U Sports Final 8 Preview: Joseph, Demosthene, Cohee and Clarke lead schools to nationals in search of Canadian glory

Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, we finally made it… it is U Sports Final 8 Week!

Each of the teams heading to Ottawa earned their bid throughout another incredible university basketball season and it has been an honour to tell the stories of the season all year here on North Pole Hoops. If you missed how the final bids were clinched, click here for all of the information.

But now, let’s meet the teams heading to the Nation’s Capital this weekend in search of Canadian University Basketball supremacy:

(1) Carleton Ravens- OUA Champions

Photo Courtesy: Hung Le (Ryerson)

Record: 21-1 (3-0 in playoffs)
National Championships: 14 (Last in 2019)
Major Conference Awards: Lloyd Pandi (Rookie of the Year) / Taffe Charles (Coach of the Year)
Conference All-Stars: Lloyd Pandi (First Team) / Yasiin Joseph (Second Team) / Munis Tutu (Third Team)
Leaders Per Game: Lloyd Pandi- 16.1 ppg / Lloyd Pandi- 6.3 rpg / Marcus Anderson 3.1 ast 

Dave Smart may no longer be patrolling the sidelines, but the Carleton Ravens are still the nation’s best men’s basketball program. With first-year head coach Taffe Charles leading the way, this edition of Raven domination rolled through the OUA with relative ease, only losing to Ottawa en-route to a 21-1 record. Carleton’s strength this season is with its depth. Lloyd Pandi, Yasiin Joseph and Munis Tutu are all elite starters in their own rights (evidenced by their OUA All-Star selections) however, the fact they bring the likes of Isiah Osborne and Alain Louis off the bench is what makes them special. This team has more than earned its place as the number one overall seed and national title favourite as after all, they are the Carleton Ravens.


(2) Dalhousie Tigers- AUS Champions

Photo Courtesy: Trevor MacMillan

Record: 19-1 (2-0 in playoffs)
National Championships: None
Major Conference Awards: Keevan Veinot (MVP) / Xavier Ochu (Defensive player of the Year) / Rick Plato (Coach of the Year)
Conference All-Stars: Keevan Veinot (First Team) / Alex Carson (Second Team)
Leaders Per Game: Keevan Veinot- 15.6 ppg / Keevan Veinot- 5.2 rpg / Keevan Veinot 5.5 ast

Sometimes losing a game can be a good thing. After going undefeated in exhibition play, the Dalhousie Tigers started the regular campaign 12-0 until a tight loss to StFX in early January. This loss was just what Dal needed as since then the Tigers closed their season winning 12 straight, nine of which were by double-digits. Playing as well as they are, this Tigers team has as good a shot as any Atlantic team in recent years to bring home the conference’s first national title since 2001. The Tigers have never won one but, led by stars Keevan Veinot, Alex Carson and Xavier Ochu, head coach Rick Plato has the squad capable of winning the program’s first title. This is truly one of the great teams in the country this season, don’t be surprised if come Sunday night there’s a celebration on the east coast.


(3) UBC Thunderbirds- Canada West Champions

Photo Courtesy: Bob Frid/UBC Thunderbirds

Record: 16-4 (3-0 in playoffs)
National Championships: Two (Last in 1972)
Major Conference Awards: None
Conference All-Stars: Jadon Cohee (First Team) / Grant Shephard (Third Team)
Leaders Per Game: Jadon Cohee- 19.1 ppg / Grant Shephard- 7.3 rpg / Jadon Cohee, 5.7 ast 

There probably isn’t a better duo in this year’s Final 8 than Jadon Cohee and Manroop Clair. The two lower mainland NCAA Division-1 Transfers have been playing at a completely different level since the playoffs began. With Cohee’s scoring ability and Clair’s range, they perfectly complement each other. Not to be forgotten, Canada West All-Star Grant Shephard will be patrolling the paint for a school in search of its first title since the seventies. Rounding out the starters of the western champions is slasher Grant Audu and fourth-year Zack Moore. No team in the country found a way to peak at a better time, if the Thunderbirds can keep it up, they have more than proven they are capable of beating anyone anywhere.


(4) Alberta Golden Bears- Canada West Regular Season Champion and Playoff Finalists

Photo Courtesy: The Chronicle Herald

Record: 19-1 (2-1 in playoffs)
National Championships: Three (Last in 2002)
Major Conference Awards: Barnaby Craddock (Coach of the Year)
Conference All-Stars:  Ivan Ikomey (First Team) / Tyus Jefferson (Third Team)
Leaders Per Game: Brody Clarke- 19.7 ppg / Brody Clarke- 8.7 rpg / Tyus Jefferson- 4.0 ast

This year’s Alberta Golden Bears had quite the season. Star forward Brody Clarke missed all but the final six regular season games and still, Alberta claimed the Canada West regular season title. It seemed each week the team’s depth was on full display as led by Adam Paige, Ivan Ikomey, Tyus Jefferson and Cole Knudsen, the team didn’t miss a beat without their star. Once Clarke returned, it became abundantly clear the problems the team that shot 41% from behind the arc could cause. Although they lost to UBC at home in the conference championship game, the fact remains of how dangerous this team will be this weekend. Not only do they have as elite a player as any in Clarke, with shooting like they possess, they are just three hot nights from a national championship.


(5) Western Mustangs- OUA Finalists

Photo Courtesy: The University of Western Ontario Mustangs Athletics

Record: 16-6 (2-1 in playoffs)
National Championships: One (Last in 1991)
Major Conference Awards: None
Conference All-Stars: Julian Walker (Second Team)
Leaders Per Game: Omar Shiddo- 19.6 ppg / Julian Walker- 9.2 rpg / Nikola Farkic- 7.2 ast

Western is a definite sleeper in this tournament. For a team that possesses an elite scorer like Omar Shiddo and probably the nation’s best passer, Nikola Farkic, it’s confusing as to how they ended up underrated. This Mustang team is used to critics though. Heading into their conference semi-final game against Laurier to decide who made it here, U Sports received major pushback for allowing a bracket that could put one of Laurier or Western in the final. What’s crazy about that pushback is this team is no joke. The Mustangs made a league-best 10.5 three-pointers a game, while shooting an impressive 35.4% along the way (second in the OUA), going 16-6 and winning their division. I guarantee this Western team doesn’t care they aren’t getting much hype coming in, because the reality for them, is that this is their comfort zone.


(6) Bishop’s Gaiters- RSEQ Champions

Photo Courtesy: The Bishop’s University Gaiters

Record: 8-8 (2-0 in playoffs)
National Championships: One (1998)
Major Conference Awards: None
Conference All-Stars: Nervens Demosthene (First Team) / Abdul Kamane (Second Team)
Leaders Per Game: Nervens Demosthene- 19.4 ppg / Jordan Thornhill- 7.1 rpg / Nervens Demosthene- 5.3 ast

The Bishop’s Gaiters had quite the season. After being nationally ranked in the preseason, the team was all over the place, struggling with consistency. At their best, they win the conference, at their worst, they lose to Laval twice in one weekend. It’s so hard to tell with them which team is going to show up. Are they Quebec’s version of UBC that peaked at the right time or was last week a flash in the pan? Regardless, they have one of the best players in the tournament on their side in Nervens Demosthene. Nationals are the perfect place for Demosthene to show the kind of player he is that can drop a triple-double any night. If Demosthene can penetrate and find shooters, it could be a long night for any opponent. If not, it will be a long night for Bishop’s. Predicting which one will happen though, with this team, is anyone’s guess.


(7) Ottawa Gee-Gees- OUA Semi-finalists/Hosts

Photo Courtesy: Ottawa Gee-Gees

Record: 18-4 (1-1 in playoffs)
National Championships: None
Major Conference Awards: None
Conference All-Stars: Calvin Epistola (First Team)
Leaders Per Game: Calvin Epistola- 19.0 ppg / Guillaume Pépin- 6.5 rpg / Calvin Epistola- 3.9 ast

This year’s hosts will be as formidable an opponent as any. With star senior guard Calvin Epistola leading the way, the Gee-Gees were the second-best team in the OUA all season and, were the only team who beat Carleton. Guillaume Pépin is a force inside and perfectly compliments Epistola’s game. Pépin may only be a second year but that doesn’t mean the moment will be too big for him at all. Other second year Kevin Civil is Epistola’s backup and the perfect change of pace bench piece that can swing momentum in any big game. This isn’t your usual host who is just happy to be there, Ottawa is loaded with talent and in search of its first national title, think the home crowd will be excited when the Gee-Gees take the floor?


(8) Calgary Dinos- Canada West Semifinalists/At-Large Berth

Photo Courtesy: University of Calgary Dinos Athletics

Record: 18-2 (1-1 in playoffs)
National Championships: One (Last in 2018)
Major Conference Awards: Brett Layton (Player of the Year) / Max Eisele (Defensive Player of the Year
Conference All-Stars: Brett Layton (First Team) / Mason Foreman (Second Team)
Leaders Per Game: Brett Layton- 20.6 ppg / Brett Layton- 14.9 rpg / Max Eisele- 3.4 ast

This isn’t the usual wildcard team; Calgary is a truly formidable opponent. Brett Layton poses the type of star veteran any championship team needs and is more than capable of taking the Dinos back to the national title game for the third straight season. After being knocked out by UBC at home without star guard Ezeoha Santiago, expect the American transfer to factor in big in any game Calgary plays. The same can be said for Canada West All-Star Mason Foreman and Canada West Defensive Player of the Year, Max Eisele. Calgary has lost a lot of talent from their two championship game runs, don’t get me wrong. That being said, this team is young, talented and hungry to prove everyone wrong after a disappointing conference playoffs.


To keep up to date on the entire tournament, keep it locked in here as content will be produced each day and/or follow me on Twitter for the latest U Sports news @Will_NPH!

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