Courtside Seats: The wild, wild West Division

Courtside Seats: The wild, wild West Division

Contributed by: Tyler Bennett / College Court Report Canada (@CCR_Canada)

To paraphrase Captain Jim West from the 1999 film Wild Wild West, “Well, that’s what you’re here for, right?”

The first half of the OUA men’s basketball season is now in the books, and what a first half of the season it was. The stage is set for an incredibly exciting second semester of basketball as every team is continually working towards a league championship and a spot in the U SPORTS Final 8 National Championships.

In January, two currently undefeated teams will square off as the Carleton Ravens and Ryerson Rams will go toe-to-toe for East Division supremacy. That’s just one of many significant games that will take place in the second half of the season that could cause a shake-up in the league standings with the postseason looming.

This past weekend saw some impressive performances across the league. Losing streaks were snapped, winning streaks extended, and the top of the West Division got a lot more crowded in the process. Here’s what you missed from the last week across the OUA landscape.

It’s a three-team race in the West

At the halfway point of the season, the contenders have started to separate themselves in the divisional races. Some teams who started out strong in 2018-19 have slowly started to fade, while the top spots in each division provide high levels of anticipation as the holiday break rolls around.

The top of the West Division has seen three teams put themselves six points clear of their fellow competitors, creating what appears to be a three-team race come January. Atop the division, one will find a logjam of teams with 14 points apiece, as the Laurier Golden Hawks, Western Mustangs, and Brock Badgers all have a share of the lead at the end of the fall semester.

Here’s a look at how each team got to that point during the first half of the season.

Technically, the Golden Hawks are in first place in the division due to the fact that they have accumulated 14 points by playing one less game than the Mustangs and Badgers (10). Laurier earned their first U SPORTS Top 10 ranking since 2012 with their play against both the Carleton Ravens and Ottawa Gee-Gees two weeks ago, and they have since continued their strong on-court performances to build momentum heading into the break.

Winners of four in a row and five of their last six, Laurier will look to build on their positive gains as the second half approaches. They are led by the reigning OUA Rookie of the Year in Ali Sow (Ottawa, ON), who is second in the league in scoring with an average of 25.0 points per contest. Add in his 3.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game, and Sow has a strong case for OUA Player of the Year in 2018-19. Laurier has a balanced offensive attack, one that has four different players averaging double-digit points per game.

One player who doesn’t get as much love as he probably should is fourth-year forward Kemel Archer (Brampton, ON). Archer is second in the league in rebounding, averaging 9.8 rebounds per contest. He averages more than four rebounds per game on the offensive end of the floor, thus giving his team second-chance opportunities to put points on the board, which is a big key to the Golden Hawks’ success. Add in his 11.9 points per game, and Archer is having himself a strong 2018-19 season.

Coming into the season, many expected Brock to be near the top of the conference once again. Last season, the Badgers were regularly one of the top-ranked teams in the national ranks, and they were one of three teams from the OUA to advance to the Final Eight National Championships. After a fifth-place finish as the consolation champions, the Badgers had their sights set on bigger things in 2018-19.

Brock started the season out strong, winning their first two games and five of their first six overall. Then, they hit a bit of a lull, losing three straight games against three of the top teams in the conference. Losses to Carleton, Ottawa, and the Ryerson Rams saw the Badgers drop in the standings and lose their momentum from the beginning of the year. Instead of limping into the break, however, the Badgers picked up a pair of much-needed wins inside the Bob Davis Gymnasium over the Queen’s Gaels and York Lions to build some positive momentum before the break.

As expected, the Badgers’ veterans have been leading the way on both ends of the floor this season. Like Laurier, Brock has four players averaging double-digit points per contest, led by fourth-year guard Johneil Simpson (Toronto, ON) with 20.9 points per game on 45.9% shooting. Tyler Brown (Hamilton, ON) is averaging 10.9 points per game while ranking second in the OUA with an average of 5.5 assists.

All five of Brock’s regular starters are shooting better than 45% from the floor to this point in the year. In fact, all but one player for the Badgers is shooting 40% or better from the floor this season, regardless of the number of minutes they have played. That’s an impressive level of efficiency for Madhav Trivedi’s team through the fall schedule.

Rounding out the group of three are the Mustangs from Western University. Head coach Brad Campbell has assembled a talented group in London, which has been coming to fruition thus far, leading a 7-4 record. Much like the previously-listed teams, the Mustangs are veteran-heavy. Six of their top seven scorers are either juniors (1) or seniors (5).

Western played just four games on their home floor over the first half of the season, going 2-2 in those contests. They went 5-2 on the road, doing most of their damage away from Alumni Hall. The Mustangs closed the first half of the year on a five-game road swing where they picked up eight out of a possible 10 points. In the second half, the Mustangs have a home-heavy schedule which should bode well for them as they look to maintain a playoff spot and contend for the OUA title.

Third year guard Omar Shiddo (Toronto, ON) has continued his progression this season and is one of the top players in the conference that nobody is talking about. Shiddo leads Western in scoring, averaging 19.8 points per game on 33.5% shooting from the floor and 33.3% shooting from three-point range. From there, it’s been a next man up mentality as the Mustangs have only had Marko Kovac (Windsor, ON) in the lineup for two games this season. Including Shiddo and Kovac, the Mustangs have nine players averaging at least 4.0 points per contest this season, giving the lineup some balance.

How things will all play out in the West Division remains to be seen, but it’s a race that you won’t want to miss once play resumes in January.

Marcus Lewis, Nipissing end six-game slide

It’s not how you start, but rather how you finish. For the Nipissing Lakers, the first half of the season didn’t start out well, but they made sure to enter the holiday break on a high note.

Coming into their contest on Saturday with the Windsor Lancers, the Lakers had lost six-straight games and were just 1-8 in the OUA East Division. Nipissing was looking for any sort of positive momentum heading into the break, and they found some in a big way on their home floor thanks in large part to the play of fifth-year guard Marcus Lewis (Brampton, ON).

With their sights on win number two on the year, the Lakers used a big second quarter to blow the game wide open. Nipissing held a slim four-point lead after the first frame, 24-20, but their heavy presence on defence helped them build on in the second. The Lakers held Windsor to just seven points in the frame, while extending their lead to 45-27 at the half. Nipissing continued to extend their lead in the fourth quarter and when all was said and done, they came away with the 84-51 victory over the Lancers.

Their previous win came over the McMaster Marauders back on November 9th.

The Lakers were led by a trio of players in double-figures, a group anchored by Lewis and his team-best 18 points. He also recorded 14 rebounds and seven assists to flirt with a triple-double in the win. Justin Hill (San Francisco, CA) and Jordan Roberts (Trout Creek, ON) added 17 points apiece to help carry the load offensively for the Lakers. The win snapped their six-game slide and gave the Lakers a boost heading into the break.

Lewis has been one of the more consistent scorers in the OUA this season, reaching double-figures in nine of his 10 games and topping the 20-point mark in six of those games. He ranks third in the league in scoring with an average of 21.1 points per game this season, trailing only Laurier’s Sow and Kadre Gray (Toronto, ON) of the Laurentian Voyageurs.