Courtside Seats: There’s a new (old) team to beat in the West Division

Courtside Seats: There’s a new (old) team to beat in the West Division

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

Before we get into the week that was in the OUA on the hardwood, we need to take a minute to acknowledge what happened on the football field in the 111th Yates Cup.

Congratulations go out to the Western Mustangs who secured their second straight Yates Cup win with a decisive 63-14 win over the Guelph Gryphons on Saturday in London. They avenged their loss to the Gryphons from three seasons ago to punch their ticket to the Mitchell Bowl where they will face off against the Saskatchewan Huskies for a spot in the Vanier Cup.

While the Mustangs put together a dominant performance on the gridiron over the weekend, there were several standout performances on the hardwood across the OUA that are worth talking about. There are just two undefeated teams left in the conference and both reside in the East Division. On the contrary, the last team without a win to their name resides in the wild West.

A trip to Northern Ontario produced different results for two of the top contenders. One team came away with a pair of wins, while the other left with their first two losses of the season. Despite seeing their fellow Gryphons fall short in the Yates Cup, Guelph did pick up their first win of the season on the court. An underrated star in the conference continued his strong individual play, and it's about time that he gets some love on the national level.

Here are some of the top story lines from the week that was across the province on the court.

Brock, McMaster have different results on Northern Ontario trip

Over the weekend, both the Brock Badgers and McMaster Marauders made the trip north for a pair of games against the Laurentian Voyageurs and Nipissing Lakers. The Badgers opened the weekend against the Voyageurs while the Marauders took on the Lakers before flipping opponents on Saturday to close out their road trips.

Brock entered the road trip with a 2-1 record and were coming off a loss in their previous outing. The Marauders were sitting at 3-0 through the start of the season and were the lone unbeaten team left in the division. When the dust settled, however, the top two teams in the West Division flipped positions and the Badgers were looking down on the Marauders in the standings.

Brock picked up a pair of double-digit wins to push their record to 4-1 on the season. On the flip side, the Marauders lost both of their contests over the weekend to end their three-game winning streak and knock them from the top spot in the division. Now, Brock has a two-point lead over McMaster in the standings through three weeks and the Badgers have inserted themselves squarely into the conversation of top teams in the country.

Across their two wins, the Badgers used big performances from some of their veterans to carry them to victory. In their 102-88 win over Laurentian to kick off the weekend, the pair of Daniel Cayer (Montreal, QC) and Johneil Simpson (Toronto, ON) propelled the St. Catharines squad to victory. Cayer recorded 25 points and 10 rebounds on the night, while Simpson chipped in with 29 points and five rebounds of his own.

Tyler Brown (Hamilton, ON) recorded a double-double of 14 points and 13 assists, while Cassidy Ryan (Mississauga, ON) had 20 points to round out the group of four players in double-figures for the Badgers.

Against Nipissing the next night, it was more of the same for the Badgers. Their veterans played a major role in Brock's 79-51 win to cap off a perfect 2-0 weekend. Simpson led the way with 25 points in the win, while Ryan added 17 points and six rebounds.

For the Marauders, the results were much closer than those for Brock, but McMaster came out on the wrong end of both decisions.

McMaster opened the weekend against the Lakers, and while Nipissing was without a win to begin Friday night, they made sure to pick up their first victory while simultaneously handing the Marauders their first defeat. The Marauders led by four points after the first quarter, but the Lakers outscored Mac by 11 in the second frame to take a seven-point lead into the half. McMaster was never able to recover, as the Lakers dropped the hammer for the 80-71 win.

The Marauders had four players score in double-figures in the loss, led by David McCulloch (Hamilton, ON) who scored a team-best 18 points in defeat.

Against the Voyageurs, the Marauders were hoping to salvage a split for the weekend to remain atop the standings. However, inconsistencies on both ends of the floor sent the team to their second loss in as many days, 80-74. Once again, McCulloch and Connor Gilmore (Etobicoke, ON) were at the forefront of the attack, recording 13 and 16 points respectively.

Nathan Riley deserves more appreciation

Yes, the Algoma Thunderbirds are just 1-5 to start the 2018-19 season.

Yes, they are riding a five-game losing streak after a season-opening win over the Lakehead Thunderwolves.

Yes, you should still appreciate the consistency and level of play of Nathan Riley (Kitchener, ON).

Located in Sault Ste. Marie, the Thunderbirds aren't followed too heavily in Southwestern Ontario, and that's a shame. The results haven't quite been there for the program, but that shouldn't take away from the individual numbers that Riley has been putting up through six games to start the year. Admittedly, his offensive numbers won't jump off the box score at you, but it's his level of consistency that's worth talking about.

Through six games this season, Riley has three double-doubles to his name. He has recorded at least nine rebounds and four assists in every game this season and he has five games with double-digit points. Riley recorded just two points in a loss to the Toronto Varsity Blues in Algoma's third game of the year, but he added nine rebounds, six assists, two steals, and two blocks to contribute on both ends of the floor.

For the year, Riley is averaging 12.2 points, 10.0 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.5 blocks per contest.

Night in and night out, Riley has the abilities to alter the outcome of a game on both ends of the floor. Whether it's taking a leading role on offence or being an impact player on the glass to put his team in an opportunity to get out in transition or get a second-chance opportunity, Riley can do it all for head coach Thomas Cory and the Thunderbirds. The 6'5'' forward ranks second in the league in terms of rebounding, trailing just Connor Gilmore of McMaster (10.2).

After knocking off Lakehead to open the season, the Thunderbirds have since struggled to find their way back into the win column. With Riley leading the way with consistent two-way play, however, it's only a matter of time before the Thunderbirds notch win number two on the year.

In the meantime, become familiar with the name Nathan Riley before it's too late. He's one of the most underrated players in the conference and it's time to show him some love.

An early look at the Player of the Year race

Through three weeks, we have seen our fair share of stellar performances across the conference. With the OUA football season now in the rear-view mirror, aside from Western's quest for a second straight Vanier Cup, it's time for fans to get more in-touch with the happenings on the basketball court. After three weeks of exciting basketball, who are the front-runners in the race for OUA Player of the Year?

Here's a look at some of the top candidates to this point in the season.

Last season, Laurentian's Kadre Gray took home both the OUA Player of the Year and U SPORTS Male Student-Athlete of the Year awards, and he looks like the front-runner for the former through his first four games in 2018-19. Gray is averaging 36.3 points and 7.8 assists per game, both of which are league-high totals. He is also averaging 8.0 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game, ranking inside the top 15 in both categories. Gray made a loud statement in his first game of the season, posting a triple-double of 32 points, 11 rebounds, and 13 assists in a win over Nipissing. 

Laurier's Ali Sow is the reigning OUA Rookie of the Year, and after a strong first season in 2017-18, Sow has put up some impressive numbers in year two as he looks to secure the Player of the Year award when all is said and done. Sow ranks third in the league in scoring behind Gray and Queen's guard Jaz Bains, averaging 22.5 points per game over six contests. He is shooting 42.0% from the field and 34.4% from three-point range for the season. Sow doesn't have the all-around stat line that Gray has, but he is averaging 2.7 rebounds and 2.0 assists per contest. If he can elevate those stats, he will be in the conversation all year long.

Maybe the most intriguing candidate of them all is McMaster's Connor Gilmore. After missing the 2017-18 season, many would have expected Gilmore to have some rust to his game this season. That has not been the case through six games, and Gilmore is one of just two players to average a double-double per game this season (Nathan Riley). Through five games, he ranks fifth in the league in scoring (20.4 PPG) and first in rebounding (10.2 RPG). Gilmore has recorded at least 16 points in each game this season and he has three double-doubles to his name. If he can keep up his pace and the Marauders continue to be one of the top teams in the league, Gilmore could very well take home the award come season's end.