5 Story lines to Follow Entering Canada West Basketball
With a number of seasoned CIS players taking their final steps on the court in 2014-15, the upcoming Canada West campaign is sure to feature an increased level of competitiveness throughout.
The parity in the conference is as high as it’s been in years – and while Saskatchewan, Calgary, and UBC all enter the season ranked in the top 10 in the nation, anything can happen and there’s sure to be a number of highly competitive battles from start to finish in 2015-16.
With that being said, below are five interesting storylines to get you revved up for the regular season tip-off this weekend.
1) Big losses
There were some big names lost due to graduation this off season, specifically in the 11-team Canada West Pioneer Division.
Saskatchewan saw four of its starters from 2014-15 – forwards Dadrian Collins and Connor Burns along with guards Andew Henry and last season’s Defensive Player of the Year, Ben Baker all depart, while UBC lost 49.8 of its scoring offence in guard Andrew McGuinness and forwards Brylle Kamen, Toner Jackson, as well as last year’s Canada West scoring leader Tommy Nixon.
Alberta, Calgary, and Victoria were all dealt similar cards. The Golden Bears lost their entire backcourt – including first-team all star Joel Friesen, while Victoria bid adieu to third-team all-star point guard Marcus Tibbs, and 2014-15 Canada West Player of the Year Chris McLaughlin.
Calgary suffered one of the biggest losses as they were forced to say goodbye to their leader and “quarterback,” in frequent first first-team all-star point guard Jarred Ogungbemi-Jackson.
The above-mentioned teams all finished in the top-five in the conference last year and while they still have pieces in place to perform at a high level (Calgary specifically has 13 returning players), will certainly miss the production each player provided.
2) Moving in the right direction
In the six-team Canada West Explorers division, consistency is everything due to the fact that you see the same opponent four separate times in a season. It makes for very exciting basketball and a number of close games.
While Fraser Valley has recently been a perennial powerhouse not only in the division but the conference as well – making four straight trips to the Canada West Final Four, it’s three historically less successful programs that could make a strong push in 2015-16, in Thompson Rivers, Mount Royal, and MacEwan.
The Wolfpack have been on a steady rise ever since 2010 when former Simon Fraser Clan head coach Scott Clark was brought in. Clark guided the Clan to 10 straight post-season appearances, and last season after just four years with Thompson Rivers, helped lead them to their first ever playoff series win.
The team will be looking to build off of their momentum from last season, and their success starts with fifth year forward and 2014-15 first-team all star Josh Wolfram. Thompson Rivers will also rely on fellow fifth years Reese Pribilsky at guard and Gerard Gore at forward on a roster that is otherwise short on depth.
Mount Royal finished just behind Thompson Rivers for the third and final playoff spot in the division last season, however their 10-10 record was the best the program has ever had since joining the Canada West in 2012-13. They’ll look to keep the momentum going in 2015-16 with a roster that’s much bigger than it’s been in years past, size wise.
There isn’t a single player on the Cougars roster that’s under six-feet tall, and they also have four players that are at least six-foot-seven or taller, including six-foot-nine post Ty Cuperus – who was recruited out of Australia, and six-foot-seven rookie post Brett Layton.
MacEwan completed their inaugural Canada West campaign at 7-13, but don’t let their record fool you. Only three of the Griffins games were decided by more than 12 points.
With a year under their belt, MacEwan will hope to pick up where they left off and will be guided by third-team all star point guard Denzel James, as well as forwards Ryan May and Keith Gerdes – who were first and third on the team in rebounds, respectively.
3) The California connection
Five American-born players out of California – as well as one head coach will all be making their CIS debuts in 2015-16, to go with Fraser Valley power forward Nate Brown who enters his second year in the Canadian ranks.
Brown – a six-foot-six native of San Jose, started 18 games in his inaugural CIS season, recording an impressive 11.3 points per game, and 5.7 rebounds per game.
The five newcomers are forward Mark Johnson (Fraser Valley), centre Carl Hoffman (Lethbridge), and guards Dejon Burdeaux (Lethbridge), Shawn Lathan (Saskatchewan), and Mauricio Medrano (Thompson Rivers).
Johnson – a six-foot-six Palm Springs native, spent his past two years with the College of the Desert Roadrunners in the California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA). Last season, he was a second-team conference all star after averaging a double-double per game (12.2 points, 10.3 rebounds).
Hoffman – a six-foot-nine post out of Rancho Palos Verdes, comes to the Pronghorns after a few strong seasons with NCAA Division II team California State LA, where he was fourth on the team in scoring in 2010-11 with 10.7 points per game.
Burdeaux – a native of Oakland who has a natural scoring touch, is fresh off of two seasons with Fresno City College of the CCCAA. He helped lead the team to a 58-7 record during his time as point guard, and was all-state in 2014-15.
Lathan – a six-foot-four guard originally from San Diego, comes to the Huskies after two years with Southwestern Community College where he was named first-team all state and first-team all conference in both 2013-14, and 2014-15.
Medrano – originally from Los Altos, will slot into the point guard position for Thompson Rivers after two campaigns with Gavilan College of the CCCAA. Last season, he averaged 9.9 points per game and gives the squad a bit more speed to complement their size inside.
Rounding out the list is Aaron Muhic, who hails from Sacramento. He’s in the top-25 for all-time wins in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), and will begin his first season at the helm for Trinity Western in 2015-16, after 13 successful years with NAIA team William Jessup of Rocklin, California – where he totalled 173 wins.
He’ll be in charge of rejuvenating a Spartans Program that finished with a conference worst 2-18 record last year.
4) Man down
A number of teams in the conference will start 2015-16 without critical pieces, due to health related concerns.
Forwards David Manshreck (UBC Okanagan), Matt Forbes, Shane Osayande (both from Saskatchewan), and post Brent Watkins (Lethbridge) have all gone down with significant injuries – and in the case of Watkins, he’s indefinitely out for the whole year.
Watkins was involved in a serious car accident while travelling back to Lethbridge in the summer, and broke both legs as well as injuring his head and torso. Best wishes go out to a speedy recovery for him. In the meantime, Hoffman will be expected to step in and provide a critical presence down low.
Manshreck is gone until at least Christmas with a concussion – a big loss, as he was the team’s leading rebounder, and was second in scoring last year. The Heat will be forced to lean on veteran guard Mitch Goodwin – who led the team in scoring, on an otherwise young roster.
A large chunk of the Huskies back court has been lost to foot injuries, in fifth-year Matt Forbes (second in rebounds per game in 2014-15) and third-year Shane Osayande – both physical six-foot-six forwards.
Tack on the fact that Baker and Burns – who were first and third in rebounds per game respectively last year, are both graduated, and the Huskies have a slight dilemma to deal with. Expect Lathan, and fellow fifth-year Evan Ostertag to see increased roles until the two big-men return.
5) The bigger the better
Size matters when it comes to the Canada West conference, and a few teams did their part in the off season to boost their abilities on the glass.
As mentioned before, Mount Royal – a notoriously small squad, recruited a large chunk of long, tall forwards.
Aside from Cuperus and Layton, the Cougars also have six-foot-nine forward Tethloach Thokbuom – who redshirted last year, along with six-foot-seven forward Ray Goff, a former starter who’s coming back from an ACL injury which caused him to miss all of 2014-15.
The Manitoba Bisons – who’ve typically been guard heavy in the past, also acquired a bit more size for 2015-16.
The two biggest pickups were both swingmen, in six-foot-six forward Joey Nitychoruk – a Manitoba native who returns to his home province after three successful seasons with Lakehead of the OUA, along with Keith Omoerah a six-foot-five guard/forward who’s been away from the CIS for a few years, but is an immediate difference-maker due to his perimeter shooting, and rebounding abilities.
Finally, there’s Regina, whose two biggest weaknesses last year were defence and rebounding.
Six-foot-four Spanish-born guard Alex Igual will have a bigger impact in his third season, after playing in just four games in 2014-15 – where he averaged 4.8 rebounds per game. The Cougars also get back six-foot-seven forward Will Tallman, and guards Jonathan and Brandon Tull, who were first, second, and third in team rebounds per game respectively.
Starting in January, they will also have the services of six-foot-eleven Bronx-born post Rawane “Pops” Ndiaye, who played NCAA Division I basketball in 2013-14 with the Tennessee Volunteers.
Ndiaye appeared in 22 of the Volunteers 37 games in 2013-14, when they made a run to the Sweet 16. He was sidelined for all of 2014-15 with a torn ACL, but is back for his inaugural Canada West campaign this year.