smith have exhausted their eligibility and this past season’s newcomer class netted AUS ROY 6’5″ Jamaal Potopsingh, 6’2″ sharpshooter Chris Spurrell and slick 6’2″ Hess Mayele among others. Veterans 6’2″ Jesse Kendall (rising 4th, coming off an injury plagued season) and 6’5″ Dylan Baker (rising 5th) are also experienced returnees. Reds usually add some new faces although if everyone scheduled to come back does, they appear to be in a good spot to help Masters, who will retire as one of the all-time AUS greats, win the first post-season game of his career. Reds are trying to break a twelve season, six-game winless streak at the AUS tournament where their last win was in 2004-05 in the first round against UPEI.
Memorial… Coach Peter Benoite must replace all-AUS 6’9″ center Vasilije Curcic, 6’3″ Jacob Hynes and 6’2″ Kieran Hawksley (moving to grad school) so an influx of size is needed. The guard and wings spots appear well fortified with rising 5th year 5’11” pg Davion Parnsalu, 6’2″ instant offense Daniel Gordon (rising 5th), 6’1″ Austin Chambers (rising 4th), 6’4″ Greg Manual (rising 3rd), 6’5″ Jovan Babovic (rising 4th) and 6’4″ Nathan Barker, coming off a solid freshman season during which the Newfoundland native matured virtually every game. The two main needs that Benoite is likely to focus on bringing in some size and scoring up front as well as finding his point guard of the future given Parnsalu is entering his final season.
UPEI… Biggest issue with Panthers, coming off a disappointing 6-14 non-tournament season, is that AD Chris Huggan is working to find a successor for coach Tim Kendrick in time for 1st May. The new coach will have to replace 5 seniors representing 140 minutes per game and 70% of the shots led by the graduation of 6’2″ 2nd team all-AUS Tyler Scott and 6’8″ Dut Dut. 6’7″ Milorad Sedlarevic (rising 4th), 6’2″ Shavon Gayle (rising 3rd) and 6’0″ Samy Mohamed (rising 5th) are the top returnees and 5 recruits led by 6’6″ Vernelle Johnson have been announced. However this situation is likely best described as a full rebuild.
Cape Breton… Head Coach David Petroziello is in the midst of working through his first full recruiting cycle after taking over in mid-July of last year. 6’2″ Seth Amoah is the only Caper on this past season’s roster who has exhausted eligibility. Key newcomer is 6’1″ German import point guard Nico Brauner who was injured all season and is expected to log major minutes as Capers floor general. 6’5″ Kenny Jean-Louis, entering his fifth and final season, is a triple double potential guy each night. Beyond that, given Capers winless record in AUS play last season, there are major minutes up for grabs as Petroziello pounds the pavement to upgrade the roster to reflect his style and culture.
At this early stage….
First-round bye contenders: St. FX, UNB, Dal
Likely Playoff participants: Acadia, Saint Mary’s, Memorial
Rebuilding: Cape Breton, UPEI.