After 4 months of Intense league play 6 of the 8 AUS teams converge on the Halifax Metro Centre this weekend pursueing the 2014 Conference Championship and a trip to the CIS Final 8 in Ottawa. The metro centre brings an entity to the AUS championship that over its history has helped some and hurt others. That entity is the open space of an arena that can have a detrimental affect on shooting teams and an advantageous effect on teams that control the paint. Also essential to success is a point guard that knows how to handle the environment and the pressure that comes with it.
This years championship opens with the #5 University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds playing the #4 St Francis Xavier X-Men. The Varsity Reds who were one of the best teams in the CIS before the injury bug hit take their limited Metro Centre experience against a team that considers it home, the St FX X-Men.
These teams share similar strengths and that is the backcourt. The St FX X-Men rely on the strong defense and the break down abilities of senior guards William Donkoh and Jordan Clarke where the Varsity Reds rely on the strong play of freshman guard and CIS scoring leader Javon Masters and sharp shooting senior Dan Quirion. The separation starts with the next top players for each team as UNB relies on sharp shooter Will McFee to provide a punch off the bench and the X-Men count on Kevin Bercey to go to work in the paint.
In their season matchups these two teams split with St FX winning at home 81-66 on February 8 behind Kevin Bercey’s 30pts and 13 boards. In the last game of the regular season on February 22 the Varsity Reds held home court winning 91-78 behind 23pts and 7asts from Javon Masters. Adding to the intrigue of this game is Head Coach Brent Baker was a St FX assistant before coming to UNB. This will be a solid back and fourth game but look for the very hungry Varsity Reds to return to their CIS top ranking and come out with a slim victory down the stretch behind the three headed monster scoring backcourt.
In the second quarter final game you couldn’t get more contrast then the #3 UPEI Panthers and the #6 Cape Breton Capers. The Panthers are a wide open – up tempo team that thrives on taking the ball and dropping daggers from the three point line. The Cape Breton Capers are a low possession smack you in the mouth grind it out style of team.
UPEI goes into its third straight Conference Championships as the #3 seed but is looking for its first playoff win under Coach Kendrick. UPEI has a lot of great pieces and it starts with their backcourt Deontay Smith and Ellis Ffrench and continues with the strong paint play from Geoff Doane and Brian Ofori as well as all around play of Donathon Moss. There are also numerous players off the bench that can get hot and be major contributors at any given moment. The Capers start with the solid all around play of guards Cedric Kasongo and Kelson Deveraux but the true fortunes of the Capers will rest on the very strong shoulders of Meshack Lufile and the versatile play of Sean McCormick. The Capers have been very good at imposing their style on their opponents, which is great transition D and half court D, there aren’t many easy buckets with Cape Breton.
UPEI managed the sweep of the Capers in regular season play with an 89-85 win in Sydney on November 29 behind balanced scoring with 6 players hitting double figures. At home on January 10 the Panthers handled the Capers easily 98-60 behind 18 points from Jayden Nordin. Keep in mind the Capers are the defending AUS champions and they have a group of core players that know what it takes to win in the Metro Centre. The Panthers are still trying to figure this winning out and look for their depth and balance to be too much for the Capers in this Quarter Final matchup.
The #2 Saint Mary’s Huskies await the winner of UPEI/Cape Breton for the Saturday 8:15 semi final game. As a team that has always played in the Metro Centre like it is their home gym regardless of talent, look for this very talented team to be a real serious threat for a CIS trip to Ottawa.
The #1 Acadia Axemen will be keeping a watchful eye on the UNB/St FX game as they get the winner in the 6pm Friday semi final game. The axemen would be considered the tournament favorite with the AUS’s top player Owen Klassen and a deep team that can really score not to mention what has become their annual venture to the CIS Final 8.
Look for the #1 Acadia Axemen and the #2 Saint Mary’s Huskies to do battle for a Conference Championship on Sunday. However the only certainties of this season are that Owen Klassen will be the AUS MVP, Javon Masters will be Rookie of The Year and Steve Baur will be Coach of The Year.
With an intense four months behind the AUS another certainty is that the AUS Conference Championship will be loaded with wow’s, hard fouls and fan rising play. Get your seats at Canada’s Greatest Basketball Venue (east coast opinion) The Halifax Metro Centre.
Friday February 28
6:00pm #4 St Francis Xavier X-Men vs #5 University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds
8:15pm #3 University of Prince Edward Island Panthers vs #6 Cape Breton University Capers
Saturday March 1
6:00pm #1 Acadia Axemen vs Winner of Quarter Final #1
8:15pm #2 Saint Mary’s University Huskies vs Winner of Quarter Final #2
Sunday March 2
2:00pm Championship Game