While his new program has put together a solid pre-season and his new group has shown over the course of the past month or so to be competitive with most across the country, new York Lions Head Coach Nate Philippe has unfortunately entered the next phase of his burgeoning career squarely into by-far the toughest conference in the country.
Philippe and his new-look Lions will look directly into the face of at least three teams with legitimate national championship potential plus others that are clearly on the upswing with home playoff game aspirations. Given York’s early-season successes combined with a very reasonable, growing excitement level around the program, picking Philippe’s group for 8th and last in the OUA East is very likely to stir up some head-scratching controversy – and/or serve as bulletin board motivational fodder.
But such is life in this conference in which each and every team is capable of knocking off anyone in the country on any given night. Witness Queen’s Gaels home win over #7 Dalhousie, the Tigers only loss of the season thus far and Nipissing’s win at Acadia, an AUS title contender. Laurentian comes off a pre-season that includes a win over NCAA Division 1 Montana and close losses to Western Kentucky and Kent State plus a 4-0 pre-season slate against U-Sports team including three road wins.
And we have yet to touch on the “Big 3″ of Carleton, Ryerson and Ottawa, perennial national championship contenders – all with their latest versions of deep, talented lineups. Rams have battled some early season injuries but have been in every game despite the absence of their Moser Award candidate 6’5” Ammanuel Diressa and as many as three other starter-potential players.
Thus, our pick to finish first in the conference is Ryerson, fresh off a national championship game appearance and two-time defending Wilson Cup champions with arguably the best player in the country in Diressa. Rams finally got another proverbial monkey off their backs last March with a road win at Carleton to claim their second straight conference banner and expect their experience – especially at the guard spots with now-veterans 6’0″ fifth-year Roshane Roberts and 6’0″ fourth-year Myles Charvis – to lead them to the pennant in the new-look OUA East.
As mentioned in the OUA West preview, only two teams from this division will appear in the OUA semi-finals so the “expected” quarter-final game between #2 seed and #3 seed in this division is likely to eliminate one team from the Final 8 – which by March could be a Top 5 team nationally. I wonder out loud how long this OUA format will last given the process and ultimate decision that determined this season’s new OUA post-season bracket. It remains to be seen whether or not the result will have the two or three best teams in the entire OUA conference represent at the Nationals.
We will be tracking with ongoing curiosity the cumulative record of inter-division games between OUA East and OUA West teams throughout the season as a gauge for relative comparative strength of the two divisions… 4-0 for OUA East and counting after the first weekend of play.
My predictions for final regular season standings in the OUA East: