For those who missed it, the OUA scheduling and playoff format will revert to what essentially is a two-conference model until the semi-finals, eliminating any possibility that the three (or four) top teams in the province will be able to compete for one of the two guaranteed spots at the Final 8. In the view of many, this new format severely hampers programs in the OUA East which for the large majority of the past several seasons has had at least three teams in the Top 5 of the country.
As a result of this new format, from this point forward we will view the OUA as virtually two separate conferences with a cross-over schedule (note that new schedule format has East teams playing home-and-home + single cross-over games against West and vice versa).
Today we present our early off-season update of the OUA East – some are calling it “Beast of the East” conference (I won’t say who but not me), which not only features said three Top 5 programs (Carleton, Ryerson, Ottawa) but three rapidly-rising teams in U of T Varsity Blues, Nipissing and Laurentian – all teams which made tremendous strides last season. Also don’t forget that Queen’s Gaels were one miraculous finish away from knocking off uOttawa two seasons ago – it is hard to argue that OUA East is the deep and most talented conference in the country.
Critics of the new playoff format will point to, among other facts, how skewed the quality of programs are toward East strength by examining last season’s OUA quarter-finals bracket which featured six of eight teams from what now is the re-incarnated OUA East. If recruiting and transfer activity continues on the present path, expect this trend to continue for the foreseeable future.
Carleton Ravens… Coach Dave Smart will have to replace four rotation mainstays including Moser Award winner 6’4″ Connor Wood, Jack Donohue Trophy winner 6’2″ Kaza Kajami-Keane (Final 8 MVP), 6’7″ Ryan Ejim – the star of the championship game win over Ryerson – and sharpshooting 6’4″ wing Joe Rocca. Still, plenty of quality, experienced talent remains as the next wave of Raven upper-classmen matures including 6’4″ Marcus Anderson, 5’11” Emmanuel Owaatoah, 7’0″ Cam Smythe, 6’9″ Eddie Ekiyor, 6’3″ Stanley Mayambo, 6’6″ T.J. Lall, 6’4″ defensive stopper Mitch Wood and 6’6″ Mitch Jackson. Ravens also welcome 6’9″ Biniam Ghebrekidan, a former member of the Canadian Jr. National program to the fold as part of another impressive recruiting class that includes sharpshooting 6’4″ wing Will Spaulding, 6’10” Owen Boisvert and the return of another former Jr. National team player, 6’3″ Anthony Pate, who returns after a two-season absence.
Ryerson Rams… Rams captured their second consecutive Wilson Cup championship – defeating Carleton on their home floor in a historic win for the program and advanced to their first-ever CIS Final 8 championship game as coach Roy Rana has firmly entrenched his club in the annual National championship discussion and arguably the most likely team with the potential to dethrone Carleton. Rana must replace 6’3″ All-Canadian Adika Peter-McNeilly and captain and glue guy 6’5″ Juwon Grannum, both graduated but plenty of talent remains, starting with 6’5″ Moser Award candidate Ammanuel Diressa, the best pure returning scorer in the country. Rams will provide Diressa with plenty of help on the wing, starting with 6’7″ J.V. Mukama, returning after sitting out last season addressing academic issues. One of the sweetest pure shooters in the nation, Mukama also adds length and athleticism defensively to Ryerson’s full-court pressure. York transfer 6’5″ Nathan Culbreath is another highlight-reel waiting to happen – author of some spectacular finishes and Culbreath, entering his fourth season of eligibility will likely step in to 25-30 minutes per game with the Rams. 6’6″ sophomore Keevon Small is a star in the making while 6’8″ Adam Voll provided steady work at both ends and figures to eat up 28-30 minutes a game at the 5 spot. Rams retain veteran guards 5’11” Myles Charvis and 6’0″ Roshane Roberts while third-year shooter 6’2″ Chase Vassell figures to move into a more prominent role. Ryerson attracted two of the better guards available out of high school in 5’9″ Jordan Henry (Pickering) and 6’3″ Kahleel Ellis-Garcia (Mississauga Father Michael Goetz S.S.). Both had been considering offers from NCAA Division 1 programs. Rams are likely to be a pre-season Top 3 team in the country.
Ottawa Gee-Gees… Replacing leader and U-Sport Defensive Player-of-the-Year Caleb Agada will be a challenge but Gee-Gees coach James Derouin continues to attract top end talent directly out of high school and via the transfer route. Gee-Gees also lose 6’6″ Matt Plunkett and 6’2″ guard Adam Presutti from last season’s disappointing OUA fourth place finish. 5’11” Acadia transfer Sean Stoqua is a tremendous, high-IQ get as a pure point guard for a group that needed to replace Agada’s key decision making and break-down ability. Clearly the Gee-Gees have strength up front with 6’9″ Jean-Emmanuel Pierre-Charles, coming off a solid but not dominating/spectacular first season at uOttawa plus steady 6’6″ Brody Maracle, who is solid against good match-ups but can be exploited in certain situations on the defensive end and on the glass. Derouin is hoping 6’4″ Brandon Robinson becomes his next defensive stopper and big-shot guy for key down-the-stretch situations while 5’11” Calvin Epistola showed a gritty, competitive side late in the season that should serve him well even with Stoqua expected to take much of the lead guard minutes. Both 6’5″ MacKenzie Morrison and 6’6″ Andrew DeGroot will be counted upon to take that next step toward bigger-time contributors while floor-stretching help could come from maturing 6’5″ sophomore Gage Sabean. By all accounts, 6’5″ Chase Tynes (Dartmouth) and 6’3″ Alex Muise, both veterans of the successful Nova Scotia Provincial team program, should contribute immediately. Gee-Gees also signed 6’8″ Josh Stephens (Cornwall, ON/Ottawa Next Level) to add depth to their front court and 6’2″ Boris Minger who will have to battle for time given the influx of other talent. Of course, Derouin has 6’7″ OUA 1st team All-star Connor Gilmore waiting in the wings after the impact forward announced recently he was transferring from McMaster – Gilmore will have to sit out this coming season as per transfer rules.
Toronto Varsity Blues… Coach John Campbell will have to replace his 1st Team all-star 6’5″ Devin Johnson, one of the better scorers in the nation in the last two seasons, as well as steady 6’5″ Manny Suhota and off-the-bench contributor 6’5″ Kwasi Oti-Awere at the forward spot. But three returning veteran starters form a nice foundation, starting with 6’3″ fifth-year wing Reilly Reid who is ready to emerge as a conference all-star caliber combo guard and 6’3″ point guard Sage Usher maturing into a high-end point in the league. 6’6″ Daniel Johanssen started to create some match-up problems as his offensive consistency improved and should be more impactful in his third season. Varsity will also have in the rotation 6’2″ lefty Jawara Pedican, the Vaughan S.S. grad who sat out all of last season after transferring in from McGill where he spent his first two seasons and started to emerge late, especially with the consistency on his jumper. 6’7″ Chase Ruttenberg can stretch the floor as can 6’4″ Nikola Paradina, the catch-and-shoot wing. Diminutive 5’10” Christopher Barrett adds depth off the bench in the back court. The Blues have added who many feel is a difference-making shooter from the perimeter in 6’0 1/2″ Evan Shadkami from Central Tech Prep, a likely immediate contributor. Adding depth up front is 6’7″, 240 lbs. James Miles, a physically matured forward/center who originally committed to McMaster after Miles leading Westmount S.S. to the 2013 senior boys’ Hamilton city tournament title for public schools before leaving early in the 2013-14 season. Campbell expects to announce at least two more recruits in the coming weeks including one more potential impact guy on the wing.
Laurentian Voyageurs… Coach Shawn Swords‘ program made tremendous strides with an impressive home playoff win over Lakehead that put the Vees in the OUA quarter-finals for the second time in three seasons before bowing to uOttawa. Last season’s Laurentian crew brought back memories of the exciting, up-and-down, run-and-gun style that characterized the Vees when Swords starred as a player, led by 6’2″ U-Sport Rookie-of-the-Year Kadre Gray, one of the finest immediate-contributing freshman offensive players to enter the league in recent memory. The slick scoring guard leads at least seven rotation regulars back for next season including 6’2″ David Aromolaran, who himself is pushing toward elite level in the conference. Exciting 6’5″ forward Nelson Yengue provides rim protection and acrobatic, highlight-reel finishing ability while steady 6’0″ lefty Anthony Iacoe provides perimeter shooting and usually sound decision making. 6’4″ O.J. Watson was another revelation off the bench along with 6’3″ guards J.D. West and 6’3″ Theo Thomas. Despite the presence of 6’6″ Joe Sykes, Voyageurs do need to bring in some size after 6’6″ Darcy Watt went down early last season with a career-ending knee injury. With every key member back, the addition of a solid, rotation-ready big could be what propels Laurentian into the OUA Wilson Cup Final 4 discussion.
Nipissing Lakers… Coach Chris Cheng‘s program continues to improve steadily each season, culminating in last season’s impressive set of “first-evers” including back-to-back road wins (at Laurier and at Waterloo), playoff spot, home playoff game, playoff victory (77-74 over Queen’s) and OUA quarter-final appearance. With only 6’3″ Jordon Campbell and reserve 6’5″ Christian Casimir lost to graduation and the return to health of 6’7″ starter Kalil Langston expected, Lakers again should be a upper-end OUA team. 6’6″ OUA All-Star Justin Shaver was arguably the most impactful Laker last season, coming over after playing his first two seasons at Carleton and immediately taking a leadership role with his high basketball IQ. Shaver, Langston and 6’8″ Marvin Ngonadi make up a formidable front line. 6’4″ veteran Marcus Lewis should spend more time on the wing after various injuries to Langston over the course of last season forced him to spend major minutes in the post. 6’2″ rising sophomore, Jaeden Lewis – an OUA All-Rookie team selection – has the makings of a conference all-star as he matures. Cheng expects 6’5″ Jordan Roberts, a stretch 4, to make a contribution off the bench. 6’1″ Jerron Rhodes and 6’3″ Ismael Kaba make up a maturing formidable back court while 6’5″ Addy Ogunye saw meaningful time off the bench in key games. Lakers have added 6’5″ William Tran from Vaughan S.S. who is a catch-and-shoot 3/4 who is physical enough to play inside where he had to play in high school this past season after Voyageurs starting big went down to injury. Coach Cheng is pursuing at least one more big man at the five spot to fortify his front line but otherwise appears set to continue to push the program forward with his deep, athletic and impressive roster.
Queen’s Gaels… Replacing the scoring prowess 6’3″ Sukhpreet Singh, one of the greatest players in the history of the Gaels program, will be difficult and coach Steph Barrie is counting on 6’6″ Tanner Graham to assume Singh’s OUA all-star mantle given Graham’s rim protecting and offensive capabilities. The return to health of 6’11” Mike Shoveller, who was injured early last season and missed the entire year, instantly reinserts a quality veteran big man into the Gaels front line. Shoveller is one of three Gaels who missed all of last season due to injury and Barrie believes that both 6’6″ Luka Sevaljevic (torn ACL) and 5’11” Krys Rotterman (sport hernia) can also recover to the point where both are rotation regulars. Sevaljevic, rated #63 by NPH in the Class of 2016, is originally from Toronto French School via Mercersburg Prep in PA and is noted as a strong three-point shooter. Rotterman (Burlington Assumption) provides Gaels with a high-potential point guard who can break opponents down and create. Gaels also bring in a high-potential athletic forward in 6’7″ Connor Keefe (Halifax Grammar School), part of the very successful Nova Scotia Provincial team program. Keefe is described in the Ryall Stroud mode as a tough, physical post presence and is likely to be groomed as an undersized “5”. Barrie is also close to securing two transfers from the Ontario college ranks with both targets plug-and-play guys with all-star seasons on their resume. Other key returnees include 6’6″ Jesse Graham, 6’9″ Henry Van Herk, 6’5″ Harry Range, 6’4″ Vince Wood and 5’10” Sammy Ayisi as the Gaels build a deep roster.
York Lions… At least two players took the next step toward OUA prominence last season including 6’5″ Brandon Ramirez and 6’5″ Jayden Frederick. Ramirez showed tremendously fluid offensive skills for a paint-area 4 who can also stretch out to the three-point line and Frederick displayed his oozing athletic potential with numerous highlight reel finishes and multiple 20+ point performances for the Lions. It appears that York loses glue-guy forward 6’5″ Nidun Chandrakumar to graduation with the rest of the roster scheduled to return. 6’2″ rising sophomore Matt Carating was impressive at the point and got better as the season wore on. Another freshman from last season, 6’5″ Amman Hassan (London John Paul) also showed more promise as he gained experience. 6’5″ Yonathan Kristos was an occasional starter who should also help. 6’10” George Ivens adds muscle and physicality in and around the paint. 6’1″ Julio Vasquez displayed a streak shooting ability in an offense that was among the leaders in the country in three-point attempts as York played fast and loose offensively. Lions expect to have 6’5″ Gianmarco Luciani back in the lineup finally hoping the Acadia transfer from Villanova College in King City has recovered from an ACL tear sustained just before camp last season. Social media cites 6’3″ Ukasha Khan from d’Youville in Brampton as a Lions commit but this has not been confirmed officially as of yet.
Our next conference update will be OUA West.