IN THE PAINT: CIS Final 8 â?? An Ontario perspective

IN THE PAINT: CIS Final 8 â?? An Ontario perspective
The crown jewel of Canadian University Basketball Tips off tomorrow in our nation’s capital as the CIS Final 8 starts in Ottawa. Yes I’ve heard the arguments out there about who should have been the wild card and regional and conference favouritism but safe to say Canada’s top squads will be on display this weekend. Here’s a look at the draw.  

By virtue of an upset and breaking a 20 game losing streak against Dave Smart and the Carleton Ravens, James Derouin’s University of Ottawa Gee-Gee’s enter the tournament as the number one seed.  Carleton is the number two seed and the third OUA team, Amos Connolly’s McMaster Marauders enter the tournament ranked seventh. All three have questions and stories behind them as they hope to be posing with championship trophy and banner Sunday evening.

If you said to Derouin, you have one win over Carleton this season do you think he would have taken it in the OUA title game for the Wilson Cup? Some might say no, but the Gee-Gee’s needed that win. They needed to know that they could slay the dragon. They had two losses this season, both to Carleton. Now that they have one win, I bet they have all the confidence in the world they can get another if they need to this weekend. You can bet Derouin thinks his team has another “dubya” over their cross-town rivals but as for the timing, make no mistake the win in the conference title contest was desired.

“I want our name on that trophy,” remarked Derouin matter-of-factly last Friday night after a drubbing of the McMaster Marauders. Mission accomplished.

Ottawa plays an exciting brand of basketball and their perimeter crew led by Wilson Cup MVP and second team all-Canadian Johnny Berhanemeskel along with Terry Thomas can shoot the opposition out of a game in a heartbeat. Just ask McMaster. Add to that, their “run and stun” offence can be ably aided by Mike L’Africain, who put on a shooting display last Friday, and Caleb Agada. Garbiel Gonthier-Dubue is undersized but tough and fits right in with the style of play employed by the Gee-Gee’s. The bench brigade featuring Vikas Gill, Carleton transfer Mehdi Tihani, Moe Ismail and Ryan Evans also contribute well to the cause.

Do you think Ottawa can run the table this weekend? If you’re unsure, all you have to do is listen to Carleton’s bench boss Dave Smart who emphatically stated last week at the OUA final four “They’re a GOOD team.” End of story.

But don’t throw dirt on the nine time CIS champion Ravens so fast. The loss in Toronto last week may have been a wakeup call. The Final 8 is a chance at redemption with a bigger prize at the end of the line. Simple question is, will they bounce back? It was interesting to look down as Smart used the old Pat Riley trick at the end of the game with his team. Carleton is a classy program and the players disconsolately lined to receive their silver medals and watch Ottawa presented with the Wilson Cup and the gold medals.  Smart would have it no other way as his Ravens stood there and took it all in. But there is a part of me that looked down at the contrast between celebration and dejection and I could almost visualize the bubble over Smart’s head. It said to his team “OK fellas, do you want to see this again next week? No? Then let’s do something about it.”

I’m not sure if anyone can see another performance from national player of the year, Phil Scrubb, like they did last week. Scrubb went 3/12 from the floor, and while he had 13 points he also had six of the teams 14 turnovers and managed only four assists. It was a rare sub-par performance from Scrubb and I think I saw someone outside looking for a blue moon following the game. Let’s face it, like a poor showing from Scrubb in a big game, they don’t come around that often. But it wasn’t all on Scrubb as Carleton let a 10 point lead slip away down the stretch with about three minutes to go in losing the game. Did Carleton lose it or did Ottawa win it. Both sides have a valid argument. My guess is that any dude worthy enough to be three time national player of the year will be ready this weekend, and so will his team.

And finally, Ontario’s third entry the McMaster Marauders epitomized the personality of their coach and OUA West division coach of the year, Amos Connolly. After finding out his uncle passed away and his team being drubbed by the Gee-Gee’s on Friday night what did Mac do on Saturday? What did you expect? You don’t get rid of Connolly that easily. His team took advantage of its second chance to get to the Final 8 as they came back and nosed out conference rival Windsor for a spot on the dance floor this weekend.

McMaster must be thinking, let’s try to get Carleton now while they're down. It won’t be easy but if there is a time to do it, this is it. Mac will need strong play from Joe Rocca who had a disappointing weekend in the conference final but is quite capable. Connolly calls him “perhaps the best scorer I have ever coached.” Adam Presutti and Leon Alexander played big roles in the Marauders success last weekend as did Aaron Redpath. Mac got great play off the bench from rookie Trevon McNeil who hit some big shots.

Good luck to all teams this weekend in Ottawa and a special mention to the Ontario squads who will be playing in front of alumni, friends and family. It’s your turn to dance fellas, and the lights are on.

Paul Jones is the play-by-play voice of the Toronto Raptors on Sportsnet Radio FAN 590. Jones is a graduate of OUA basketball, having been named a two-time All-Star and Wilson Cup game MVP with the York Lions. If you have any questions or comments for Paul, drop him a line @Paul__Jones.

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