As Christmas approaches the AUS season and the fall semester is coming to a close. With the break coming, it is time to look back at the AUS season so far and see which teams have made their mark, which players have stood out and which teams need to improve to make it to the playoffs.
We start off with the traditional powerhouse of the AUS, the St. Francis Xavier X-Men. Going into the break, the X-Men sit atop the AUS with a 5-0 record (2 four point wins). Also, the X-Men are nationally ranked and have already had some tough tests. Their first real competition was at Acadia where the Axemen gave them a run, and forced the game into overtime where St. FX prevailed 90-89. The X-Men were also given two tough contests from the Halifax teams, beating Dalhousie 81-78 in a game that went down to the last shot, and also took care of business thanks to Jeremy Dunn scoring 37 points at the Tower versus the Huskies in a 93-90 victory.
This great play from the X-Men has been led by Terry Thomas and Jeremy Dunn who average 22 and 22.2 points respectively through five games. Strong additional play from Will Donkoh and Shane Coupland has helped their cause.
The X-Men start off the 2nd part of the AUS season with a two game home stand versus the UNB Varsity Reds. With their recent success, expect the X-Men to win both games and maintain leadership of the AUS division.
In 2nd place, a surprising UPEI team led by Coach Kendrick, the legendary High School basketball coach who collected over 700 wins at Horton High School in rural Nova Scotia. The Panthers are 6-0 going into the break with two victories over a tough Acadia team at home. A sweep of SMU at home and Memorial on the road has given this Panthers team perfection so far in the season.
UPEI has been led by a group effort that started with; Donathan Moss, Jonathon Cooper and Manock Lual, who are all averaging high numbers right now 19.3, 19.2 and 18.5 points per game respectively. A consistent starting five has allowed the Panthers to play at an elite level and we can look for them to continue this down the road.
After the break, UPEI opens up on the road with a two game series against the St. Mary’s Huskies at the Tower. This will be a difficult game since the Huskies are exceptionally strong at home. Look out for UPEI vs. St. FX with their first match taking part January 15th.
Only two points behind UPEI is Cape Breton. The Capers are a different team this year and with an interim head coach this team is in good shape, going into the break with a 4-2 record. A tough loss to X to start the season along with a split home series with the Tigers has caused them to fall into 3rd place.
The Capers are led by Jimmy Dorsey who is grabbing a lot of the minutes with good reason. He is averaging 34 minutes per game, 20.7 points per game, a team leading nine rebounds per game, as well as an impressive AUS leading 8.67 assists per game. Al Alilovic is also playing well with 17.7 points per game.
When the break resumes, the Capers will head to Acadia for a tough four point game, and in the following week will host the X-Men. While they are in a good position now, the Capers will have some real tests in the first few weeks of the 2nd part of the season.
In 4th place to many people’s surprise is the Acadia Axemen. A team who many people thought would be pushing X for top place in the conference are currently 2-3. With a close game which resulted in a victory on the road at Dal to start the season strong the Axemen then lost an OT thriller at home to the X-Men. They got swept by a dominant squad in UPEI and now sit in 4th place.
Acadia has been led by the preseason favourite for AUS MVP, Owen Klassen who has played strong averaging a double-double, scoring 16.2 points per game and grabbing 10.8 rebounds per game. Acadia has been pleased with the great play from Tyler Scott, the rookie from Halifax West who has been solid on a deep Acadia roster and is currently second in team scoring with 15.4 points per game. Another rookie who made an impression was Sean Stoqua who is a dual athlete playing Football and Basketball, he managed to hit 5 three pointers in one game and sits 8-15 behind the arc for the season. All around solid play from a team effort has helped the Axemen so far this season.
Coming back from the break, the Axemen will host Cape Breton at home, and then in the following week will host Saint Mary’s. Acadia has a few chances to take points and move up in the standings, starting with their first game back against CBU.
UNB is tied for 4th place with Acadia, but due to playing one more game than Acadia sits below them in the standings. The Varsity Reds started off the season with two close games in which Memorial challenged them in both games forcing OT in the second contest. They managed to sweep the series and take a total of eight points. However they have lost their last four games and now sit 2-4, with two four point victories.
Led by Daniel Quirion the Varsity Reds have struggled to find their groove against difficult AUS opponents. Quirion leads the Reds with 18.6 points per game and is the highest scorer on the team right now. Veteran leader Alex Des Roches is behind Quirion with 12.3 points per game. The Reds will need to pick it up offensively and get Daniel and Alex to lead the charge.
To open up the second part of the season it doesn’t get any easier for the Varsity Reds who have a two game road trip against the X-Men in Antigonish. Following those two difficult games, they host UPEI which will be a crucial game for them. If UNB wants to make the playoffs they will need some solid play and will have to beat some of the top teams to make it in.
Saint Mary’s currently sits two points out of 4th and holds the final playoff spot as of now. Yes the Huskies are in 6th place with a record of 2-5. While this season didn’t start so well for the Huskies, they may have found their game at the right time. With Quackenbush teams, it has become expected that there will be a slow start to the season. They split their opening series with Memorial on the road and lost both games at UPEI. They took their first win at home against the Varsity Reds where they exploded shooting the ball. They then lost a close game at the Tower versus the X-Men and lost on the road to CBU.
Tory Fassett is doing what he does best, scoring. Yes Tory is getting comfortable and without his partner in crime, Joey Haywood (now a Halifax Rainmen) he is managing alright. He is currently averaging 23.4 (league high) points per game; he also leads the team in rebounding with 6.4 rebounds per game. Rookie Brain Rouse has been solid for the Huskies as he has taken lots of starting minutes and has produced with 17.4 points per game, he will push Tyler Scott for rookie of the year. Miguel Pink and Harry Ezenibe (coming back from injury) have been solid providing veteran leadership on a younger SMU team.
When the break resumes the Huskies will have their chance at revenge as they will host UPEI for two games at the Tower. Following those games they will head to Acadia for a tough match. Look out for January 14th where the Halifax Darby takes place at the Dalplex. When both Halifax teams go at each other, its always an exciting game to be in attendance for.
Dalhousie is not the same team it was last year. A slow start has the Tigers tied for dead last in the conference. A record of 1-4 with a tough schedule has been tough on the young Dalhousie team that is still looking to figure it out. With close loses to Acadia and at St. FX, there is promise for the Tigers, having shown they can play with the top teams in this league. A split series up at CBU will pay dividends down the road in the standings.
The question was asked at the beginning of the year, who would score for the Tigers? Well Robert Nortmann has answered that question, scoring 17.2 points per game he has led this young Tigers team and shown leadership in a time of need. Will Yengue, Casey Fox and Alex Arthur have all been able to score around 10 points per game to help the team offensively. With that being said they will still need to pick it up and not rely so heavily on their defence. Rookie Ritchie Kanza has played well at the point and sits second in the AUS with six assists a game.
To start the second part of the AUS season, the Tigers will fly out to Memorial for a two game series, which will be four point games. Following that the Tigers host the Huskies at home on January 14th. Dal will need to take these crucial points against the Sea Hawks and the Huskies to give them a good shot at the playoffs.
Tied for last place is Memorial, with a record of 1-5 the Sea Hawks have had it rough and are making strides. With their only win coming in their first series of the season, the Sea Hawks have since lost four games in a row. With loses coming to UPEI and UNB the Sea Hawks have had trouble.
Robbie Habib leads the way for the Sea Hawks, and with 22.7 points per game he is right up there with some of the league’s best. Also playing well for the Sea Hawks, Mike Helsby and Jason Shepard who have each chipped in 16.8 and 15.8 points per game, respectively.
Memorial opens up after the break with two tough games against Dalhousie and then flies to CBU for another tough series. The road doesn’t get any easier but the Sea Hawks have a tough uphill battle to make in into the playoffs.
With the season set to resume shortly, all AUS fans are rejoicing over the excitment of the next part of the season.
Photo Courtesy: CIS-SIC, AUS, Memorial University