BURLINGTON, Ont. – Two teams. One city.
The No. 2 nationally ranked University of Ottawa Gee-Gees (11-1) and No. 3 Carleton Ravens (10-2) renew the greatest collegiate basketball rivalry in the country with the tenth anniversary edition of the MBNA Capital Hoops Classic on Friday night.
Tipoff is scheduled for 8:00pm at the Canadian Tire Centre in the western suburb of Kanata, in Ottawa, Ont.
Last-minute tickets are available on CapitalTickets.ca, while student sections are expected to be sold out on Thursday. In 2015, a CIS record crowd of 10,780 spectators took in the game and a record crowd is expected once again this time around.
After opening the season as the No. 1 ranked team in the country, the Gee-Gees raced out of the gates with nine consecutive wins, including a big 75-73 win over Carleton in the Ravens' Nest. However, the Gee-Gees couldn't escape the nest unscathed as 2014-15 OUA first-team all-star Caleb Agada (Burlington, Ont.) injured his ankle in the victory. The following weekend, the Gee-Gees came up just short, losing to the then No. 5 ranked Ryerson Rams 87-80, for their first and only loss of the season.B
Similar to their counterparts in the nation's capital, the Ravens rattled off seven straight to open the season before falling to the Gee-Gees in the aforementioned "Battle of Bytown." The Ravens experienced a similar fate as their foes from uOttawa as they fell to the Rams 79-61 for the first time since 2000. However, since then, the five-time defending CIS national champs have returned to form with three straight wins heading into Friday's game.
In their first meeting earlier in January, Carleton's Kaza Kajami-Keane (Ajax, Ont.) had a game high 24 points, while Agada countered had a team-high 23 points and 10 rebounds of his own in the victory. The lead changed hands nine times in the game, with the Gee-Gees overcoming a 22-13 deficit early in the second frame. The back-and-forth game came down to the final two minutes with Ottawa closing out the win on a 9-2 run. Fifth-year point guard Mike L'Africain (Oakville, Ont.) was clutch down the stretch for the Gee-Gees, nailing the game-winning basket to put Ottawa up for good with 46 seconds remaining.
One matchup in particular to keep an eye on Friday will be the battle between the two previously mentioned guards. Kajami-Keane, an NCAA transfer from Cleveland State, has done his best to try and fill the gap left behind following the graduation of former Ravens standout Phil Scrubb. Starting in all 12 games this season, the 6-foot-1, 200 lbs guard, leads the Ravens with 15.1 points per game this season to go along with 81 assists which leads not only the conference but CIS as well.
Not to be outdone, L'Africain is averaging 18.8 points per game to lead the Gee-Gees and currently sits 7th in the conference. The Oakville, Ont. native sits third in the conference behind Kajami-Keane and Windsor's Mike Rocca with 56 assists. Since losing Agada to injury against the Ravens, L'Africain has been a work horse for the Gee-Gees, averaging 22.5 points per game, including back-to-back 30+ point performances this past weekend against Queen's and York.
While his status for Friday's game is still unknown, the Gee-Gees might once again be without Agada, who has missed the past four games due to injury. In eight games this season, the Burlington, Ont. native averaged 16.6 points and a team-high 9.9 rebounds per game, which ranks him third in the conference.
Friday's game features the two top ranked defences in the entire conference as Carleton (61.6) and Ottawa (62.3) sit first and second, respectively, in points allowed per game. However, something will have to give as the Ravens (87.0) and Gee-Gees (85.3) also rank second and fourth in OUA in points per game.
The high flying Ravens can fill the basket from anywhere on the court, but are especially dangerous from beyond the arc. As a team, Carleton is shooting 40.1 percent from downtown to lead OUA. If Ottawa can't find a way to shut down Ravens' guard Gavin Resch (Ottawa, Ont.) it could be a long night for the Gee-Gees. Resch, a fifth-year math/physics major, is shooting a league leading 48.6 percent from beyond the three-point line. His 35 made three pointers has him tied for first in the conference with Laurentian's Anthony Iacoe.
Ottawa will counter Friday night with a long range threat of their own as fourth-year forward Mehdi Tihani (Gloucester, Ont.) has converted on 43.9 percent of his attempts and sits third in the conference. While the Gee-Gees as a team are shooting 36.3 percent from beyond the arc, the trio of Tahini, Agada and L'Africain are all shooting above 40 percent individually.
Historically, the Ravens have soared past the Gee-Gees in the annual showdown, winning eight consecutive MBNA Capital Hoops Classics, including last season's 79-66 victory.
In that game, Carleton guard and former OUA Athlete of the Year, Phil Scrubb, had a game-high 29 points, 12 rebounds and four assists in the victory. Not to be outdone, Gee-Gees guard and 2014-15 OUA Player of the Year, Johnny Berhanemeskel countered with 28 points, five assists and four rebounds. Of those players returning for his year's games, Resch had 13 points and four rebounds for the Ravens, while L'Africain had 11 points and seven rebounds for the Gee-Gees.
The MBNA Capital Hoops Classic has more than just bragging rights on the line as Ottawa and Carleton currently sit second and third, respectively, in Rating Percentage Index (RPI) which is used to determine the playoff seeding and bracket.
Friday's MBNA Capital Hoops Classic will also be a Student-Athlete Mental Health Initiative (SAMHI) "Mental Health Matchup." These are varsity or club events held across the country that work to raise awareness of mental health and illness in sport, while connecting student-athletes with locally available mental health resources.
If you can't make it to the Canadian Tire Centre for the game, catch all the action Friday evening streaming live on OUA.tv beginning at 8:00 p.m. The game will be also broadcast live locally on Rogers Cable 22. Fans can listen to the game live on TSN1200.