Canada West Prairie Division Preview

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Cloudy Picture, With Injuries Rampant

This is a tough preview, with so many key players down with injuries at press time … a point guard here, a 20 point scorer there … it will be crucial for these teams to get their marquee performers back on the court. We suggest, however, that the eight team Prairie Division of Canada West Basketball has two of last season’s Final Four looking very much like they could return to that Canada West Championship Tournament this year … the Saskatchewan Huskies and the Alberta Golden Bears are stocked with veteran returnees, and should be the most cohesive of the field as the season tips off next weekend (Nov.4-6).

Four squads will get playoff spots, with a 5th a chance at a wildcard, as the playoff structure returns to the previous format.  Next season will see more schedule and playoff changes as Calgary’s Mount Royal Cougars and the UNBC Timberwolves, Prince George, enter the League, making it 16 teams.
But, this is now … a reduction from 24 games to 20 games in the regular season, with 1 each against Pacific teams and 2 vs. our Prairie cousins.

Alberta Golden Bears … Coach Greg Francis – 3rd year

Last year … 16-8

The Bears were still a ‘young team’ last season, and they lost both games at the Final Four in Vancouver to bigger and more experienced squads from UBC and Trinity Western .  This year has Coach Greg Francis’ boys being 3rd year or more,  older and wiser, with the experience to get over the more distant hurdles.

Team leader, Jordan Baker, a 3rd year wing man and Canada West all-star last season, is an Edmonton native with both Mum and Dad former Canada

West all-stars for Bears and Pandas teams of yore, and a member of the Canadian teams this summer and fall at the FISU Games (China) and the Pan-Ams, which wrap up this weekend in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Daniel Ferguson went for 44 vs. Windsor last week. He’s a 5th year shooting sensation at guard, and averaged 23 ppg, 2nd in Canada West last season, when he too was chosen as a Canada West all-star.  Quite a partner for Baker’s complete floor game and rebounding.  Coach Greg Francis feels that some of his other troops have enough seasoning now, and will give the Bears more scoring, if defenders concentrate on Baker and Ferguson. “Our pieces are more experienced”, says Francis.  One of the more prominent pieces is Todd Bergen-Henengouwen, who at 6’5″, is a powerful forward  who contributed 10 ppg and 5 rebounds last season.  The 3rd year player from Picture Butte, AB has been out with a knee injury, but his coach says it’s “just a precaution; he’ll be ready for league play.”

Forwards, Lyndon Taylor, 4th year, 6’7″, and Robert Dewar, a 6’10”, 3rd year from Ontario, will both be expected to play an important role in the paint, while a walk-on from Calgary may crack the playing line-up as well.  Adam Weir, a 6’7″, 3rd year post man from Diefenbaker HS, in Calgary via Red Deer College, ” … has really opened some eyes.  He’s a potential double figure scorer in the post in this League”, said Coach Francis.  Andrew Bates, a 6’8″ 5th year from Grant McEwan, and Nikola Manijlovic, a 6’9″, 2nd year,  should also figure in the forward rotation.

Two speedy 6’2″ wingers, Matthew Cardoza, 5th year, and Sahr Saffa, 3rd year, should allow Alberta to apply some defensive pressure, and either can score in the open court. This a team looking to make it’s mark this season; the Bears should challenge Saskatchewan for control of the Prairie Division, if all of Greg Francis’ ‘pieces’ fall together.

Brandon Bobcats … Coach – Gil Cheung – 2nd year   

Last  year … 4-20

It’s not surprising that a team that shared the cellar in Canada West in 2010-11 would have added no fewer than 11 new faces on their roster for this new season.  A complicating factor for Head Coach Gil Cheung, who needs practice time with this squad, if he is to have them working together,  is the 17 day strike by the Brandon University faculty. 

Cheung, only in his 2nd year at the helm, has not been allowed to perform his coaching duties, and he must be frustrated watching his team online

instead of from the bench.  Meanwhile, the ‘Cats have been playing, and getting some leadership from returnees Kyle Vince, Jordan Reaves, James Elias, and Donovan Gayle. The 6’4″, 5th year captain, Vince, scored 11 ppg last season, while Reaves, a 3rd year, 6’4″, wing man from Winnipeg, scored 8 points and grabbed 5 rebounds a game.  Gayle, is a powerful, 6’4″ forward, in his 5th year from Toronto .  Elias, a 6’11”, 3rd year forward, from Morden, MB  was among the ‘Cats top % shooters last season at 51%, and 40% from 3 pt. range.

Despite the number of new bodies, Coach Cheung is optimistic about the season, “I feel that this group has come together rather quickly and I believe our overall skill level is higher than it was last year.”  Among the notable additions based on their first 4 pre-season games are Emerick Ravier, a 4th year transfer guard from the U. of Ottawa, who scored 27 pts. and added 17 rebounds vs Manitoba last weekend.  Rookie recruit Ali-Mounir Benadbelhak, a 6’6″ forward from Montreal, has shown his rebounding skills, leading the team in the pre-season. Another 1st year player, Ilarion Bonhomme, a 6′ guard from Washington, DC, who red-shirted last year, gives Brandon some back-court quickness and ball-handling.  The point back-up is also a freshman,  Chris Oppong, from Brampton, ON , and his coach says, ” He is a tough on ball-defender and has shown the ability to lead a team as a 1st year kid as well.”

This Brandon team could surprise if they play better defense than the 86 ppg against of last year, if they can get all their new faces and the few returnees working on the  same page, and if Coach Cheung can get back in the gym to direct the process.

Calgary Dinos … Coach Dan Vanhooren – 12th year

Last year … 8-16

An uncharacteristically down year, when they missed the playoffs last season, did not go over well with Coach Dan Vanhooren, and he decided he needed more firepower if the Dinos were to turn things around quickly.

Enter 5th year transfer, Boris Bakovic, a CIS leading scorer, and OUA all-star.  Bakovic is a mature, confident leader with international experience for

Canada, who seems to have fit in nicely for his final year.  A recent knee injury, however, has jeopardized his season, and it remains to be seen whether or not he can return to play later in the year.

Another 5th year leader will be Tyler Fidler, a 6’9″, wing man from Calgary, and a Canada West all-star last season, when he led UC in both scoring and rebounding.  A returnee who will make a big difference is 2nd year point guard Jarred Ogungbemi-Jackson, whose absence due to a severe ankle sprain hurt the Dinos in 2010-11.  Jackson can score off the break, and has a deadly outside jumper.  Coming off a Rookie of the Year season is 2nd year post man, Matt Letkeman, a 6’7″ strongman from Abbotsford, BC.  5th year post player Dustin Reding, at 6’7″, has the experience to be effective up front, along with 2nd year, 6’10”,  Josh Wolfram, Kamloops, BC, who has looked sharp in pre-season action.

The Dinos have a seasoned group of guards who will be in the playing rotation, including outside shooting specialist, Andrew McGuinness, 3rd year, N. Vancouver, BC.  Keenan Milburn, another 5th year vet, is a hard-nosed combo guard, who may see time at both point and shooting guard, while  rookie guard, Josh Owen-Thomas, an Australian who came to Calgary via the British Junior Program, looks to be a solid future prospect for backcourt duty.

Calgary, at their best, may well contend for a playoff spot, and even a championship. It will take some good fortune on the injury recovery front, and a combative approach from the whole line-up every night out.

 

Lethbridge Pronghorns … Coach – Dave Adams – 3rd year

Last year … 7-17

Coach Dave Adams always seems upbeat.  His positivity may be tested this season if his good recruiting doesn’t pay off in more wins and a possible playoff spot, however.  The good news is … “All the guys we’ve recruited come from winning programs”, Adams points out.  “Four players from the CCAA silver-medal winners, Lethbridge College, 2 California college stand-outs, and  an Alberta 4A champion from Raymond.”

The LCC transfers, all in their 3rd year, include former UC player, Dom Coward, a 6’7″ post from Airdrie, who averaged 18 ppg and 13 rebounds at LCC.

“Dom has great hands and polish around the basket combined with great work ethic and leadership”, said Coach Adams. Dallon Martin is a “natural leader”, said the coach.  The 5’9″ point man could inherit the job, if Julian Spearchief -Morris, a 6’4″, 4th year, is unable to get back to action after an 11 month injury layoff. Morgan Duce is another LCC product, an he can hit the outside shot, although he is hampered by knee issues at the present.

Tyson McIntyre, a rookie post man from Raymond, AB has the athletic ability and the composure to contribute on the front line in his 1st year, while Logan Reiter, the 4th LCC transfer, is a solid wing player at 6’2″.  Coach Adams wandered across the border to snatch up 2 California players … 6’2″, 3rd year, Alex Fletcher was a 48% shooter 3 pt. shooter for Fresno City College last year, while yet another 3rd year transfer, 6’1″ Daryl Cooper was a standout with the City College of San Francisco.

The small corps of returnees includes big men 4th year,Derek Waldner, and 3rd year, Niko Kovac, both of whom have the experience to give the team leadership (and rebounding !) in the early going. Waldner, at 6’8″, averaged 12 ppg and 9 rebounds last year, while Kovac, a 6’10” Torontonian, scored 7 ppg and added 6 rebounds. Wes Chapman, at 6’7″, is a 3rd year post who looked good in the pre-season and should get more minutes this year.

The ‘Horns are not big in the backcourt, they have some injury issues right now, and they are depending on some new faces to produce right away, but Adams insists, ” I like our locker room … the guys get along and they are working very hard, and ready to play.” 

 

Manitoba Bisons … Coach Kirby Schepp – 3rd year

Last year … 9-15

The ‘Herd’ are wanting to get turned in the right direction, and Coach thinks they have the personnel to do just that in 2011-12. “We have a couple of guys back after a year away, and our depth will be better”, said Schepp.

Kurtis Sansregret is a 3rd year guard, who should contribute to a more solid backcourt, along with Keith Omoerah, a 2nd year, 6’4″ shooting guard, who may be Manitoba’s most consistent performer.  Jonar Huertas is a 6′, 4th year shooting guard, who averaged 9 ppg last year, but seems ready to produce more this campaign.

On the forward line, Schepp has 6’6″ Richard Reimer, who was good for 10 ppg and 7 rebs. last season, and he is paired with Kevin Oliver, a 6’7″ , 4th year, who averaged 11 points and 6 boards, or  6’5″ Braeden Speer, who has been impressive with a couple of double-double performances in the early going this season.  In the 2nd semester, the Bisons will benefit from the addition of Yigit Ozsayiner,  a 1st year, 6’6″, fwd, from a top club team in Istanbul, Turkey.  Ozsayiner looks to be a talented player, and coach Schepp says, “He looks like a difference-maker as a big man with some perimeter skills.”

Another recruit who appears to be a difference -maker is Stephen Walton, a 3rd year transfer from Valdosta St. , GA, who has been a hot scorer and capable floor leader in pre-season. Xavier Smith a transfer from Brandon, in his 4th year, has the quickness and shooting skills to contribute. 

Last year’s Bison team gave up a league worst 89 ppg, and cannot hope to climb up the standings unless that can change.  The ability to score points appears to be there, but stopping the opposition is critical to their improving on last year’s record.

 

 

Regina Cougars … Coach James Hillis – 18 years

Last Year … 14-10

After having a solid year with a group of veterans in 2010-11, then losing in the quarter-finals 2 straight to their provincial rivals, the U of S Huskies, Regina is trying to regroup with an influx of 7 new players, 5 of whom are right out of the high school ranks.  Heading a group of returning veterans, however, is leading scorer and 2nd leading rebounder, Paul Gareau.

The 4th year, 6’7″ forward is certainly a great building block when you try and put together a competitive squad, as he averaged 19 ppg, shot 60% from the floor, and grabbed 6.4 rebs.pg.  Helping Gareau with the heavy lifting in the paint is Connor Burns, a 3rd year, 6’7″ forward, who looks sharper with his scoring game, and can be physical on the glass.  Rookie, Jeremy Zver (as in bear), a 6’5″, 270 lb roadblock, “… can run the floor, and is surprisingly agile”, according to Coach Hillis.

Grady Childerhose, a 6’5″, 4th year transfer from Briercrest, who Hillis describes as ” a slasher”, is a pretty fair shooter, who can also step out on the perimeter and knock it down.  Matt Campbell , a 2nd year forward, is expected to contribute as he becomes more consistent.  Addison Docherty, a 6’1″ guard, in his 4th year, has earned a starting spot at guard, and the Cougars are looking for 3 pt. production from the hot and cold Sterling Nostedt, a 4th year, shooting guard from Manitoba.

A significant loss  to the team, with a knee injury in their 1st pre-season game, is Darius Mole, the 3rd year point man from Dallas, TX, who ” worked hard on his shot in the off-season, and was looking very sharp”, said Hillis. Brenden Hebert, 2nd year, Regina, will inherit the starting role, and he had 10 assists in a pre-season game.  Marcus Ward, a 6’4″ rookie from Regina, may be the prime candidate to back-up Hebert at the 1 spot.

The most impressive rookie to date may be Ryan Schmidt, a rare Cougars recruit from Saskatoon.  ” He’s a solid defender, and has a strong physical presence for a freshman … we’re very pleased with how he looks”, praised the Coach.  More help will arrive shortly, in the form of 2nd year wing man, Jared Janotta, who is playing varsity football as well as hoops again this year.  Janotta will be in the “top 6 or 7″, says Hillis, ” … he is a strong athlete.”

Regina will have to wait to see if Mole can return from what appears to be a serious knee problem, and they can contend in the Division if a tough early schedule doesn’t knock them back.

 

Saskatchewan Huskies … Coach – Barry Rawlyk – 2nd Year

Last year … 20-4

The Huskies look like the ‘Big Dogs’ in the Prairie Division, and they have a hungry eye on Canada West and National Championship possibilities. Saskatchewan’s fortunes will swing on the health of their super-charged combo guard, Jamelle Barrett, who has a knee injury, but ” … we are planning for him to be ready for the start of League play”, said a concerned Coach Rawlyk.

Barrett is the ‘straw that stirs the drink’, with his 25 point per game scoring, 6.8 assists, and 2.5 steals, all Canada West highs last season.  Barrett lost his guard partner, Rejean Chabot, to graduation, but still has the 5th year shooting guard, Duncan Jones, and combo guard Ben Baker, both of whom are very capable. 

A bright addition on the perimeter is the explosive 6’3″, transfer wing man from Winnipeg, Peter Lomuro. “When he is aggressive, he is a big factor for us”, says Rawlyk. ” He is extremely athletic, and can really score from anywhere.”  Another outstanding recruit is Nick Foth, a 6’2″ rookie from Saskatoon who has looked ” … steady, composed, and very athletic in pre-season”, according to Rawlyk.

There is power up front for the ‘Sled Dogs’ as well … Michael Lieffers,  who played for Canada at both the FISU Games and the Pan-Ams, is a 2010-11 Canada West all-star, who is an amazingly quick leaper who averaged 9.5 ppg, and 9 rebs. Complimenting Lieffers is the rugged Nolan Brudehl, a tough defender, and aggressive rebounder, who was 12 ppg, with 8 rebs. last season.   Chris Unsworth, a 6’8″, 5th year, can chip in 6-8 points, 5 rebounds, and an attention-getting physicality in the paint.  The Huskies nabbed a ‘blue ribbon’ recruit in the 6’6″, Matt Forbes, Lumsden, SK, who should get minutes right away with his inside touch and strong board play.  They also have the versatile Patrick Burns, a 6’4″, wing man who can handle the ball and guard a forward. 

Assuming Barrett is ready to go, we have to have the Huskies as our favourites in the Prairies, and they have a very good shot at another Canada West title.  They are talented, deep, most athletic, tough … well, you get the picture. Very hard to beat.

Winnipeg Wesmen … Coach – Mike Raimbault – 2nd year

Last year … 6-18

The Wesmen picture is one of ‘muddy waters’ according to Coach Mike Raimbault.  He has 2 key players, Brayden Duff and Nolan Gooding, who are currently down with injury, and they would have to return to allow UW to make the progress the coach would want.

No mistake … there are the elements of a good team here, as Raimbault has added a quartet of impact players for this season.  At point, Raimbault is excited about the ability of 3rd year , Andrew Cunningham, from Toronto, who played 2 seasons at Redlands College, Oklahoma, and in his last season averaged 9 assists, but he is injured and they await his return to play. Two other Torontonians are both transfers from Lakeland College, Lloydminster, AB, … Mark McNee is a 6’6″ forward who is strong off the glass, and his been  scoring leader in the pre-season … Dominique Brown is a 6’4″ shooting guard with good range and quickness.  Travis Krahn, a 6’4″ wing man, returns to Manitoba after a year at Briercrest College … a prolific scorer in high school, he is a solid addition at both ends of the court.

Two players who missed last season return to the Wesmen … Eric Zimmerman is a  3rd year, 6’7″ forward who is a steady rebounder, and can score in double digits, and James Horaska is back for his 5th season, and the 6’5: forward can help on the boards, and score tough hoops.

Gooding, who averaged 14 points and 5 boards last year would be a big loss, and Winnipeg is hoping he may be able to return.  Duff is a physical player inside, and a useful rebounder, who should return shortly. Benny Iko, a 4th year forward from Maryland, is another dynamic athlete, who will go hard to the glass and also contribute  10- 12 points a game. Craig Sharpe is a 5th year point man who will be leading the offense at least until Cunningham returns from injury.

Winnipeg may surprise a few teams this season, if they can get back to full strength and come at you with a big 10 man rotation.  The Wesmen dressed only 9 men for the Pembina Tournament, and they need more healthy bodies for the start of League play.

Predicted Order of Finish

Saskatchewan Huskies … 17-3 … team on a mission, with strength through the line-up, and 2-3 all-stars.
Alberta Golden Bears … 14-6 … more mature, deeper, and have 2 exceptional players.
Calgary Dinos … 11-9 … waiting for Boris, they need big team effort to survive 1st half.
Winnipeg Wesmen … 9-11 … injuries a key, but they are more solid, deeper team.
Manitoba Bisons … 8-12 … may be better, if Walton is a catalyst, and defense gels.
Regina Cougars … 7-13 … point guard is a question, but Gareau could lead them higher.
Lethbridge Pronghorns … 7-13 … backcourt questions, but strong up front, with Coward healthy.
Brandon Bobcats … 6-14 … may be better, but so many new faces, with the Coach away to start.

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