While the names at the top of this ranking are familiar to most observers and have not changed dramatically from last season, there is an air of parity blowing through U-Sports, especially after how tough Ryerson played Carleton last season but more so given the recent influx of young coaching talent across the country and the higher level of talent that has not only come back from supposedly greener pastures down south but talent that has stayed home: key exhibits being 6’10” Grant Shepherd (UBC) and 5’9″ Jordan Henry (Western) both members of Canada’s U-19 Gold Medal FIBA world championship team.
Here is my pre-season Top 10 with the caveat that numerous other, up-and-coming teams are likely to encroach on this list in the coming months and years.
CANHoops.ca 2017-18 Pre-Season Top 10
#1 Carleton… Despite losing much of the top of their rotation including main decision makers 6’2” Kaza Kajami-Keane and 6’4” Connor Wood, the Ravens have arguably a deeper back-court with 5’11” Emman Owooatoah and newcomers 6’0″ Troy Reid-Knight and 6’1″ Minus Tutu plus 6’1″ revelation Yasin Joseph. Up front, 6’9 ½” sophomore Eddie Ekiyor, already a high-end rim protector, rebounder and athlete in transition, is poised to become an offensive force who should eventually be able to draw double teams. The belief that there would be a drop-off after last season’s senior-laden group has been generally alieved after this summer’s performance against NCAA Division 1 teams during which Ravens went 9-2.
#2 Ryerson… Much of the ability of the two-time defending Wilson Cup champions to compete for their first National championship lies in the hands of 6’4” Ammanuel Diressa, who was selected to Canada’s Sr. National team this past summer. At press time, it remains uncertain whether Diressa will turn pro or return for his fifth and final season. Still, Ryerson has numerous other weapons that justify this ranking including the return of 6’7” J.V. Mukama, 6’6″ sophomore Keevon Small who matured rapidly toward the end of last season and 6’5″ York transfer Nathan Culbreath – all great wing athletes who fit the mould of Roy Rana coached teams. 6’5″ Filip Vujadinovic and 6’8″ Adam Voll both introduced themselves to the National audience with impact performances during the Final 8 although Voll was a DNP for Ryerson’s summer NCAA games. The guard spot with 6’0″ Roshane Roberts is well looked after and the recruiting class, led by 7’2″ Tanor Ngom, 5’11” scoring machine Zubair Seyed and 6’7″ Nikola Urosovic should also help.
#3 Alberta… Defending Canada West champions Golden Bears were one questionable travel call away from a Final 4 berth last season and return their entire core rotation including All-Canadian candidates 6’7″ Mamadou Gueye and 6’7″ Brody Clarke. With wily point guard 6’1″ Austin Waddoups making most of the key decisions, two athletic wings in 6’2″ Andre Kelly and 6’1″ Dwan Williams plus an array of three-point shooters – Alberta is among the top two or three perimeter shooting teams in the nation – coach Barnaby Craddock and program are firmly in the National championship discussion.
#4 Brock… Badgers are primed to vindicate what most in the “Peninsula” view as a Wild Card snub last season by qualifying as OUA West champions this season. The new OUA playoff format should help however Badgers have a veteran group with more depth than last season, led by Moser Award candidate 6’7″ Dani Elgadi, 6’5″ Johneil Simpson and 6’7″ Cassidy Ryan who make up an imposing front line. 6’6″ Daniel Cayer is a star in the making and competitive 5’11” point guard Tyler Brown continues to improve. 6’1″ Michael Asemota is ready to take the next step to meaningful minutes and coach Charles Kissi has recruited several newcomers to add depth. A National contender re-emerges in St. Catharines.
#5 McGill… The addition of 6’1” American U. transfer Alex Paquin could be the injection of point guard talent that propels the Redmen, who qualified for their first-ever U-Sports Final 4 last season, a National championship contender. With several upper-classmen including reigning RSEQ POY 6’2” Dele Ogundokun and a fine recruiting class featuring 6’2” Jamal Mayali, who is likely to be one of Canada’s top freshmen, a return to the Nationals is likely.
#6 UBC… Thunderbirds, like Brock, are poised to atone for last season’s Wild Card snub and have attracted arguably the top overall recruiting class in the country. Still, 6’9” Conor Morgan is the foundation and the de facto pre-season candidate for the Moser Award leads a solid, deep group that includes key fifth-year returnees 6’2″ Phil Jalalpoor and 6’7″ Luka Zaharijevic. At least five freshmen saw time during T-Birds trip to Costa Rica including touted 6’10” Grant Shepherd and 6’4″ Mason Bourcier. There are at least 11 players who could see meaningful time for the perennial Top 5 Thunderbirds.
#7 Ottawa… While there is no dominant, All-Canadian/Moser-type player from year’s past (see Johnny Berhanemeskel, Mike L’Africain, Caleb Agada), this may be the deepest and most versatile team that Coach James Derouin has ever had, led by two high-end point guards in 5’10” Sean Stoqua and 5’11” Calvin Epistola, who has progressed almost game-by-game into a formidable U-Sports guard. Up front, the two towers of 6’9″ Jean Pierre-Charles and 6’7″ Brody Maracle can demand double teams, opening up the perimeter for 6’4″ Brandon Robinson, 6’6″ MacKenzie Morrison and 6’5″ Gage Sabean, who showed his smooth stroke in a summer victory over Canisius with eight 3’s. 6’5″ Chase Tynes may be one of the best freshmen in the country and 6’5″ Stefan Duric, a former Jr. National program player could help as he gets back into playing shape after sitting out last season. Gee-Gees can play many different ways at both ends given the large quantity of quality talent and remain formidable.
#8 Saskatchewan… Assuming everyone who is scheduled to return does, Huskies are a legitimate Top 10 team, losing only impact 6’6″ forward Matt Forbes and 6’6″ shooter Trevor Severinski. All-Canada West 1st teamer 6’5″ Shane Osayande and 6’3″ Lawrence Moore, who was Sask’s leading post-season scorer after arriving from the state of Illinois in the second half and the latest in the long line of very good U.S. imports, are the key players scheduled to return. 6’3″ Chan DeCiman is an impact wing who missed much of last season due to injury while 6’5″ Jaylan Morgan (4th Year) adds athleticism. We are hoping to make contact with Huskies officials to confirm more.
#9 Acadia… The return of 6’8” Rhys Larry combined with All-Canadian candidate 6’9″ Erik Nissen gives the Axemen arguably the top front line in their conference and 6’3″ Ben Miller could take the next step toward AUS Player-of-the-Year. Perimeter shooting in the person of 6’2″ Nick DePalma plus athletes 6’0″ Mitchell Tempro (3rd Year), 6’1″ Trevon Grant and 6’7″ Jerome Mugambi (2nd Year) provide Acadia with quality depth. Two very good first-year recruits arrive in 6’4″ Eli Kraucher and 6’6″ Mason Middaugh. Axemen have already qualified for the Final 8 as hosts but arguably are the favorites to play their way in with an AUS championship.
#10 St. FX… While this pick may be a head-scratcher, X-Men do have by far the most experienced returning group in the AUS, highlighted by Moser candidate 6’7″ Kevin Bercy, the reigning AUS Player-of-the-Year. In fact, Coach Steve Konchalski‘s entire upper-classmen-filled rotation with the exception of 6’0″ Akil Charles returns including Bercy (5th), 6’3″ Julius Antoine (5th), 6’7″ Cameron Walker (5th), 6’1″ Davonte Provo (5th) and key youngsters off the bench 6’3″ Tristan Ross, 6’0″ Justin Andrew and crazy athlete 6’6″ Azaro Roker. The depth and experience combined with four 5th year guys offsets the poor finish to last season (X lost 9 of their final 11 games including a hotly-contested 1 point loss to eventual Final 8 participants Saint Mary’s Huskies in the AUS quarter-final).
Honorable Mention: Calgary, Dalhousie, Laurentian.